Top farmhouse cheese from home-grown fodder

Despite being one of the UK most successful cheese makers, Wyke Farms has never lost touch with its roots.

The Clothier family, which owns and runs the business, is still actively involved in dairy farming.

The firm still uses Ivy Clothier’s original 100-year-old Cheddar recipe.

As well as buying in milk from 130 other producers in the local area, Wyke Farms runs its own herd of 1000 Friesians on its 505ha (1262 acres).

It also feeds the whey by-product from cheese-making to its own pigs.

All the slurry from the cows and pigs is spread on the grass and maize ground.

Regular soil testing is used to check the nutrient content, but there is seldom any need for artificial fertiliser.

“It’s a pretty self-sufficient operation that produces the lush grass we find really suits our original cheese recipe,” says Roger Clothier, who takes care of the farming side of the business.

The farm grows about 160ha (400 acres) of maize, and makes silage from about 60ha (150 acres) of permanent pasture and 120ha (300 acres) of Italian ryegrass.

These intensive short-term leys are usually cut four times in the first year and three times the following year, after which the land generally goes back into maize.

Wyke Farms’ self-reliance also extends to silage making.

“We have considered using contractors, and they are champing at the bit to get in here.

But we aim for the highest quality and it is so weather dependent that we prefer to have complete control and keep it all in-house,” says Mr Clothier.

“I realise with our size we would probably be first or second on the contractor’s list, but I don’t want to risk being second.”

The farm is geared-up to clear about 40ha (100 acres) a day in first cut, rising to 56ha a day (140 acres) in third cut.

The aim is to start in early May just as sugar levels are at their optimum level.

Although the front and rear mower/conditioner combination could cut more, Mr Clothier is keen to ensure that whatever is mown can be picked up without risk of rain.

The grass is left to wilt for between 24 and 48 hours and, if it is sunny, there is often no need for tedding.

“It’s again down to the weather.

We do have a tedder and rake for rowing-up.

But we are careful not to over-work the rye grass, which can dry out quite quickly,” he adds.

Aiming for a dry matter of about 28%, the farm’s John Deere 7300 self-propelled forager moves into the swaths and chops the grass to about 18mm or longer.

“We have thought about using a forage-wagon because they produce a longer high fibre material.

But that would be restricted to about 10% of the grass that goes into the bottom of the pit.

We get through a whole clamp face each day, so this longer material could be mixed into the ration,” he adds.

Both grass and maize go to a central area where there are seven 3000cu m clamps.

Here the fodder is clamped using a tractor-mounted buck-rake.

Consolidation is important and the buck raking tractor is joined, when the clamp is about half full, by another tractor or JCB fitted with dual wheels.