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Down on the farm

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By Sue Smithregistered childminder

Find out how a day at Norton’s Dairy Farm in Norfolk helped children make new friends and great memories

Down on the farm

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It was an overcast morning when we arrived at our destination, Norton’s Dairy Farm, located in the heart of the Norfolk countryside near the village of Frettenham. We were met by the owners, David and Ruth Norton, who gave us a guided tour of their working farm.

Family farm

The farm has been in the Norton Family since 1946 and currently has 70 cows in the milking herd, consisting of Holstein Friesians, Brown Swiss, and Swedish Red and White breeds. With production from the cows to the public in less than 12 hours, Norton milk is as fresh as it comes! Most of the cows are ‘related’ to the handful of cattle who made up the original herd; ‘Diana 24th’ and ‘Daisy 20th’ are the great-great-great granddaughters of those first few animals! The cows are kept outside on grass during the warm summer months and are given cosy straw bedding inside during the frosty and wet winter months.

Apart from milk production, the farm grows grass, which is used for silage, hay for grazing and maize for the cows. The arable part of the farm grows wheat, barley, sugar beet and potatoes. The farm covers approximately 156 hectares and David manages the dairy, while the arable part of the farm is looked after by his uncle, Philip.

Cows in the barn

Making new friends

Our tour started in the milking parlour, where the cows are milked twice a day – once in the morning at 5.00am and again at 3.30pm. The farm pasteurises about one third of the milk and supplies milk, cream and butter to local hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions and village shops in the Broadland area, as well as selling their produce through the farm’s local shop.

From the milking parlour we were shown the chill tank where the milk is carefully filtered and collected, allowing it to be cooled straight away to three degrees centigrade. The milk to be pasteurised is carried 20 metres across the farmyard in a movable mini-bulk tank to the specially built hygienic pasteurising unit. From here, Ruth took us through to the first calf shed (lots of ‘aahs’ here!). Three of the calves were barely four weeks old and just adorable.

Farmer David talked to the children about the food the calves eat and showed us the pellets in one bucket and water for the cows to drink in the other… just as one of the new little calves decided she wanted to make friends and show her inquisitive, friendly nature – much to the children’s delight!

Feeding the cows

Safety on the farm

It is important when visiting farms, as with any off-site visit, to be mindful of health and safety considerations and ensure that risk assessments are carried out. Norton’s Farm offers organised school and group trips, and provides a detailed full risk assessment. I made a copy of this available to my parents, together with a request for signed permission forms, to enable me to take the children further than our local community for the day. I also asked parents for written permission for their child to touch the animals. It is good practice to respect parents’ wishes and to accept that not every parent will want their child to come into direct contact with the animals. Full hand-washing facilities were available during our visit and, following good practice, I carried anti-bacterial hand gel, a first-aid kit and paper towels, as well as a bottle of water and liquid soap.

‘How does it work?’

When being shown farm machinery, the boys showed a particular interest in the hay baler that ‘nets’ and ‘bales’ the hay at the same time. The farm works as a co-operative with a neighbouring farm and they share the machinery needed to harvest the land. David gave clear explanations when faced with the question, ‘But how does it work?’ over and over again! The boys were shown grains of wheat and then they discovered the process the grains go through to make bread and the cereal that they have for breakfast.

The best part of our farm tour from the boys’ point of view just had to be the opportunity they had to sit in both the tractor and the JCB low loader. Even more excitement followed when Farmer David turned the key to start the JCB and, under close supervision and instruction, one of the boys was allowed to pull and push the levers to extend the ‘loader’.

Farm machinery

A return visit?

I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to David and Ruth Norton for allowing us to visit their farm and for giving up their morning so we could go ‘behind the scenes’ and discover the workings of a busy farm. I am hoping to arrange a return visit with fellow childminders and the children that they care for in the summer. Then, we plan to travel by train to enable us to spend a whole day visiting Norton’s Farm and also have some time to see more of the lovely town of Wroxham.

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Images © Sue Smith

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