Within the distant gaze of Shaftesbury, Crispin and Sue Tweddell built a modern organic farm amongst the hills of North Dorset from the land of a derelict farm. With its steep valleys and small hedged fields, it is really only ideal for raising sheep. Not any old sheep for them, they decided to create a sheep dairy flock. It went so well that after only a couple of years they purchased an existing sheep dairy business Woodlands Dairy (at Woodlands near Verwood) and moved it to Blandford.
They now have the largest organic sheep dairy flock in the country, producing around 8,000 litres a week of super healthy and nutritious sheep’s milk. The flock is now around 2,000 shaggy longhaired Frieslands, bred specifically for producing milk.
The day to day running of the farm is left to Vanessa the Farm Admin Manager and Darren the Farm Manager, with Stuart as the Shepherd.
The lactating ewes are milked twice a day, in groups of 48, and spend their days grazing out in the fields, or if it’s winter weather, then they have the comfort of big airy barns. There are between 5 & 6 lambing’s per year resulting from dividing the entire flock into the relevant groups, and thus fresh Sheep milk is available all year round.
The resulting milk is transported by the Woodlands driver Steve a short journey to the dairy in their refrigerated lorry. To keep up with the increasing demand for their yoghurt, they also buy in extra non-organic sheep’s milk from farms in Dorset and Somerset.
Woodlands Dairy has been open 30 years and here they turn their sheep’s milk into a mild fresh tasting yoghurt that has many health benefits over cow’s milk. Sheep’s milk is more acceptable to the human digestive system, and is hugely nutritious.
There is only a small team working at the dairy, led by Darren Snow, Operations Manager and Mike Lawson, Business Manager.
At the dairy the milk is first sterilized and then the yoghurt culture is added and nothing else. After just fifteen minutes the yoghurt is potted and then left to incubate in the carton. Once chilled it is ready to be delivered to some major supermarkets, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, M&S own brand yoghurt and through 800 independent retail shops.
Darren had one more product he was very excited for me to see and that is his new cheese. The Melbury is a hard sheep’s milk cheese, made in the proper artisan way and then left to mature for 9 months. It has already won awards and he is slowly gaining more and more outlets across the county and beyond, so keep an eye out for this delicious cheese.
Throughout my tour I was very impressed with the very high standards that were adhered to, especially the care and attention that they showed towards the sheep. They may be a small team, but they work as a team to create a stunning product.
Blog and photos kindly written and taken by our volunteer John Grindle.