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Opinion: New arrivals at Rootfield Farm

Nicky, Jo, Daisy and Mollie
Nicky, Jo, Daisy and Mollie

A few weeks in with our brand new bundle of joy – another precious little girl – and I’m still caught out by how moving it is to see Daisy with her baby sister.

I had forgotten the overwhelming joy and love you experience for your newborn and can only imagine how Daisy must be feeling.

I’d also forgotten the overwhelming exhaustion that comes with caring for a new baby.

As with Daisy, I’m doing on-demand breastfeeding. And what with the frequent mooing from the top shed, this has the uncanny knack of making me feel somewhat bovine, especially when I attach the noisy breast pump contraption so that Daisy and daddy can help out with a bottle now and then.

That said, I do find feeding Mollie myself quite convenient and think it’s amazing that breast milk is all a newborn needs for the first six months of life such is its all round nutritional value and immune-boosting properties.

Nick is also a fully signed up member of “breast is best” (!) since he knows how nutritious and important colostrum is for the new calves.

Indeed, he frequently complements me on the quality of my expressed milk.

Thinking about health and nutrition along with the fact that the festive season is well and truly over has spurred me on to kickstart a healthier eating regime again.

Since my food writing days, I have been an avid collector of all sorts of cookery and food books (there were around 120 in my library at last count).

And having suffered a chronic digestive condition in my late teens and a few surgeries in my early 20s, I have more recently devoured with interest the exciting new wave of cookery books on natural, whole food eating.

Among my favourites is Helmsley and Helmsley’s The Art of Eating Well written by sisters Jasmine and Melissa Helmsley.

Their cooking philosophy and inspirational recipes centre on eating unrefined whole foods, which in today’s world of processed foods is often easier said than done.

Their dishes are free from gluten, grains and refined sugar but they embrace properly sourced meat and real fats such as butter and dripping. They are also big fans of “bone broth”, a nutrient-dense stock made, as its name suggests, from simmering meat (or fish) bones in water for up to 24 hours.

Used, they say, for centuries as “a cure-all remedy across cultures”, thanks to its mix of vitamins, minerals, collagen, keratin and healthy fats, it also adds fantastic depth and flavour to soups, stews, curries and casseroles.

I also dip in and out of Deliciously Ella’s blog and book, which is great for healthy sweet treats at this time of year and interesting veggie dishes like lentil and sundried tomato bolognese.

All authors also advocate the use of Himalayan pink salt, which I recently bought from my local health food shop. Said to be lower in sodium than regular table salt but jam-packed with minerals, the pretty pink seasoning is all the rage in the healthy eating bibles and blogs.

And on the farm it turns out.

When I popped it on the table at dinner time the other night, Nick said: “Oh, Himalayan salt”, casually adding a pinch to his meal, “we use this for the cows”.

Having expected him to question the new seasoning – and its price – I confess I was gobsmacked.

He went on to extol its rich mineral content and health benefits for the herd, telling me he introduced the new salt lick for his beasts at the end of the summer.

The essential minerals and trace elements required for optimum cow health can be found in Nick’s new salt licks, which look rather like great lumps of rose quartz. Although they get a lot of what they need from their daily diet, the salt licks allow the cows to top up when they need it.

As purveyor of the pink stuff for farm and family consumption, Gourmet Salt ( points out: “deficiency in salt and essential elements can lead to loss of appetite and in the case of dairy cattle, poor milk production”. Who knew? (well, Nick did, clearly).

Another cow health boosting measure Nick undertook at the beginning of winter was to replace the 40-year-old Perspex skylights in the main cow shed.

Originally, there were 40 skylight panels in the corrugated iron roof, which had become cloudy and dirty over the decades. These were replaced and a further 20 put in, making a huge difference to the amount of natural light in the shed.

Like the salt lick upgrade, this fairly simple change has improved the wellbeing of the herd significantly.

The improved and increased natural light in the shed, particularly at this time of year when they are reluctant to venture out into the cold and daylight hours are short, promotes better bulling activity and generally makes the cows feel happier – I guess a bit like us humans when we get a dose of sunshine.

The calves seem to be enjoying their new home in the top shed, too, having been relocated from their original home next to the milking parlour. Their former accommodation is in the process of becoming a fully functioning milk production and processing facility.

It is taking longer to complete (and more money) than we had hoped but the convenience and reduced environmental impact in having production on-farm will be considerable. The milk will go straight from the bulk tank through the pasteuriser and into a holding tank ready for Rosie and her team to transform into our small range of artisan dairy products.

We have just about perfected the yoghurt, which is good news for my healthy eating regime. But we are still deciding whether or not to bottle our own milk for sale, too.

Being such a staple item on the grocery shopping list, it’s hard to imagine folk paying a bit more for their milk but if they are already shopping in a deli or speciality farm shop, then perhaps they would.

  • Rootfield 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 150 cows