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We’re hoping to lick dip in autumn for ice cream

Jo Mackenzie
Jo Mackenzie

It’s pumpkin time again, which always delights me and the girls.

I have even tried my hand at toffee apples for the first time in preparation for Hallowe’en – a throwback to my own childhood – but alas the toffee was much too thick to be safe for anyone to eat, particularly children.

I may have another go over the October holidays, particularly as I’m running out of things to do with our bountiful apple harvest this year; we’ve already used up all our saved old jars for batches of peach coloured apple jelly and date-studded chutney.

Besides, the apple-picking will be another activity for us to do here on the farm in lieu of the tattie picking that’s traditional at this time of year. The October break also seems later this year taking us nearly straight into Hallowe’en when the kids go back.

We are eagerly anticipating guising with the girls again, culminating with haunted house fun and spooky games thanks to our Hallowe’en-loving friends across the fields.

We will host a small gathering of near neighbours on Guy Fawkes’ night as Nick hasn’t the space this year to accommodate the sizable community/school event we staged along with our many helper friends last year.

His straw harvest was better than expected and is now sharing all available shed space with his bruised barley and the herd itself.

What’s more, the newly constructed pen we set up inside the main cowshed last year, decorated with festoon lights and used as a Bonfire Café, is now knee deep in straw and occupied by in-calf heifers. Nick has promised to make some space for next year.

Before he can think about trick or treating and fireworks, Nick is focused on getting his silage cut and in before the weather turns; he had hoped to get it done in September, but it was too wet.

Meanwhile, the team are to start building pens in the main shed for the dry cows so that they’re all together and Nick has succumbed to the sad fact we need some sort of security on the farm following a handful of attempted and successful thefts from our honesty shop over the summer.

On the upside, Nick has maximised efficiency by installing cameras to view the robots and the calving pens at the same time as fitting CCTV to monitor the honesty shed’s cash box and main approach to the farm.

Friend and fellow farmer at Conon Mains, James Jensen, already has live feeds to their calving sheds, which reduces the number of times he has to physically check on his calving heifers. Nick is hoping to make the same ‘time’ savings for Rootfield calvings and false robotic alarms, particularly overnight.

In other news, Nick hosted a RHET visit for a local primary school at the beginning of the month.

The P2 class, he reported, was very well behaved, asked pertinent questions and then sent a lovely thank you card two days later; top marks Tarradale Primary!

He was especially grateful to the farm-savvy teacher who was as keen as he was to conclude the visit when a heifer looked set to calf in front of the young audience; something that obviously can sometimes go awry and could potentially be a disturbing experience for six-year-olds.

I still recall my first calving on my first visit to the farm. Nick was cooking me dinner and just as he opened the wine, my new dairy farmer boyfriend had to nip out to calve a heifer.

Curious, I tagged along, inappropriately dressed in heels and with glass in hand, to watch Nick ratchet the poor beast open with what looked like a gigantic jack before attaching calving ropes to the oversized calf’s ankles and heaving it out. When the new born calf was finally out, another cow in the byre started to attack it. The calving was dramatic to say the least and clearly sticks in my mind some 15 years later.

On the ice cream front, October is the month when Nick really notices the trade orders plummet. Like the weather, it is far more noticeable this year after the phenomenal summer we had.

It has really made us both sit up and think about what else we could be doing to boost trade and staff productivity in the winter.

The first thing we have done is to launch new seasonal flavours and remove a few of the summery flavours as well as several ‘candy bar’ flavours, which while popular, are not in line with our founding principals and brand values.

Autumn flavours Rosie and the team have made so far include ginger snap, pear and cinnamon, spiced pumpkin (ice creams) as well as blackcurrant and sloe gin (sorbets). We are still working on apple pie and a maple and walnut ice cream, a distinctive flavour I recall when Morrisons was Safeways.

The autumn flavours will be on sale for a limited time only, until about mid-November when we launch our Christmas flavours.

Nick has also had the team making crème fraiche and semi-skimmed milk.

We are currently testing the crème fraiche for shelf life and have put some semi-skimmed milk into the honesty shop to see how popular it is and will produce it on a regular basis depending on uptake.

Like the whole milk, the semi-skimmed is unhomogenised, which means it needs a good shake to distribute the cream content. I prefer the less rich semi-skimmed in my tea but I am addicted to the whole milk in my coffee and crunchy nut cornflakes.

NEXT MONTH: preparing for winter

* Roootfield Farm is on the Black Isle, 10 miles north of Inverness, where Jo lives with husband Nick, a fourth-generation dairy farmer, their daughters Daisy and Mollie, and 170 cows.