Stephen Raymond supplies Waitrose Duchy Organic milk from his farm in the Dorset countryside. He’s one of a small group of West Country farmers chosen for their high standards of animal welfare and care for the environment.

Photography: Kevin Nicholson

For most farmers, converting to organic is a big decision – but Stephen Raymond came to it almost by accident.

“I grew up on a farm, and when my dad sold up, me and my wife Sonia started looking for a new place,” he explains. “I had no experience of organic farming, but we found a farm close to both our families, and it turned out to be organic.”

Set in the rolling Dorset countryside, the farm supplies Waitrose Duchy Organic milk, and works to the strict standards set down by the Soil Association.

“Most of the cows’ diet comes from grass and grass silage, and we don’t use any sprays or fertilisers on the fields,” confirms Raymond. “We keep weeds under control by topping – mowing the fields regularly so the weeds can’t seed.”

"Cows are intelligent. They give back what you put in"

Apart from the winter months, the cows spend most of their time in the fields, and organically farmed cows have to have at least a third more space than required on conventional (non-organic) farms. ‘They like being outside,’ says Raymond. ‘You see them gather at the gate after the morning milking, because they know there’s fresh grass out there. We aim to give them a natural life, and not to push them – we could get our herd to give more milk if we weren’t organic, but they give us a decent yield, and we’re happy with that.’

Most of the cows were born on the farm, and the Raymond children help rear the calves. ‘They love working with the cows just like I do,’ says Raymond. ‘Cows are intelligent animals, and they give you back what you put in. Some of our cows are 12 and 13 now, which is a really good age for a dairy cow’.

Taking on an organic farm was a challenge, he says, but he wouldn’t change it: ‘It does involve extra work, because we can’t use the quick fixes that conventional farmers can. But it works. Even if I had a conventional farm now, this is the way I’d farm it.’

“Taking on an organic farm was a challenge, but I wouldn’t change it”