CLIFFE House Farm, on one of Sheffield’s seven hills, just five miles from the city centre, is a rare thing these days – a small dairy farm that is doing well.
Hector Andrew first came to it in 1947. He’s now more or less retired and son Graham and grandsons Eddie and Daniel run the farm today. It has been a dairy farm since the beginning, but it has grown from what was a tiny operation, even in the 1940s, to a small dairy farm today.
“Grandad farmed down in the village (Dungworth) and he bought mum and dad this farm in 1947 when they got married,” Graham says. “It was 32 acres then. Milking started with six cows. We had about 30 in 1970, when the milking parlour was put in, and in time we expanded to about 85 and we’ve stayed at that.”
Graham says that 85 is about the limit for the grazing available on the 200 acres the Andrews farm today.
The fact that they are able to process and sell about 40 per cent of the milk direct to the public, through a milk round run by Graham’s son Daniel, is the key to the farm’s survival.
“We deliver some of it into local villages ourselves, and some of it we make into ice cream now,” says Graham Andrew.
“As soon as dad came in 1947, within a year he started delivering milk into the village and we’ve done that ever since.”
Until three years ago almost all of the cows on the farm were Holsteins but the family is now moving towards Swedish Red crosses and a few Jersey-cross cows. Graham says this is because the Holsteins were getting too big for the milking cubicles. He’s talking about bringing in some Brown Swiss crosses too. Besides avoiding having to re-build the milking parlour, the breeds in question live longer than the Holsteins.
“Somebody said to me the other day that to rear a heifer up to calving is above £1,000 now – up to £1,300,” Graham says.
“If you can get cows to last two or three lactations longer, it’s got to be a benefit, hasn’t it?”
Eddie Andrew says one of the big advantages of producing and selling milk the way they do is the speed with which it can get from the cow to the final customer. He says supermarkets have confessed to him it can take three or four days for their milk to make that same journey. From Cliffe House Farm it takes just a few hours.
The ice cream business launched the brand name Our Cow Molly, which the farm is now best known for.
It is an ambitious operation, offering more than 30 flavours, including a lot of gluten-free options. Only the farm’s own shop stocks them all and seating has been installed outside to cater for the trade it brings in.
Unusual concoctions include Jam Roly Poly, Bakewell Tart, Rhubarb & Custard, Christmas Pudding and a wonderfully refreshing mix of lemon and fresh ginger.
The milk bottles used to say simply that they were from Hector Andrew and Co. But now the milk and the ice-cream and the farm shop are all Our Cow Molly.
Eddie says: “Originally, because we are a hill top farm, we thought of Hill Top Ice Cream and we looked at lots of different names.
“My dad always said we could call it Our Cow Molly but I could never see myself going into a really high quality restaurant and trying to pitch an ice-cream called Our Cow Molly. But my friends thought it was a brilliant name, so it was as much about people’s reaction to the name as anything else.”
There was never a specific cow called Molly, but there was one that fitted the image – almost completely white, apart from two black ears.
The picture of her ended up, for some while, being the link to the weekly Country View podcast, available through the Yorkshire Post website.
Eddie Andrew says the image is very important in encouraging people to come to the farm...
“And if we can sell from the farm gate, it’s better for us than going out and delivering. Because of the success of the ice-cream we have re-branded all of the milk, partly because all the children were saying ‘we have Our Cow Molly milk’.”
Having that brand, and the means of selling their own milk, and the value-added products they produce from it, has given the Andrew family a degree of control over what they do which isn’t easily available in dairying.
It has also made it possible to stay in the business even with prices stagnant over the past decade.
“If we’d have just been wholesaling milk, you wouldn’t be talking to me as a dairy farmer today – the cows would have gone,” says Graham.
“Apart from one neighbour who has got some pigs as well, all the rest of the dairy farmers in this area have gone.”
The farm shop sells milk and ice cream, free range hen and duck eggs from neighbouring farms, and meat from local producers including Round Green Venison, near Barnsley, Moss Valley Fine Meats, who make sausages and bacon at Norton, Sheffield, and Yorkshire Highland Cattle Beef, from animals grazed on the Yorkshire Sculpture Park at Wakefield.
Our Cow Molly will have a stall today at Bradfield Farmers Market, billed as “the largest indoor farmers’ market in Sheffield” – Bradfield Village Hall, The Sands, Low Bradfield, S6 6LB.