Inside the UK’s first carbon positive dairy

PUBLISHED: 10:35 01 July 2020 | UPDATED: 09:29 07 July 2020

A formidable team. The How Now herd of pedigree Ayshires wait patiently for milking time. Picture: Oliver Lee

A formidable team. The How Now herd of pedigree Ayshires wait patiently for milking time. Picture: Oliver Lee

Archant

An enterprising dairy in South Devon is producing milk which tastes just as it should do

Bloom has no objection to being used as a back rest. As Oliver says: 'My  cows are part of one large family'. Picture: Oliver LeeBloom has no objection to being used as a back rest. As Oliver says: 'My cows are part of one large family'. Picture: Oliver Lee

Doorstep deliveries are seeing a resurgence and perhaps none more so than the humble milk round.

If you are lucky enough to live within a ten-mile radius of Ugborough, South Devon, you can order milk straight from Ladydown Farm.

As owner Oliver Lee enthuses: “Grass today will be fresh milk on your breakfast table tomorrow – you cannot get better than that.”

Whilst only in its third year of trading and Oliver still in his mid-20s, the How Now Dairy is going from strength to strength.

How Now Dairy was the first supplier in the UK to use 100% compostable milk packaging. Picture: Oliver LeeHow Now Dairy was the first supplier in the UK to use 100% compostable milk packaging. Picture: Oliver Lee

Even before Covid-19, sales were strong, but following lockdown his doorstep customers have more than doubled to 680 and rising.

With his herd of 26 pedigree Ayrshire cows, Oliver produces, processes and delivers – there is no middle man.

He explains: “My aim has always been to created fresh milk for the local area – organically certified and carbon neutral.”

All fields are planted as herbal leys, comprising a mix of Devon grasses, clover and herbs beneficial for both livestock health and soil fertility.

Importantly, it helps the environment by storing more carbon in the soil.

Environmental issues are central and include electric delivery vehicles.

And in 2019 he was the first supplier to use 100% compostable milk packaging.

All this is paying off and it is the first dairy in the country to be carbon positive – storing more carbon that it is producing.

“This is tremendously heartening,’ says Oliver. ‘Something I am incredibly proud of.”

Whilst farming is in the family – his grandfather ran a small dairy herd – Oliver was initially tipped as a professional swimmer. At 18 he was ranked third in the country for 50m Butterfly. But a chlorine allergy put paid to his ambitions.

Have you tried these six fantastic Devon cheese & wine pairings?

This was a bitter blow and he then decided to forgo his chemistry degree at Manchester in favour of farming.

Following spells in Devon and Canada, he took a foundation year in agriculture at the Duchy College in Cornwall. There he excelled and won a ‘top student’ award and was the first student to be accepted straight onto the final year of a BSc in Agriculture at Nottingham University.

It was during this time that he formulated his business plan for a micro dairy to be launched after completing his degree.

But Oliver’s journey was to take a different course. In 2016, he was diagnosed with ocular melanoma in his left eye. This was a huge shock and treatment involved intensive proton beam radiotherapy at Liverpool’s Clatterbridge Centre for Oncology.

Whilst he has yearly check-ups and only has sight in his right eye, he is an optimist: “I got off lightly.” But it changed his perspective on life and he made the decision not to take up his place at Nottingham in favour of starting his dairy enterprise.

Whilst his grandfather was no longer alive and most of the farmland sold, Oliver was able to use the 40 acres left to run his dairy which launched in August 2017.

He also had a mentor in Dartmoor dairy farmer, Russell Ashford.

“His advice and assistance has been invaluable and I am indebted to him,” explains Oliver. “And to my family who have supported me every step of the way.”

Oliver works long hours with an early start so his rigorous swimming training has been a perfect introduction to the delights of the dawn chorus.

“If you are doing something you love it is not difficult to be up and working by 5am,” he reveals.

Once the cows have been milked, the milk is pasteurised, cooled and packaged for delivery.

Whilst he has office, farm and delivery staff he is very much at the helm: “I know every field, every process and every cow by name.”

As well as the management of the herd and milk production, he understands the work needed to establish a brand.

“To sustain a farming future I have had to get out of the milking parlour and connect with the consumer. How Now is about organic outdoor grazing which is why the milk tastes so good and has more health omega-3 fatty acids and disease-fighting antioxidants than non-organic milk.”

The dairy has recently expanded delivery items to include local bread, juices, coffee, cheese, butter and eggs. And clotted cream from the dairy. For Oliver, milk is not just a commodity, it is a way of life. We wish him well.

Have you joined the Devon Life Facebook page yet?

Latest from the Devon Life