By NERISSA CARD
It is possible that the KZN Midlands has the only A2 A2 dairy in the country. If not, then it is one of a handful.
About six months ago I met Derek Martin at the Rosetta market. I was waiting to buy cheese at his stall when I overheard him telling the woman in front of me that he sold A2 A2. Interested, I asked why it was so special.
He explained that it is suitable for those suffering from lactose intolerance.
I bumped into Derek again at the Earth Route Market in Nottingham Road recently. Having tasted his cheese, one of my weaknesses, I figured it was time to visit him and wife Linda on their farm, Tatsfield, in Lidgetton, to find out more.
The couple moved to the area from Umkomaas 15 years ago. They had children at schools in the Midlands, so it made sense for them to be in the vicinity.
“I always said that if I got my price for the house on the coast I would sell. One day a guy knocked a golf ball onto the roof. He came to retrieve it and offered to buy it.”
That was the start of their new life in the Midlands, but it did take Derek three months to tell Linda he had bought the farm. “She told me not to buy anything that didn’t have a house. House? We didn’t even have water or electricity, never mind a house.”
The couple rented a two-bedroom cottage, with a caravan, for Linda and their five children, while Derek lived in a Wendy house on the farm during the build, a process that would take six to seven years.
The house is fascinating. It was built on the golden mean, with rocks breaking bad lay lines to prevent negative energy entering the home. It was constructed using rammed earth and less than 20 bags of cement. For a structure that is 792 square metres, that is pretty impressive. The walls are more than a metre thick, the floors are reclaimed pine and the 160-year-old windows came out of the beautiful double-storey prison wardens’ homes in Durban’s Point area. In fact, the dwelling was built around the windows.
The plan was to have a four-bedroom home, but by the time Derek had finished building all the kids had left home, so it became three.
“When we came up here I intended to do herbs, which I still do, but on a much smaller scale.
“Then Linda became interested in cows.”
Linda’s introduction to cows happened by chance. Their son was involved in a serious accident on the R103 that put him in a coma for nine weeks. While he was recovering one of his friends borrowed Derek’s trailer. To thank him, he gave the couple four heifers.
“We quickly had to set up pens and Linda had to bottle-feed the animals. We saved three of them and that was the beginning of our herd. It was an absolute learning curve.”
That herd has grown to 40. The animals the couple keeps come from sought-after bloodlines and because they object to the males being killed, a practice that is slowly being banned in Europe, they import frozen, sexed A2 A2 semen. This means they only have female calves
Derek’s interest in A2 A2 came about while he was investigating raw milk. He came across a crowd in America who were trying to get it legalised in certain states. Then he discovered there was an Australian who had started an A2 A2 company, but it had run into financial problems. To keep it going he crowdfunded it, eventually selling it for millions to a corporate.
“All that piqued my interest and I believed it was the way forward.”
“The way we farm is more expensive, but our focus is on the wellbeing of the animals. We don’t take any chances. If milk withdrawal takes five days we do six, and we only milk once a day. Our milking cows are now aged about 10. With the big guys, the average lifespan of a milking cow is four to five,” says Linda.
No hormones are used and the calves are only weaned after three months. “In the big dairies, they want them pregnant again in 21 days,” she adds.
Weaning also involves removing the calves from their moms during the night after two months. In the day, however, they are taken back to mom.
“After weaning the moms get vitamins to build them up, until their next heat.”
Predators are an issue on the farm, so when it comes to calving, donkeys Phil and Bill are on hand to protect the cows and calves.
The vegetarian couple’s love for each individual animal is obvious and their milk so popular that people come up once a week from Durban to collect supplies. They also supply an online company, and sell it at health shops and markets.
And demand is increasing.
The couple’s cheese business also started by “default”, after Derek went on a cheesemaking course, followed by their daughter, Abby.
They received advice from two experts in the field. The rest, says Derek, was trial and error.
The couple make crofter which, depending on where the cows have been grazing, may be of the plain variety or with chilli or herbs. They also produce feta and haloumi, and yoghurt.
And then there are the veggies, which they started four years ago after Derek sold his fresh produce supply business.
Fortunately, he has connections in the game, so apart from growing for local markets, he also supplies niche veggies, such as baby leeks, baby fennel, marrows and patty pans, to some of the big chains.
What Derek told me next was jaw-dropping. Many supermarkets have been moving to biodegradable vegetable containers, but a number of consumers have complained that they get soggy when in packets with other goods, so the chains are having to revert to polystyrene containers.
WTF was my reaction, but that’s a story for another day.
In fact, I have so many stories to tell after my afternoon with Derek, Linda, Derek’s delightful 96-year-old mother, Sally, and their gorgeous animals, but I think I should leave it there for the moment.
Journalism can be a tiresome experience. One is constantly surrounded by negativity, but every now and then you meet people like the Martins and all is well with the world. Thank goodness for them.