Hill House Farm
Hill House Farm is a organic dairy farm near Bristol in Somerset. Our family have farmed here since 1947. My husband David started on the farm when he was fifteen but he is now retiring and our son, Paul, is taking over the running of the farm.
We have around 30 cows which are not all one breed; we have British Friesians, Belgian Blues and Guernseys. This means that there is a variety of colours and patterns – not just black and white. We also have a Belgian Blue bull called Bart. All the cows have names too and these reflect either the colour, temperament or the breed, for instance, all the Belgian Blues have names ending in ‘bell’: (Tinkerbell, Bluebell, Babybell etc.). Female calves (heifers) are kept to add to the dairy herd and we raise some male calves for organic beef. We also have some chickens to provide the family with eggs.
We aim to farm in harmony with nature, keeping the existing wildlife habitats, improving them where we can. We also preserve the many historical features and boundaries. The 25 hectares of land is flower rich pasture that thrives on the rather stony, oolitic limestone plateau.
Dundry stone was quarried as early as Roman times and remains of the stone seam can be found in the quarry dip in Quartz Close, probably named after the shiney quartz sometimes found embedded in the rock. This area provides an area of natural cover for wildlife including bats which feed on the abundance of insects. The Tump is probably the remains of a spoil heap from the quarry and provides a haven for wildflowers, including harebells, scabious and purple cornflower. The nearby Copse would also have been a source of coppiced wood which would have been used to make hurdles, thumb sticks and thatching spats. It also has a mound in the middle and, as the view from there is right over the Bristol Channel to Wales, it was most probably the remains of an early encampment and look-out.
Many of the hedges date back to early times when they were planted to keep animals from straying. The hedge plants were also used for food, medicine and to make other useful items. For instance, ash and hazel would be used for sticks and handles; dogwood for dyeing fabric and making red ink; wood from spindle is so named because it was used for making spindles for spinning wool and the berries used to treat head lice. Elder flowers and berries made delicious jams, drinks and syrups. The hedges are also home to a variety of insects, birds and also small mammals such as woodmice, bank voles and shrews. We see a lot of wildlife here – the map above shows their favourite haunts: rabbits can be found everywhere but we also see hares in the Pump Ground, a fox comes down the lane most evenings and there’s a badger sett between the Front Ground and the Home Field. Swallows nest each year in the barn and birds of prey, such as sparrowhawks and barn owls are also living here.
I will be writing a regular blog about what's going on here on the farm so you get an idea of what it's like to be an organic dairy farmer.
Lesley Hurford (farmer's wife)