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When you drink a sublime cup of Hungry Guest coffee, made with organic Goodwood milk, think for a moment – as you trail a croissant through the milky foam – about its provenance. And because we all want clear consciences about the food we eat, you may imagine some pastoral idyll, where cows graze on the downs under blue skies for the spring and summer months, gathered in from November to March to spend the winters under cover in well-ventilated sheds with cosy straw up to their knees; fed like racehorses on home-grown silage, whole crop and oats.
Tim Hassall, manager of the 200-strong Goodwood dairy herd for 8 years, is kind enough to let me come and see for myself. He drives me around the estate to see the rolling acres where the beef cattle graze and into the barns to meet the milkers. It’s afternoon milking and the cows – Shorthorn, mostly brown and whites, with a bit of Holstein still in their pedigree – file round us in an orderly fashion. They are fine strapping girls, and they approach me in a friendly fashion, maintaining eye contact nicely as we tell our children to do. ‘They’ve never met you before and they’re not bothered at all,’ says Tim, not without pride.
Some of them queue patiently beside a strange implement attached to the wall: it’s a giant sized brush on a hydraulic arm, and when they lean on it it rotates like an electric toothbrush, so they can scratch their backs and get the hayseeds out from between their ears. These cows have an actual hairbrush!
It’s a remarkably peaceful scene: one man putting the cows through and another doing their beds. I had expected a noisier, more mechanical operation but it’s the cowshed of my childhood (at home in Kent we always had a Jersey house cow and a couple of calves) on a much larger scale; a scale though that has lost none of its humanity. There’s a pen of first-time calvers, and another of furry brown Sussex calves still on milk feeds – unwanted bull calves here are reared using waste milk, thereby combining two potentially surplus products to create rose veal. The cows will each have 7 or 8 calves during their productive lives, and a good milker will give some 6,000 litres of milk a year.
The milk is sold non-homogenized, which means that cream still rises to the top. The milk keeps its traditional taste and, some maintain, is more easily digested. So the thing is, we can all relax and enjoy the milk. It comes from contented and gently-nurtured cows in the pink of health with a view of the racecourse and their own hairdressing salon.
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