Living the dream at Raglan

Jess Hill, with her parents David and Bronwyn Hill with the Dreamview Farm fleet.

While studying Agricultural Science at Lincoln University, then-21-year-old Jess Hill had an idea for a new direction for her family’s Raglan farm. Her inspiration was her job with the Happy Cow Dairy Co, an ethical dairy company in Christchurch.

“I’d been selling their milk at a Saturday market and I could see how people really cared about where their milk came from, and how the cows were treated,” says Jess.

Her parents, Bronwyn and David Hill, had bought the family’s farm in Raglan in 1999. While Bronwyn had grown up on a dairy farm in Te Uku, David’s farming experience was through his aunt and grandfather’s farms.

When the couple met, David was a builder and Bronwyn was a lab technician for Fonterra. They bought a lifestyle block and reared calves on the side.

David quit his job and the couple worked up the dairy farming ladder to be in a position to buy their first farm. They had three children, Jess, and twins Matthew and Katherine, 21. David also studied for a Certificate in Farm Business Management.

“This farm had potential, and as soon as I saw the view, I was completely sold,” says David.

The 120ha effective farm is situated on steep contour hill country along the coast south of Raglan. It boasts stunning panoramic views of the surf beach and Raglan town and harbour. Hence, the name Dreamview Farm.

The Hills spent the first 10 years improving the infrastructure and water systems on the farm. They bought the neighbouring 30ha run-off and at peak times were milking 270 cows, but winters on the steep contour land were getting harder and harder.

“Managing calving was difficult and the land was getting wrecked every winter,” says David.

Time for a change

At the same time as Jess had her idea, her parents were seriously considering their options for the future.

“We were very interested in her ideas for ethical farming and raw milk production. We both struggled with sending our bobby calves off at four days old,” says Bronwyn.

Jess was “allowed” to cut short her four-year degree at the end of the third year, but “only because she still came out with a BA Ag to show for it”.

The family investigated the Ministry for Primary Industries regulations they would need and embarked on a two-year journey of form filling.

“We wanted to process raw milk and pasteurised milk ourselves,” says Jess.

This required a rigorous Regulatory Control Scheme for the raw milk side, and a Risk Management Plan for the pasteurising side. The raw milk has a separate vat and milk needs to be tested every 10 days.

David’s skills as a builder were invaluable as the family pulled together to kit out a new 20 foot shipping container as a fully compliant, mini dairy factory. Everything had to be food grade material for the production of raw milk, and pasteurised cream, full and skimmed milk.

Breeding for A2

After downsizing the herd they DNA tested the 170 remaining cows for the A2 gene. “It’s believed that A2 milk is easier for humans to digest, and feedback certainly supports this,” says Jess.

“Using AI with semen from A2 bulls, we’ve started a strict breeding programme to eradicate the A1 gene from our herd,” says David.

Thirty A2 cows are milked for fresh milk, and milk from the others still goes to Fonterra.

“It takes an hour to complete the raw milking as we clean each teat by hand, spray with iodine and then dry it off,” says Bronwyn.

The family has happily embraced the ethical and environmental side to their new venture. “All our bottles are glass, and sterilised before use. We charge for them unless an empty bottle is returned at the time of sale,” says Jess.

Jess and her parents undertake deliveries for around 300 customers a week throughout the Raglan area.

“We can only sell raw milk through farm pick up or door-to-door delivery as there has to be complete traceability with this product.”

Their pasteurised milk has been well received by the Raglan community and is sold through the local Four Square.

“We keep all our bobby calves and raise them for beef on the farm,” says Bronwyn.

“Although they still end up on the table one day, customers are a lot happier with that arrangement,” says David.

Both Jess and her parents are now involved full-time in all aspects of the farm and creamery – from milking, processing and calving, to land maintenance and management, and their farm stay accommodation.

In 2019 the family are looking to expand into Hamilton while still keeping the operation small and under control. Bronwyn is doing a cheese making course this year, and Jess is already working with Raglan Chocolate to add a chocolate milk to their range.

For more on the Hill’s journey, see:


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