Our FamilyThe Custodians
Here at Gazegill, the Robinson family have farmed the land for nearly 500 years. Passed from one generation to the next the ethos has always been to farm with nature and leave our historic landscape as given, after all we are only the current baton holders waiting to pass it on to our children. We approach every day with a great saying in mind...
Current custodians Emma Robinson and Ian O'Reilly have taken a mixed livestock farm that was selling everything wholesale to a diversified retail operation. All members of the family are involved and although still young, our children are learning the ropes as it is important to know that Gazegill will be in safe hands in the future. Being around animals our children have a sixth sense when it comes to looking after them, they are after all our extended family, its great to see our children grow in such a natural environment.
What breed of cows do you keep and Why?
The cows here at Gazegill are organic, free range, grass fed Shorthorns. They are smaller than most modern breeds of cows. They take in less food and can thrive on low protein diets. This makes them perfect for an organic system. They are happy to graze over pasture and meadow alike and do not need concentrated grains or corn to keep them full.
What is the fat content of the milk?
This can be anything between 3.5% - 5.25% depending on the time of year. Mid-winter on the dry hay feed the fat is high. Mid-August when they are on the lush ‘fog’ grass (new growth after they hay is cut) the fat is at its lowest but the protein is high making for a more balance intake of fats and proteins when we need them most.
How long do the cows live for?
The cows here have an average life span of 18 years but we have had cows at 23 in the past. This is unusual as the UK norm is 6 short years mainly due to the high yields and intensive lifestyle. This is also due to the fact they are on unnatural and high protein diets. We do not push our cows and we don’t count the litres produced, we leave that bit up to our girls. We rather they have happy lives and a longer stress free life so we get the extra milk in the long run!
At what age do you calve your cows?
We calve at 3. The normal age in the UK is 2 but we feel that they are still growing at this stage of their life and is not fair to put the extra stress of carrying a calf on them at that point. This also helps to add to the long life of our cows.
How long do the calves stay with their mothers?
This is up to the cow. Some are with their calf for 8 weeks after the birth. Some only 2 weeks, some come into the calf only at night as they want to spend their day grazing with the herd. Gates are opened if they want to get in to visit as we listen to our animals and want them to be happy.
They rarely don’t take to the calf and wont bond with it or feed it. This worries us as the colostrum at this point is vital to the calf’s health. At this point we step in and take over the care.
We do not leave the calf on the cow all of the time as this increases a thing called cell count as the teats are being suckled all of the time. This is not the best thing for a dairy cow as this, for one, can pass to the milk (it is only white blood cells so not harmful for consumption) which shows up on milk tests. Two, it alters the shape and size of the udder. Sadly a thing that happens to all breast feeding ladies but with cows it can shorten their life. There is always the risk that sadly they can crush their own teat ends when standing up or they can get sore from rubbing on their legs when walking. This means they don’t really want them touched, never mind milked!
Who milks the cows?
The milking is done by Emma. Up until 2 years ago we managed 10 years without a day off at all. We now try to get away from the farm from time to time. At this point we do have a relief milker but they have been trained by Emma and fully understand the routine.
Emma understands each cow. If they are ill she might know before they do. This is important as we can react quickly to help them rather than wait and then have to intervene with medicines or antibiotics.
Do you use antibiotics?
NO. We have been antibiotic free here for over 4 years and are very proud of it! It took about 20 years of good breeding from our girls to be able to be free of problems with things like mastitis to achieve antibiotic free status. It also took confidence to let the cows grow immunity without interfering first. In the organic sector we are allowed to use quick acting antibiotics reactively if we feel necessary. We feel that there are many other options in the dairy heard that can be used before these. Our cows are free to roam the farm and find herbs and grasses and even different soils for minerals to eat, to them help self-medicate. We stand firm on antibiotic use as they are life savers and ought only ever to be used as such.
Do you use grains in the cows feed?
The only additional feed we use in the parlour is a Victorian blend. This is based with things we can easily grow in the UK. Peas, beans and pulses. No corn, soya or palm oil. These beans and peas we only feed in tiny amounts. One because it is expensive and two is because too much protein in their diet can cause things like bad feet and knees. We feel that the hay/grass grown on the farm is the best thing for them to eat but a little bit of a treat in the parlour is always a good thing. We see it as fair trade!
What do you do with the veal?
First watch the clip from Countryfile on the website. On there you can see our veal in their winter housing. As soon as we now that the spring nights are warm enough we then turn them out to pasture. They are handled and loved. We visit them every day. At times when the cows are walking to new grazing they pass the young stock and talk over the fence and rub noses. We feel this is important that they all still see each other and have that contact. We take some calves onto beef at about 3 years and some are 9-11 months and are free range rose veal. Sadly the UK dairy industry is still thought to destroy 100,000 calves every year as they have little or no commercial value, we find this practice abhorrent and rear everything born to our herd.