If you’re a customer in the north or east of the country, your organic milk and butter come from the Tweddle family at Acorn Dairy, near Darlington. They have won many awards over the years, including the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise for their commitment to low-carbon energy and organic farming.
The Tweddles have farmed at the hamlet of Archdeacon Newton since 1928. In the 1930s, they began to deliver their own milk to local customers – but like many small dairies, were gradually pushed out by larger businesses.
Four generations later, everything changed. In 1998, public concern about food provenance was on the rise. Gordon and Linda Tweddle, together with their son Graham, decided to convert their two farms – Garthorn Farm at Archdeacon Newton, and Hallwith Farm near Leyburn in Wensleydale – to organic farming. They haven’t looked back since, and have been able to revive their traditional of doorstop milk deliveries, selling directly to many of their local customers as well as offering fresh milk and butter through Riverford.
In total, the two farms cover around 680 acres, roamed by 250 happy dairy cows. These days, the close attention to detail required for organic farming is second nature, but Gordon admits that switching from intensive milk production took a leap of faith:
“The biggest problems were between our ears! How could we grow healthy crops and animals without the use of chemicals? So, we went back to basics, and with the help of other organic farmers we began to develop systems and procedures which prevented problems occurring in the first place. In turn, that meant we didn’t need chemical assistance to correct the problems.”
The Soil Association’s organic certification demands the highest animal welfare of any farming system (including free range). Since going organic, the Tweddles take particular pride in the health and happiness of their herd. “Organic doesn’t just mean being careful what we feed to our cows,” they say. “It also means giving them the best possible conditions so they are happy in their surroundings.”
Their Dairy Shorthorn herds (a traditional local breed, established in the Northeast in the eighteenth century) graze amongst the Yorkshire and Northumbria Dales. Dairy Shorthorns can’t be milked as intensively as the more common Holstein and Friesian breeds, giving around 6500 litres a year at Acorn Dairy’s relaxed rates of production, compared to conventional of up to 10,000 litres annually. This natural rate of milk production allows the cows to live longer, healthier lives.
The Tweddles’ care for their environment goes even further than the benefits of organic. “We generate our own green electricity, and we’ve set aside an area of the farm that’s a haven for wildlife in all its forms,” Gordon says. “We also operate a 12-mile hedge improvement plan, and following an RSPB survey we know our farm provides habitat for over 80 bird species!” That includes increasing sightings of rarer species including kestrels, curlews, fieldfares, skylarks, sparrowhawks and herons.
Better for nature, better for the cows – and better for you. The Acorn Dairy herds’ diet of organic grass, rich in clover and herb leys, results in beautifully flavoursome milk.