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Alan Brown's farming background

Alan Brown grew up on a farm at Barrhill, South Ayrshire, but his father died when he was a child and the family moved to Wigtownshire when his mother Mary married again, to farmer Jim McMuldroch.

Alan worked with his stepfather on Millairies Farm before Jim and Mary moved to nearby East Culkae where they now run a popular B&B and holiday homes.

In the late 1980s, Alan was studying agriculture at Auchencruive in Ayrshire and followed his student days with a visit to New Zealand where raising sheep is an integral part of farming life.

When Alan started working full-time at Millairies, there was already a small dairy on the farm with about 40 cows and he decided to diversify into milking sheep. He soon realised, however, that there was no real buyer for the milk in the area and that he'd have to find a product to make that would use up the milk.

Initially, the milk was frozen, taken to a cheese-maker in Ayrshire and brought back to Millairies to mature. However, in the 1990s, the Browns made the leap into their own cheese production and launched Galloway Farmhouse Cheese.

Alan went on a course in Suffolk, read a book by Olivia Mills who pioneered sheep dairying in the UK in the 1980s, visited several other sheep dairy enterprises and took help and advice from former staff at Sorbie Creamery.

An old byre was converted into a cheese production room and store and the first cheese presses came from local dairy farms which had once made cheese themselves.

Says Helen Brown, "It's amazing how tastes have progressed since we started. Now, it's fantastic how aware people are of sheep's milk and cheese."

Alan describes his Friesland flock as "the Holsteins of the sheep world". They have a high milk yield, lamb with little intervention and produce a good quantity of high quality wool. Not the hardiest of sheep, however, some cross-breeding with Texels has been introduced to "toughen them up a bit", says Alan.

In-lamb over the winter, the ewes are kept inside until they give birth in February and March when, after a few days, they go out to clover-rich pastures which are perfect for lactating sheep.

Instead of being taken off their mothers within a few days, the lambs at Millairies stay with them, drinking their milk for at least eight weeks. The lambs have a good life and although it means there is less milk for cheese-making during these months, the Browns buy in goat's and cow's milk, as they do over the winter too, to supplement.

Sheep's milk produces twice the quantity of cheese as the equivalent volume of cow's milk and is higher in protein, minerals, vitamins and "healthy" polyunsaturated fats. With healthy food at the heart of their business, the Browns - who also breed Charolais Beltex tups and suckler cows - went organic in 1999 which they find very rewarding and a more sustainable way forward.

Alan uses crop rotation, red clover and composted dung to enrich the ground and has also introduced volcanic rock dust from a local quarry as a way of re-mineralising the soil.

According to the British Sheep Dairying Association, of which Galloway Farmhouse Cheese is a member, less than 1,000 sheep are being milked in Scotland, compared to about 20,000 in the UK as a whole and still less are on organic farms producing their own cheese.

Alan Brown's last word on the subject is that "It's a nice feeling to produce something you know is in demand and which you can get a reasonable margin from. There is a lot of job satisfaction in this." Wouldn't we all love to say that? And Alan and Helen's passion for their sheep and their work shines through in the excellence of their range of Galloway Farmhouse Cheeses.

Based on an article in "Dumfries and Galloway Life", Issue 54 - May 2012, from information supplied by Alan Brown.

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