Told by: Angus Willis - Forest Farm.
Forest Farm is Scotland’s longest established organic dairy farm. We produce fresh organic milk, organic yogurt and handcrafted artisan gelato and sorbet from our farm creamery in Aberdeenshire, with a focus on quality, provenance and sustainability.
The farm has been a dairy since the early 1940s and has been run in partnership by our family since 1989. We converted the farm to organic in 1998 and we are certified by the Soil Association. Today the farm is managed by Anne Willis and her two sons William and Angus and is home to 150 organic dairy cows, who have the freedom to graze and roam lush pastures. It is located 10 miles North West of Aberdeen City Centre and encompasses a total of 360 acres.
We produce just over 1 million litres of organic milk per year and strive to be truly sustainable by using no pesticides or fertilisers, managing field rotations, creating wildlife habitats and by practising animal husbandry of the highest welfare standards. We use traditional techniques, growing different crops in the fields over a period of time. Rotations typically start with grass and clover because they build the soil’s fertility. After this, cereal crops such as barley or peas may be grown because they benefit from the fertility provided by the grass and clover. Not only has rotation helped build fertility but it has also provided a great, natural way of reducing diseases and pests. We feed all our cows with a GM-free, organic, forage-based diet.
Our pasture-based system is complemented by our move away from conventional Holstein genetics and breeding back to British Friesians. Friesians yield well off the farm’s own pasture, topped up with some extra energy and protein from home grown crops. We have recently introduced some Jersey cows into the herd to produce high butter fat milk which we use to make gelato style ice cream.
We launched our processing and retail business in December 2017, diversifying part of our dairy into a new creamery, with the ambition to produce the highest quality and freshest organic and artisan dairy products, which are not heavily processed and available to purchase in a more sustainable way.
Our milk is produced and processed fresh every morning. We have designed a processing system which allows us to pasteurise our milk in a different way to large processors, who heat their milk to high temperatures for a short period of time (72 degrees for 15 seconds). We pasteurise our milk at a lower temperature for longer in batches, which allows us to retain more of the natural flavour and qualities of the milk.
The system was also designed with a diversion line which allows us to pasteurise our milk directly from the milking parlour, which improves energy and time efficiency. It also allows us to produce a unique organic product which can be sold on the same morning as it is produced on the farm.
We have won the following awards in recent years which have recognised our sustainable approach to business:
OMSCo Farm of the Year 2017;
UK Organic Dairy Farm of the Year 2018;
Green Butterfly Award 2019, for environmental practices from the Aberdeenshire Environmental Forum;
North East Food and Drink Award 2019; and
Norgrass Trophy 2020.
We were also nominated and are finalists in following categories in the Scottish Rural Award 2020:
Most Sustainable Rural Business Award; and
Best Farming Business Award.