Milk and cheese circle puts smile on the face of British dairying

Say ‘cheese’. Students Hannah Kinston and John Davies are part-financing themselves through university thanks to their developing cheese retail and ‘Jersey Boy Beef’ Rose Veal businesses.

Milk from Hannah Kinston’s family dairy farm near Burton-upon-Trent is sent to Cheshire-based cheese manufacturer Joseph Heler. She and her boyfriend John Davies, both 19, then buy some of this cheese back, add value to it and retail it around Derbyshire and Leicestershire to help fund their respective university studies.

The liquid whey by-product from the hand-made cheese sold by the entrepreneurial students is sent from Cheshire to Wales, where it is processed by Volac using their unique manufacturing process to result in Imunopro – a concentrated whey protein base material packed with the vital amino acids and immunoglobulins so necessary for healthy youngstock growth and development. Hannah’s father then buys this Imunopro -based calf milk formula from his local agricultural merchant to help rear his dairy herd replacements. It’s quite a virtuous British ‘milk circle’.

The Volac calf milk formula factory based at Felinfach in Wales now processes three million litres of liquid whey every day from British and Irish cheese manufacturers. Uniquely, Volac, a British family owned and operated business, is now firmly embedded in the British milk circle, processing up to 50% of all the whey produced in England and Wales (equivalent to 10% of the national herd) – turning it effectively into high quality calf milk formulas and human protein supplement formulations. No other company does this in the UK.

Hannah’s father John Kinston says: “It’s great for us as a family farm to be able to add some value ourselves; in terms of selling a quality product to local British consumers made from the milk produced on our own dairy unit. I’m proud of the entrepreneurial flair Hannah and John are demonstrating. Youthful enthusiasm and sheer hard work has already taken them a long way.”

Hannah and John hit on the idea of retailing their own cheese in June 2016. Having stepped in at the last minute to run a stall selling Joseph Heler cheese when the Kinston family opened up their 900 cow Stanton House dairy unit to 2000 visitors on Open Farm Sunday, they were amazed at the interest from the general public.

“After we sold out in under four hours we realised there was definitely a market for locally-produced British produce. We then started selling a range of British cheeses at stalls all around the Peak District and thought we could make a business out of it,” Hannah says.

“Over the last two years we’ve grown steadily. I think people like the personal touch and the fact we can tell them where the cheese comes from, about the processes involved in making the product and show them pictures of our cows. The public we engage with also seem to respond well to us as young people trying to make our way in the world.”

The entrepreneurial couple now sell a range of cheeses from mature cheddar to a Christmas special smoked Red Leicester. They are also adding value to their cheese, particularly targeting the younger generation.

“You used to see burger vans outside nightclubs, now they are selling cheese toasties!” says John, who is from a family beef and arable farm in Leicestershire. “Younger customers always want to try our chilli-smoked cheddar because it’s got a real kick to it.

“I’m very interested in the business side of the operation and am currently studying Agriculture with Business at Harper Adams University. We want to support ourselves, but also follow our passion from British farming and the food we produce,” he says.

Veal opportunity

Interestingly, John and Hannah are not sticking solely to cheese. Their latest venture is a move into quirkily-flavoured Rosé veal burgers, branded ‘Jersey Boy Beef’, where they take on the small, unwanted Jersey cross bull calves produced at Stanton House and rear them to six months of age.

“White veal has rightly had a bad press in the past on welfare grounds, but we find you can change perceptions amongst younger people about meat if you talk to them about how you rear your animals. In the main the British dairy industry is missing a great opportunity with dairy bull calves. Rosé Veal is a high welfare product and we rear our calves outdoors in hutches. The reality is that lambs, chickens and pigs reared for meat often have shorter lives on farm, sometimes going for slaughter as young as four months of age,” Hannah says.

“Our developing business interests obviously keep us very busy and it can be hard at times juggling things around our university studies. There have been periods when we’ve been surviving on very little sleep, but we feel it makes sense to go the extra mile to establish ourselves at this time of our lives.”

The ‘Jersey Boy Beef’ Rosé Veal calves are reared outside in spacious hutches until they are six months old. They are fed milk replacer and concentrates, as well as being given ad lib access to plenty of straw and fresh water.

Cheese contract

Hannah’s father John Kinston says he is very happy with his Joseph Heler cheese contract. “They draw milk from a 45-mile radius of their factory in Nantwich. The demand for milk for their cheese is year-round, with a small peak before Christmas, so we have geared our relatively extensive milk production system around their ‘winter plus’ contract.

“They need at least 45% of our milk between September and February. Consequently, we calve our New Zealand Friesian cross Jersey cow milking herd in two batches to even out production throughout the year. About half calve inside between February and April with the rest calving outside between July and November.

“Cows are milked twice a day through a rotary parlour and fed off feed pads with silage and a variety of cost effective straight feeds. Yields average about 6,000 litres per year predominantly from forage, plus some crimped cereals, Alkagrain, wheat distillers and rapeseed meal. Joseph Heler obviously wants good milk constituent quality year-round, typically 4.5-4.6% butterfat and 3.5% protein,” John says.

“It’s great that as well as being paid year-round for our milk, we now have a developing business earning a retail margin from the cheese our milk has produced. What’s more, knowing that the whey by-product from cheese manufacture is performance-formulated into our calf milk formula – which is produced by a British company – really does give us confidence in the British milk circle.”

For more information on the range of cheeses available from John Davies and Hannah Kinston visit: www.johnandhannahltd.co.uk