A Farming Dream

The Midlands MagazineJanuary 6, 2023

We look at how the Wood family went from owning a cow in their garden Essenwood Farm.

I wake like clockwork, at 4:30 each morning, and head off to milk my precious small herd of Jersey cows on Essenwood Farm in Curry’s Post, KwaZulu-Natal. Chewing cuds, peaceful and content, they lift their heads, gently and quietly, and moo a welcome to me as I approach my humble milking parlour. It is a very special time of the day for me, and the weather, the elements, and the closeness of my cows are a time for me to reflect, pray, give thanks, and be aware of all of the creation around me.

Kemsley, myself and our three children, Wade, Briony and Rebecca have lived on Essenwood Farm for five years. Our story of a passion for farming, animal and land welfare and hard work to achieve our long-standing goal, is a feel-good story for all.

Kemsley, who grew up on his family farm and attended Cedara Agricultural College, is no stranger to farming and is very capable. He has a positive and can-do attitude to anything he puts his mind to and takes charge of pastures, haying, and so much more on the farm. His positivity, general hands-on attitude, tremendous energy, and ready smile are driving forces for me and he gives me wonderful support and confidence.

I have yearned to farm since I was a little girl. As the children were getting a little older, the yearning grew stronger.  Kemsley eventually suggested that, if I wanted to farm that badly, we could get a cow in our garden.  Living in Howick, we were fortunate enough to have a beautiful large garden.  So, Kathrine, a cow with a limp that could not walk with the rest of the commercial herd that she was with, came to live in our garden. She calved and Charlotte was born. I began to milk Kathrine as well as share her milk with Charlotte.

I desperately wanted to milk cows, but in a different, natural, and humane way – one in which cows did not have their calves removed, where the mums kept their calves, and raised them, following their natural mothering instincts and behaviours. Thus began our Journey of Ethical Dairy or CAFD (calf at foot dairy).

Our story goes like this: We bought a truly run-down small holding that had great soils and was situated in the mist belt of the Midlands. It was aesthetically appalling but I knew it had wonderful potential.  With an enormous amount of hard work, it has proven to be a bountiful, gem of a small farm. Our herd has grown and we now milk seven cows and sell our milk to locals, a Reko market, and Howick coffee shops and delis – Barn Owl Coffee Shop is just one of our great supporters. We aim to produce the best possible quality milk that one can find countrywide.  We also produce amazing double-thick yoghurt, feta, and a few other dairy products.

Tracey Steinhobel, a customer from Reko Howick, has given us this lovely review, saying: “Amazing, healthy, wholesome raw milk from amazing farmer Meg! We recently had the good fortune to visit Meg at her farm and we were blown away by their beautiful farm and excellent process. This should be the benchmark for micro dairy farming. The love and care they have for their animals and the care and attention to detail to the process is astounding. No wonder they have the best raw milk in the Midlands! (and probably beyond too)”.

An incredible recent fact was that when Tom Cruise was recently out filming in the country, he requested our Essenwood Milk. Quite a feather in our cap. And our well-know Egoli actress, Brümilda van Rensburg was recently filmed in our milking parlour milking cows. Almost famous!

With names like Truffles, Lucy, Eileen, and Shadow, the cows are gentle and loving, having only known that same gentle and loving treatment themselves, and are definitely considered part of our family. Is there any other way?

The male calves grow up with their mummies and are gently weaned at around seven to eight months and then integrated into the follower herd – their sisters, aunties, and grannies. When they are fat enough, totally grass-fed, however long that may take, they are harvested on the farm and the meat is processed at our butcher’s butchery. We sell the incredible Jersey/Angus meat privately at the Reko Market. I am adamant that no animal can leave the property alive. No sales, no abattoir, and no trauma.  I am also meticulous about hygiene and milk sanitation, and it shows up in my milk, which has a lifespan of 12-14 days!

We have been farming regeneratively for two and a half years now and it has been quite phenomenal for us to see the changes.  We have also now added pasture laying hens that are naturally fertilising the paddocks and it is incredible to see the difference they make.  There is so much wildlife, from small dung beetles to much larger raptors and owls, which now frequent the farm.

Essenwood now supplies not only our amazing milk and other products from our dairy but also: grass-fed/finished beef; together with my beef tallow, and milk and tallow soap and balms with herb infusions, as well as eggs.  We also have pasture-raised pork and lamb which are part of the animal stacking system. Each animal type comes with its own unique skill set and purpose which we use as tools for managing our farm.

Our three children have all grown up attending the local Howick schools. They have been so busy and happy and done really well. Wade, who is our eldest, is now working on farms in the USA. Briony, who had a handcrafted ice cream business while she was at school, is now attending Potch University and Rebecca, the youngest, is still at Howick High School.

The farm is a real working farm and there is never a break or holiday but everyone loves it, is passionate about it, and we are living our dream!



Words: Megan Wood