A pinta on the doorstep was the staple daily diet for generations of families but price-cutting supermarkets all but put an end to the milkman’s round.
With the baker, the grocer, the butcher’s lad and the mobile veggie van, the milkman faced an uphill struggle with the competition.
Now, in what has been described as the pinta turning full circle, the milkman is back in favour with the clink of the bottle (or if preferred a carton) on the step returning as part of a morning ritual And as bad as it has been, the coronavirus pandemic with its series of lockdowns have helped boost direct farm sales of milk not only in supermarket-style cartons but increasingly popular eco-friendly returnable glass bottles.
Farmer Ray Brown and his wife, Jill, and their family diversified from sending high-quality milk into a central pool two years ago and invested in a state of the art modern dairy at the family’s Orchard Farm in Twemlow, between Holmes Chapel and Goostrey.
Ray and Jill’s younger son, Ryan, and his wife, Becky, run the farm along with daughter, Mel, and their eldest son, Adam, and his wife, Becky, look after the dairy. “We are very lucky to have a very dedicated team of staff on both sides of the business,” says Ray.
The bulk of the milk from the 300-strong Bidlea pedigree herd grazing on 500-acres of lush pasture is processed and bottled on the farm and only a small amount is sent away.
It is distributed only hours after milking to a network of village shops and farm outlets in Cheshire and to a growing number of independent milkman doing doorstep deliveries.
The need to shop-local because of coronavirus has helped to establish a milk bar run by Jill and Ki Ashmore, Annie Newport and Gwen Robinson, and the Saturday girls Issy and Emma, established in a temporary shop, outside the dairy, dispensing the precious white liquid from a bank of machines directly into customers reusable litre bottles obtainable for £1 or sold in cartons.
This in its own right has become a community hub despite the need to currently observe social distancing as many customers return daily to pick up supplies.
Bidlea cream and butter, local honey and eggs have been added to sales and soon Adam is to launch a Bidlea brand of ice cream and other dairy products – hopefully in time to coincide with the next stage of the enterprise to open a tea and coffee shop and farm nature trail.
For Ray selling milk from the farm is a sentimental return to his ancestral roots 102 years ago in Biddulph where in 1919 his grandad Hedley Brown set up the Biddulph Herd at Mount Pleasant Farm.
The herd of just 24 cows produced enough for grandad’s milk round in the then mining community to make doorstep deliveries from a cart drawn by a horse called Joey.
The Bidlea herd still includes descendants of grandad Hedley’s original cattle 102 years ago.
In the Brown family collection of farming memorabilia is a reminder of its early beginnings, a quart-sized milk bottle stamped with his grandad’s name that has survived a century.
Ray’s family-backed decision to enter into what could have been a capital investment nightmare came after the price paid for milk by the dairies plunged, resulting in hundreds of dairy farmers crashing out of business.
“It seemed crazy to me we should be producing milk and losing on every litre we sold, due to market forces outside of their control,” said Ray.
“If we had gone on like that, we would have just gone broke, but I can’t say I didn’t have a few nightmares at the thought of the amount of capital needed to go it alone.
“But the family agreed it was the only way ahead and to ensure Adam and Ryan and their families and future generations had a business to inherit.
“We have never targeted supermarkets because the shops and doorstep deliveries like to have a unique branded high-quality product with a low carbon footprint that is fully traceable.”
Recently Ray underwent replacement surgery on both knees and recovery has given him time away from a 3am milking schedule to plan future expansion.
“At the moment Bidlea milk is delivered to some 80 outlets and farm shops, mainly in Cheshire. We are constantly asked about doing doorstep deliveries, so at present, we supply six independent milk rounds covering a large area of the immediate county, including Holmes Chapel, Goostrey, Sandbach and Middlewich.
“We pass on information about their rounds to people who ask about doorstep deliveries and also encourage more independents in villages and towns in Cheshire and surrounding counties to have our milk. We are proud to have a product from a single source raised, milked and processed on the family farm.”
Shops, stores, farm shops and milk rounds who would like to have Bidlea Milk and its dairy products should contact Adam and Becky Brown on 01477 544 777.