NFU Regional Communications Adviser Carl Hudspith finds out how three generations of the same family manage to successfully cooperate, innovate, and run four separate businesses from one farm site. This is Little Town in Lancashire.
Comprising of a dairy, farm shop, café, garden centre and state of the art farm, Little Town Dairy in Longridge is a business which has flourished under a family-based structure which is by no means conventional or patriarchal.
At the head of the family is 75-year-old Eileen Forshaw who started the farm off with husband Matt in 1965 with 36 acres and seven cows.
Sadly, now widowed, Eileen can still be found in the farm kitchen, advising, and adjudicating while simultaneously making sure all the component parts of her three-generation family workforce are well fed so they can perform their individual roles to the optimum.
All of the family members in the business admit to disagreements and tension at times but credit ownership of individual roles and the interdependent nature of the business as the reason so many of them can successfully draw a good living from the one farm.
Beating at the heart of the enterprise is the farm which is run by Eileen’s son Mick (54) and his son Nat (27). Up until Covid-19 struck, every drop of milk from their dairy cows supplied the dairy which is a limited company.
Mick and Nat manage approximately 650 stock, including calves, on the farm. Currently, the duo is milking 250 Holstein Friesians and rear nearly 250 Aberdeen Angus cattle.
Four Lely A5 robotic milkers have been successfully running for 18 months which Nat says has been a massive improvement on the second-hand ones they had been using since 2004.
One thing you notice immediately in the sheds is how immaculate they are. Nat also runs a couple of Lely vacuum robots that are programmed to travel the lines of the sheds sucking up muck.
“It’s been great for foot health with a lot less dermatitis in the herd. The robots cover each passage eight times a day,” Nat explained.
He is hoping the dairy bounces back quickly from the pandemic, but in the short term is happy that they take 80% of his herd’s milk with the rest heading for the spot market.
Yields are 11,000 litres over 305 days which works out at approximately 36 litres a day.
Butterfat content is 4.25 and protein is 3.25. Calves are all reared at home with all of the Angus destined for the farm shop or being strong stores. The shop takes one Angus a week going up to three a fortnight during the summer when demand increases.
Nat said: “Going forward on the farm we’d like to expand with a view to two additional robots and purpose-built cubicle housing for 100 more cows.”
Little Town Farm Shop
The on-site shop is run by Eileen and her daughter Julie Hallett with Julie’s eldest daughter Nicola, who is married to the butcher Phil Berrington, also helping to run the shop. Another of Eileen’s granddaughters, Kate, who has special needs is also an integral part of the shop team and is especially popular with customers for her well-mannered character.
Eileen said: “We started off as an outlet for the hugely popular home-produced yogurts and home reared beef and have blossomed with an active drive to supply a full range of locally sourced quality food to meet customer demand. With the addition of a thriving cafe and takeaway which has continued to grow in popularity throughout the Covid-19 crisis, we are rapidly responding to our customers’ changing requirements.”
Extended in November 2020, Covid hasn’t stopped trading with orders being placed over the telephone and safely picked up at the door. The shop has also provided a local delivery service for its loyal customer base.
Innovation has been important. Friday nights at Little Town have turned into pizza nights with takeaway orders taken from 5pm until 7pm.
Julie said: “Our best trading day saw us sell 120 pizzas in just two hours. It’s been phenomenal. We also promote meal deals during the week with the menu changing regularly. We provide things like lasagne and a bottle of wine for a very affordable price. Initiatives such as this are important as we need to keep the business being talked about.
“During the pandemic we continued to advertise via social media and we’re amazed when people would come in their cars and sit with a take-away coffee. They simply needed to get out.”
The shop employs around 20 staff with half being on full time hours.
There are vacancies for roles in the shop and a full-time experienced butcher. Anyone interested should call 01772 786198.
Aberdeen Angus beef from the farm is the shop’s biggest seller and all other meats are locally sourced. The shop is currently looking at acquiring more local fruit and vegetables so that it stocks as much British produce as possible.
Three and a half years ago Eileen’s eldest daughter Michelle Unsworth returned home with her garden centre’s reputation already established.
Michelle had been trading as a tenant on a site in Longridge but always thought her So Plants business would flourish more at Little Town. With only two months to convert the first field you come to as you travel up the track towards Little Town, Michelle, gravelled, levelled, and began erecting quality buildings.
“We specialise in hardy plants from within a 20-mile radius of the local area and have 70 varieties of tree to choose from,” explained Michelle.
“We make up and sell one thousand hanging baskets as well as the same number of wreaths for Christmas which go to our trade customers.”
So Plants employs 14 members of staff all of whom are knowledgeable horticulturists. It’s a limited company completely separate from the rest of the Little Town business.
Michelle added: “We closed during lockdown but continued to deliver for free in order to keep momentum going and to meet increasing demands. It will take a while for us to change back to being a garden centre rather than a distribution centre.
“We dovetail well with the farm shop. People come to get a coffee and wander over to us afterwards. It works extremely well.”
Facebook kept Michelle in contact with her customer base with one post she uploaded attracting 20,000 hits.
“I had to invest in a van to complete the 30 to 40 deliveries we were doing every day,” said Michelle.
“It was mad. I was taking orders over the phone at 2am as people lost track of time.”
The Dairy has produced a wide range of delicious yogurts and cultured milk products for over 30 years, with three generations of the family working to grow and create a sustainable business. The dairy supplies the wholesale market with product lines specially designed for a variety of customers such as schools, nursing homes, NHS, cruise lines, hotels, restaurants and manufacturers.
Run by another of Eileen’s daughters, Alison Moulding, with the office being overseen by Mick’s wife Janet, the dairy also employs Alison’s two daughters – Laura who concentrates on the technical and sales side of the business and Emma who assists Janet in the office.
The dairy has been consistently growing as a company for many years, working with the farm to increase milk production with demand and providing a stable, premium price for the milk. Covid-19 caused a slight set back in 2020, leading the team to actively strive to build a wider customer base, including introducing new product lines for doorstep deliveries and retail.
As the UK returns to a new normality, the team are looking forward to continuing to thrive, expanding as a business, developing new customer relationships, focusing on reducing the use of plastic packaging and improving processing efficiency.
For more information on products and the many aspects of this exciting business, visit www.littletowndairy.co.uk