Brook House Farm - Leading the way in the future of farming
PUBLISHED: 00:00 14 August 2017
The heritage of Cheshire dairy farming is important to Bostock farmer Adrian Smith,but so is its future, writes Mairead Mahon.
Visiting farmers from many corners of the globe and television crews flock to Adrian Smith’s farm in the village of Bostock near Middlewich, although it has to be said, they are all particularly intrigued by the memory foam mattresses that cows in the maternity shed repose upon!
They come because Brook House Farm is one of the leading dairy farms in the country and they have stacks of awards to prove it. In fact, they have won the Grasslands Society Award for Best Silage so often, that they have taken a pretty generous step: one which is bound to allow their competitors to breathe a collective sigh of relief.
‘Well, we’ve won it now for six consecutive years, so we’ve decided to withdraw from the competition and give others a fair chance to win it; after all, I think - touch wood - we’ve proved that we know what we’re doing,’ laughs Adrian.
They certainly should, as his family have farmed in Cheshire for many years -Adrian took over from his father in 1982- and Brook House is now home to three generations of the Smith family: Adrian and his wife, Alison, his son, Jason, and his mother, Kathleen. Kathleen still plays an active and maybe even the most important role by rustling up delicious home-cooked food: after all, it’s not only armies that march on their stomach - it’s farm workers too; especially when those farmworkers have bags of youthful energy!
The young farm workers at Brook House are proof of Adrian’s commitment to the future of farming in Cheshire and, as he readily acknowledges, are a large part of its success. ‘They are full of enthusiasm and eager to learn all that there is to know: they are our future and I’m committed to passing on skills and a sense of Cheshire farming heritage to them: that belief is integral to the farm. The only downside is that, on certain days, they can make one feel old by comparison,’ smiles Adrian.
Adrian and Alison’s son, Jason is one of these young people and despite studying maths, qualifying as a life guard and exploring techniques on other farms; he decided that Brook House was where he wanted to be.
‘This is where my roots are. I studied at Reaseheath and it was while I was there that I came to the attention of the BBC programme Countryfile, who then came along with Matt Baker to film at Brook House. It was a great day and they were really impressed with the fact that dad is so committed to apprenticeship schemes and to our gorgeous corner of Cheshire,’ explains Jason who, when he was 20, became one of the youngest ever farmers to be selected for a national supermarket’s Future Farmer Foundation. Jason has also won a Farmer of the Year Award and, like his dad, he’s determined to add to the family haul of farming accolades.
‘Cheshire is a fantastic place to farm and there is no reason why it can’t continue to thrive. After all, without our farms, we would have a very different landscape. Luckily, we have a strong, young team who have all studied agriculture and who bring lots of zest, commitment and who help to ensure the security of Cheshire farming’ explains Jason.
One of these young people is Olivia Slack. Although she looks forward to the rare occasion when she can throw off her jeans, let down her hair and wear something glamorous, it certainly doesn’t stop her from being an essential part of the team.
‘Women do have an important part to play in hands on farming. Almost from the start, I knew that it was where my future lay and it was a real achievement to gain a position on such a highly-regarded farm. My duties include looking after the calves and I have pet names for them all because they all have different characters. It’s a great feeling when they follow me about; it almost makes up for the bleary-eyed 6am starts,’ smiles Olivia.
Dave Proudman is just thirty but he has bags of experience and has known most of the cows since they were born. One of his more unusual duties was testing the quality of the memory foam mattresses for them: someone has to do it! The cows must be happy though, as they yield twice the average national lactation. His colleague, herdsman, Liam Roberts has been working on the farm since he was sixteen; although he knew Adrian when he was only seven, having starred on his village football team. It’s not just the village football team that Adrian is involved with. He also helps with the village fete; gives farming talks; shows people around the farm and hosts scouts and birdwatchers. With Alison, he even goes into local schools, persuading the children to help them look for a fictional runaway cow: not that any cow has ever really run away from Brook House. ‘Not yet, anyway,’ laughs Adrian, ‘But if it did, I guess the whole village would help to look because we are part of our community.’ In fact, the village is celebrating the newest arrivals at Brook House: a pond, dug by Adrian, has just been officially declared as containing a very strong population of Great Crested Newts, as well as other rare varieties. They couldn’t have chosen a better home.