Farm of the Week: The dairy farmers who now grow pumpkins and sell raw milk and eggs from vending machines

Selling produce direct to the public from their family dairy farm is proving enlightening for a young North Yorkshire farmer and his parents.

Will Alderson in his pumpkin patch

Will Alderson of Scorton Road Farm, South Cowton in Hambleton studied at Harper Adams for four years before returning to work alongside his father David and mother Anne six years ago.

Will said their move into selling raw milk by the roadside four years ago had been as much a learning experience for them as it had been for their customers.

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“We’ve learned a lot by talking to them. Some have a far greater understanding of raw milk than I do, but what they really like is our ethos, how we look after our animals.

Raw milk is popular with customers who have food intolerances

“When they come they want to see that our cows go out. We could spend half a day, where the milk is dispensed, just talking to folk and if we had time it would be worth it because many have become so distant from farming.”

Will said he recognises that anything with raw in its name can be viewed with suspicion.

“Raw milk sounds off-putting to some, but it is what you have to call it to sell it and there are many who look for it because they are either lactose intolerant or find it helpful for conditions such as osteoporosis, eczema or psoriasis, or prefer it if they have Crohn’s disease.

“It has no additives or sugars and fits for many who have been advised to change diets.

“Our customers range from those to others such as tradesmen who just want their daily bottle of milk for their cuppa.

“We have some who will travel 40 miles and there are customers who prefer our raw milk to others. They tell us they can taste the difference. We sell around 50-60 litres a day.”

The raw milk dispenser and the additional venture into pumpkins have brought additional revenues to Scorton Road Farm and have been set up since Will came back home. Although when he first returned, he said he had to look elsewhere to help the farm’s income.

“The milk price crashed in my last year at university in 2015. Around that time we were only getting as little as eight pence per litre. It was crippling and meant I had to take any work I could on other farms for the first two years of being back home. I did everything from hedgelaying to milling and sorting pigs.

“Thankfully, the milk price came back, but that’s why we put in the raw milk dispenser, to help with the income.

“We also increased the herd from 50 to the 90 milking cows we have today. The herd is made up of two pedigree breeds that use prefixes of hills nearby. Tinehill Holsteins make up the majority with Atley Hill Ayrshires accounting for ten.”

Will said his father has always been keen on keeping pedigree cows.

“This farm has been in the family for 100 years and in that time it has always been home to a dairy herd. We had Friesians and father went into Holsteins when they were in their early days in the UK in the 1970s.

“A lot of the cows in our herd can be traced back up to 14 generations of well-respected cow families including Roxy and Shower. We mainly use AI but have a dairy bull to sweep up. Father will sit for hours on a night going through family lines to make sure we have heifers born with the right traits.

“It is a closed herd now and has been for about two years, but my father would always be prepared to buy a good cow or heifer. His mantra is ‘you rear what you get, you buy what you want’.”

Breeding quality dairy cows also led to success in the show and sale rings. Will said his sister Kathryn who now lives in Bakewell has been a regular in the ring.

“Father used to show Clydesdales and we have always shown the cows. We won at Stokesley Show for the last three years before the pandemic and we will also show at North Yorkshire County, Ryedale and Wensleydale. The one-day shows don’t take so long getting ready for and we normally just take the Holsteins because a lot don’t have coloured classes.

“It’s three years since we were last at the Great Yorkshire Show. That year we won the best tasting milk at the show with a gold award for our Ayrshire cow, Ella. The Ayrshire is known for producing the most palatable of all drinking milk as it is regarded as creamy but not cloying around the mouth.

“We sell commercial heifers at Leyburn livestock market and what we consider to be real quality heifers at the Holstein breed sales in Carlisle, as well as providing our own quality replacements.”

The pumpkin crop was an idea Will came back with having spent his year out from Harper Adams where they were grown on a dairy farm near Stafford. Will said his crop is greatly expanded from his first attempt.

“I started pumpkin growing six years ago when we grew just 300 and we sold out in a weekend. We have increased each year. I planted 4.5 acres with 24,000 pumpkin plants rather than seeds this year and it is looking like the best crop we’ve had. The Racer F1 variety is our main one, but we have everything from Harvest Moon to Polar Bears.”

Scorton Road Farm now runs to 220 acres, the Aldersons having acquired 45 acres last Christmas. While the majority of their land is grass for grazing and round bale silage they have 40 acres down to wheat and barley rotating around the farm, that is largely heavy clay land.

The Aldersons have an additional vending machine for eggs from their 50 hens which are largely bantams. Will has another sister, Rebecca, who also helps out with the farm and the paperwork.

He lives next door to his parents on the farm with his partner Rosie and said the thing he strives for is a work-life balance even though it sometimes seems more like work than anything else.

“We always try to do as much as we can ourselves. We’ve recently put up three new sheds and built a new slurry lagoon. We are always trying to improve.”