It’s springtime and in farms everywhere, herds of cows are being turned out into acres of grassy fields for the first time since the onset of winter. Everywhere, that is, except at Tom Foot’s farm in Little Bredy.
The view at Tom’s farm, The Open Air Dairy Farm, is a sight to behold and one you will be unlikely to see on many dairy farms in the country.
Not only does the farm nestle amongst the South Dorset Downs, where the wind – sometimes wild, sometimes sweet sweeps off the sea, but Tom’s 600 cows live outside all year round – not even venturing inside to be milked.
Tom uses portable milking parlours to milk his girls outside in the fields, where they thrive on easy living, which crucially, adds almost another 10 years on their cows’ lifespan than intensively farmed cows.
“Our system is low-stress and our animals are happier and live longer,” said Tom. “Our cows live outside all year round in harmony with the beautiful surroundings of the Dorset countryside. Grazing on grass and roaming the pastures, they live out all year round and the milking parlour comes to them, in which ever field they have wandered!”
“Our cows live a laid-back way of life. We believe that this makes our cows happier, we know it makes them healthier and we are convinced this is what makes our cheddar taste so great!”
The Open Air Dairy was born out of friendship. Tom and Neil met at the University of Plymouth where a life-long bond was formed. Together, with their farming backgrounds and inspired by the work of 1920s dairy farmer AJ Hosier, who wrote an important paper Open Air Dairying, the pair created a vision for how farming could be done differently.
After what seemed like a lifetime searching for a farm, Tom and Neil stumbled on the 1,000 acres of arable land in Little Bredy and after ploughing their funds into cattle, they opened The Open Air Dairy in 2012, where Tom lives with his wife Kelly and four children, Neve, James, Beau and Ivy.
Tom said: “We have five or six different breeds, Jersey, Friesian, Montbeliarde, Norwegian Red and a Brown Swiss.
“We breed our cows to be nimble, light on their feet, small and hardy to be well equipped to live outside all year round and turn grass into milk.”
Since opening, Tom and Neil have almost perfected their portable milking parlours, which they have designed and built themselves.
Tom said: “We spent the first one to three years researching and developing the parlours, we have learnt from our mistakes keeping the things that have gone right and changing the things that went wrong and now we have perfected it.”
Not only does Tom care for animal welfare but also to the land on which his animals graze.
In the decade or so he has been farming here, he has grown the soil by an average of 3mm per year. Growing soil at these rates enables large quantities of carbon to be stored outweighs the outpouring of methane. It is more than likely The Open Air Dairy is a shining example of a carbon neutral way of farming.
All the milk produced is taken to Barber’s Cheesemakers in Litton Cheney, where it is turned into cheese.
Tom added: “I truly believe it is our unique location and gentle farming methods that makes our cheese taste so great.
“We believe the cows are happier and healthier this way and we believe you can taste this happiness in every bite of our cheddar.”