Etherley Farm, Leith Hill Lane, Ockley, Surrey, RH5 5PA
The upside: Ethically reared poultry and meat from a well run rural business with provenance.
The downside: Don’t expect a picturesque arrival this is a working farm.
The flipside: You can buy direct from the farm shop or from any of the markets they attend and several independent food retailers.
Driving to Etherley Farm near Dorking in the Surrey Hills is an adventure through some of the most beautiful countryside this county has to offer. As you arrive on the farm you can see open fields that are home to chicken, ducks, geese, turkey and sheep. There is nothing fancy here just a good old-fashioned farm slowly raising their stock in a healthy, natural environment. Sheep are a newer addition here and are the only animals not slaughtered on site for the butchery. Lamb, hogget and mutton are all available in season and much loved by their growing band of customers who love the quality and provenance of the products here. The fact that you can see the animals outside and how healthy they are is a big plus too.
I discovered Etherley farm through my friends over at Village Greens Farm Shop in Ockley. Just around the corner from their Coles Lane shop they directed me to Charlie (who heads up the team here) who not only sells direct to the public from the small butchery and produce shop, but also via a few retail outlets and farmers market (such as Ockley Farmer Market) in the county too. In addition they also supply some of the top restaurants in Surrey . At the time of writing Etherley Farm duck is on the menu at Michelin Star Chef, Steve Drakes new venture, Sorrel in Dorking.
Etherley Farm started life as a dairy farm in 1958 and continued to produce milk up until 2001. By that time membership of the EU and a common market policy saw a decline in the price paid for milk. In the years leading up to this, Richard (Charlie’s Husband) had already started producing poultry to supplement the farms dwindling income. Like many farmers they decided to pull out of milk production when the cost of producing it became higher than the price paid. Sadly they sold their dairy herd and started to get serious about rearing birds instead. It was around this time that Charlie and Richard got married and while he looks after the livestock Charlie runs the shop and does the markets. On the farm year round you will find chickens, ducks, geese and sheep. They have laying birds for eggs and birds destined for the table. In July 1,000 young turkeys arrive to live outside on the farm in a massive field to slowly mature for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
My first visit to Etherley Farm was around five years ago. At that time the farm shop was a shed with a couple of freezers in it. Not very appealing but because I had already sampled their chicken from Village Greens I knew it was really great quality with depth of flavour and texture. Thanks to a grant from Rural Surrey Leader they have been able to convert a derelict farm building into a new toilet and shower block for their campsite and add a new farm shop and on site butchery. This has allowed the farm to grow its core business and expand their range of products offered to the public. In addition to whole and jointed birds they offer a lovely range of prepared products such duck sausages, chicken , duck and turkey burgers. The duck sausages are apparently delicious with mash and sweet and sour red cabbage.
Their ethos is one of simplicity, with low intensity, low stocking rates and the minimal amount of additives to ensure healthy stock. Ducks (including laying ducks), turkeys and geese arrive as day old chicks and spend the first few weeks in their brooder and airy barns to develop and be strong enough to go outside. Both types of our chickens (laying and eating) arrive when they are a bit older. However, all the animals have the opportunity to roam around the fields. The turkey, geese and ducks here are really top end and its no wonder that they supply many local award winning butchers and restaurants too.
The newest addition to the farm, are sheep, a flock of 61 North of England Mules and two rams. Grass fed, they are outside all year round, apart from a short period during the lambing season when they need to be indoors for monitoring and extra food. Their aim is to finish the lambs on grass only which is always perceived to be the optimum process, however sometimes they may feed them for a short period of time to ensure a quality finish to the resulting meat. Some of the animals are kept beyond one year to produce hogget and mutton, which has seen a revival in the last few years. Cooked a little slower the meat is delicious and full flavoured.
All slaughter of poultry is done on the farm, which means the animals only have a short distance to travel, reducing the stress on the bird. All the butchery, plucking, preparation, making of sausages and burgers and packaging is also carried out onsite. Sheep however are taken to a local abattoir and then returned, to be butchered. One of the quality aspects of their turkeys, Charlie explained is that they dry pluck the birds which takes longer but extends the shelf life allowing the birds to be hung (like beef) for the flavour and texture to develop. Battery turkeys will be wet plucked (quicker) reducing shelf life and increasing water content making the meat dryer once its cooked.
Turkey’s Charlie says, make great pets, as they are very sweet and inquisitive birds. I asked her if she got attached to them and she laughed and said they have a built in death wish! Apparently they will eat anything that they see which could be bit of plastic, string or fabric, which often get blown onto the farm. The team have to diligently remove all items on a daily basis or run the risk of a fatality as they have an inability to deal with anything getting caught in their throats. So when it comes to doing the deed and getting them ready for Christmas Orders it’s a sigh of relief all round.
In addition to Village Greens you can also buy Etherley Farm birds from several award winning butchers in Surrey too, the list is on the website (details below).They also attend Ockley Farmers Market which started in March 2107 and is on the first Sunday of each month.
Why not support your local independent producer this Christmas by buying the main attraction of your celebration dinner directly from them. It’s a decision that has winners at both ends of the transaction.
Tel. 01306 621500