Here at Nortons Dairy our herd is made up of Brown Swiss cows, thought to be one of the oldest of all dairy breeds with their history dating back more than 1000 years.
They are a dual-purpose breed, producing both excellent milk and quality beef. This means that while many female Brown Swiss born on the farm will eventually enter our milking herd, the males and additional females born are able to be raised for Norfolk Beef by our neighbouring farmer, less than 1 mile down the road.
Thanks to their origins in the mountains of Switzerland, Brown Swiss cows are sturdy and robust animals that are adaptable and long-lived. They are known for their strong hooves and leg structure, meaning related health problems are rare. Another big benefit of the Brown Swiss breed is their temperament – they are relaxed, calm and inquisitive meaning a safer environment for cow and farmer alike. The nutrient content of the milk is also superior to that of other dairy breeds, with higher levels of butterfat, protein and casein making it the perfect starting point for cheese production.
We are a closed herd meaning that every animal on the farm is born and raised here which has benefits for biosecurity and infection control and allows us to appreciate and manage the lineage of each animal, with most of the cows on the farm today being direct decedents of the original herd.
Each cow is identified by a unique number which is displayed on their ear tags and freeze branded onto the top of one of their hind legs. As well as a unique number, all our cows are named. The first part of their name is taken from their mother and the second from their father; we have lots of Beths, Janes and Joans, and even a Marigold or two. All this information is included on a passport which is required for each animal and essential when moving animals to our neighbouring farm.
Did you know?
A calf will be fed its mother’s milk for the first four days after birth which is essential as this contains vital nutrients and antibodies for the calf’s development. After this, the calf is fed on milk powder before being weened onto a diet of home-grown hay and calf pellets. From six months old the animal is known as a heifer, the cow equivalent of a teenager, and fed a diet of pellets and home-grown silage before going out to grass when the weather is suitable. A heifer will have its first calf around the age of two and after its second calf is known as a cow. In our herd the average age reached by a cow is 10 – 12 years and the oldest we have had was number 61 who reached the grand old age of 17!
Providing our girls with a balanced and nutritious diet is essential for their health and wellbeing as well as for the quality of their milk. We feed a diet that is home-grown where possible, with the vast majority coming from our own crops. In the winter, the cows are fed grass, maize and lucerne silage along with a protein blend and pellets provided inside the milking robot. In the summer, our cows spend their time out in the field, feeding on fresh grass and a supplement of pellets given in the milking robot that is fed based on their average milk yield, weight and age. When in the barns, our cows bed down on fresh straw that is also grown here on the farm.
The health and welfare of our herd is paramount, after all happy and healthy cows produce better milk. By operating a closed herd we are reducing the risk of infection and the transfer of disease. We work closely with our local veterinary practice and have the vet visit the farm every two weeks to carry out general health checks, pregnancy scanning and provide specific care to those animals that require it.
The use of a milking robot which runs 24/7 means that our cows choose when they want to be milked, this means that the process of milking is far less stressful for the animal which brings itself in from the field for milking. We also employ a nutritionist who monitors the herd and tailors the diet to meet the needs of the animals depending on the time of year and what food is available. This ensures that our cows are consuming the right nutrition to keep them in peak condition.
We also undergo regular inspection for the farm assurance scheme which makes sure that our practices are in line with national standards and that we are maintaining high levels of animal welfare. In addition to farm inspection, our milk must also undergo rigorous testing for quality and hygiene to ensure that food standards are maintained. Milk is tested for quality and hygiene before every collection and if the results are not up to standard the milk is not taken from the farm.
The milk produced by individual cows is tested monthly for cell counts, milk constituents and to monitor yield all of which informs what care and attention a cow receives.