A Photo Story from the Chiltern Food Magazine
When I’m not on a shoot I have the privilege to work closer to home with a great collection of people on the Chiltern Food Magazine. Our aim is to feature the best of local producers, chefs and produce while making seasonal food accessible with great offers, reviews and recipes. Not too long ago we featured the Laceys Family Farm and the fabulous Guernsey milk they produce on-site. It was a pleasure to see first hand how prioritising animal welfare amongst an idyllic setting resulted in top quality dairy and meat production. Below is the story in full, written by Katie Brill, with pictures by yours truly.
The Guernsey herd has been resident on the Lacey’s pastures since 1936 when the family first started farming the breed, which now number 120 milking cows and total some 300 cattle. The farm stretches across 450 acres in the rolling hills surrounding Lane End, and feels a million miles away from High Wycombe which lies just 5 miles to the east.
The seventh generation now taking the reins are Will and Ed Lacey. The twin brothers entered the family business shortly after their father and uncle had taken the decision to build a new milking parlour and bottling facilities. The Laceys are primarily known in the local area for their milk and cream products, of which they now produce 700,000 litres per year. There is also now a farm shop on site, featuring an exceptional butchers counter stocked with home-reared and local meats. Their cream topped, golden hued milk is of a forgotten era, and it is no surprise that they are now supplying some 50 independent retailers in the 25-mile radius that their milk round stretches.
The Angus steak of the milk world, Will Lacey is convinced of the superior qualities of milk produced by their Guernsey herd, a breed which has often been overlooked by larger dairies due to their lower yields. The rich flavoured and creamy coloured milk is packed with nutritional benefits, not often found so naturally in milk which has been subject to large scale production. Whilst the Guernsey ladies may be known for their rich and delicious milk, a surprising amount of expertise goes into ensuring a consistently tip top product, and absolutely central to this is what the cows are being fed. The cows graze daily on grass in the pastures but also consume around 50kg of feed per day; the whole herd making the journey back to the farmyard for their breakfast, lunch and dinner. The herd’s nutritionist visits regularly to test the nutritional value of the feed, and ensure the herd are consuming the correct quantities and nutritional make-up. This colossal amount of feed is mainly made up from grass silage, maize silage and corn, all grown on the Lacey farm, and substituted with Fuller’s grains, which give the feed a wonderful “hoppy” scent.
Unlike most milk found in supermarkets, the Laceys do not homogenize their milk; a process by which fat globules are mechanically broken down to enable them to remain suspended evenly in the milk. Whilst this ensures a consistent product with a longer shelf life, it subjects the milk to further processing, and removes the creamy topping that makes Lacey’s milk so irresistible.
To ensure the exceptional quality of their livestock is maintained the Lacey family operate a closed herd. In the unusual situation that they need to buy in some livestock they have to meet a strict selection criteria. Their careful breeding over the years has yielded the Laceys some award-winning bulls of their own. We met Eragon, a strapping fellow who was deemed fourth by the Guernsey merit index in 2015, and top of the charts in the American way of judging the livestock. He certainly seemed to be keeping the ladies happy anyway!
Will has also been working hard to change his customers’ perception of veal, a natural product of the dairy industry (male calves produced by dairy heifers). Veal has been subject to bad press and animal welfare concerns over the years, which has sadly informed many consumers’ negative feelings towards the meat. On the Lacey farm, male calves are raised together in straw yards and milk fed for 9 months. Known as “rose veal”, this high welfare product is pale and delicious, favoured by many chefs. Thankfully, with the help of the Lacey’s knowledgeable in-house butcher, veal sales from the farm shop have been doing much to buck the trend. Veal is sold alongside the Guernsey-Aberdeen cross beef produced on the farm as well as home-shot and local game meats and local chicken.
Lacey’s is one of the success stories of the dairy industry and it’s wonderful to see. Farming a dairy herd is no mean feat, the heifers need to be milked twice per day, everyday, during their 10-month lactation period, and that’s not forgetting the relentless task of producing the gargantuan quantities of food for the thrice daily feedings. The Lacey family’s efforts are paying off and they are increasing production and looking for new ways to diversify. Their dairy products are, unsurprisingly, also being chosen by other small businesses as the key ingredient for their own products. Lacey’s milk is now used for artisan cheeses such as “Bucks Blue” and “Cygnet” (both by Marlow Cheese Company), and also the gelato made by Chiltern Ice Cream. Happily, Lacey’s milk is readily available in a range of farm shops, delis and independent retailers, but none are privy to the constant supply that the onsite farm shop enjoys. Will Lacey explained how, “Often our milk reaches the shelves of our own farm shop just 3 hours after milking which is quite useful when we sell out!”
Words by Katy Brill – Deputy Editor from Chiltern Food Magazine