John & Betty Stracey started out on 10th December 1937 with a run down farmhouse (White Pond Farm) and 120 acres of land in very poor condition, hard to believe now! There was an opportunity to take over more land including Balhams Farmhouse but it was in a state of disrepair without windows and overgrown with weeds and was deemed unviable at the time.
The dairy herd of about 30 Friesians and Shorthorns were milked in the building that has been converted to Cowslip and Bullrush. Over the years the herd increased to 110 Friesians by breeding from our own cows (i.e. a closed herd), and the milking moved from the cow shed to the milking parlour.
I 1961 Rose Farm (Turville Heath) was amalgamated with White Pond Farm enabling more cereals to be grown and a beef enterprise to be started. John and Betty's son, Simon and his wife Lindy started their married life in Rose Farm and were soon to be joined by Victoria (Tora) and Edward (Eds), cheap labour at last!
In 1970 Balhams became available to rent (excluding the farmhouse, which had been sold off previously), and this increased the acreage to 420, again allowing more cereals to be grown and further expansion of the dairy unit
Sadly in 1988, John died and the tenancy was passed down to Simon, who with Lindy, Tora and Eds, moved down to White Pond to live with Betty. The principal landlord converted one end of White Pond to a self-contained annex for Betty (Farmhouse Wing); it was better known as 'Granny's End'! This was exchanged for Rose Farmhouse.
The farming policy didn't change from dairy (the main enterprise), beef & arable for many years and up until April 2003, 110 Friesian cows could be seen strolling the hills. Due to the poor state of the milk market a decision was made to sell the dairy herd and replace it with a beef suckler herd. The old cowshed was then converted, with full support from our principal landlord, into 'Bullrush' and 'Cowslip' as two self-catering cottages. The work was carried out by traditional local builders.
White Pond still consists of 520 acres (from 5 different landlords), 290 of these are down to grass which is grazed by our suckler herd of 60 Aberdeen Angus and Belgian Blue cows. They calve in the spring and their progeny are reared and fattened and eventually get sold to Waitrose.
Our total number of cattle is now upto 320. We are affiliated to FABBL (Farm Assured British Beef & Lamb) and 'Freedom Food'(click to read an article about White Pond Farm) which is an RSPCA based scheme. This assures the customer that the product they are buying has been reared to the best possible standards.
The arable side of the farm consists of 90 acres of wheat, 35 acres of beans and 80 acres of barley, this is assured by ACCS (Assured Combinable Crops Scheme). The wheat goes for biscuit making and the barley and beans are kept to fatten the beef on. We also have 25 acres of set-a-side which can be grazed in the winter.
Recently we have taken on 120 acres which we contract farm from a very good friend of ours who produces the best Christmas Trees; 'The Tree Barn' in Christmas Common. The cropping for this bit of land is 50 acres of beans and 70 acres of malting barley.
Simon and Tora run the farm with the help of Ken who has worked at White Pond for 50 years and knows the farm like the back of his hand.
Lindy is in charge of the accommodation which includes The Wing, Bullrush and Cowslip. The accommodation has proved very popular and we are now having our guests returning year after year which is a great compliment. Not bad for an idea dreamed up around the breakfast table.
The farm has been used for filming many times with James Bond; the Living Daylights being one of the first. Since then we have had three episodes of Midsomer Murders filmed here and the last filming we did was 'Enduring Love'. Filming inquiries are always welcome
Our latest venture is to sell turkeys for a friend from Aldworth, Berkshire. Last year we sold over 100 turkeys and hope to expand as they taste superb. It is a fun day when the customers collect their turkeys from our old timber barn. Last year 5 gallons of mulled wine were consumed!
Life has not been dull since the milking cows went in 2003 and no doubt there will be another venture soon.
Ken has retired after 52 years of hard work on the farm. He has seen many changes in his time here! We wish him all the best for a long, happy and well deserved rest in his new home near his family in Didcot
We were short of cattle sheds so in April we built a purpose designed shed for store cattle. We are grateful to 'Redwing Construction' and 'Richard Hall' for all their input; two excellent firms to deal with. This winter was made much easier with the new shed and most importantly we were able to house more cattle inside, therefore, they were more content and will be fattened earlier than if they were wintered outside. The new yard thats adjacent with it is also great for parking film crews!
Life certainly hasn't been dull since our last update; many things have changed and hopefully we have made some improvements as well!
On the farm we have increased our suckler cows to 80 with 2 Aberdeen Angus bulls to keep them happy and in calf. We calve 50 in the spring and 30 in the autumn in order to give us a more even turnover. We also buy in 60 Angus calves and 60 Hereford calves a year and rear them from 2 weeks until they are finished (fat!) at about 22 – 24 months of age. We still sell our finished stock to Waitrose and our beef can be found in the fresh meat counter of many stores. In addition we are selling freezer packs of our home killed beef, anything from a bag of mince to a quarter of an animal. It is slaughtered and butchered locally so has very low food miles. The carcass is hung for 3 to 4 weeks and you can taste the difference in flavour and tenderness. Our total cattle numbers are up to and maintained around 420.
Because of the increased stock we have reduced and simplified the arable side of the farm. We grow 70 acres of winter barley which is used to feed the cattle and 100 acres of spring barley which is sold for malting (mainly lager production) as long as it meets the specification. The set-a-side has been done away with; thank goodness – a completely immoral idea! This is now in grass for the beef which is much more productive!
The arable land at Andrew Ingram's (The Tree Barn, Christmas Common) has been reduced and simplified. We now just plant and harvest the crop for Andrew, mainly spring barley which goes for malting. The straw from our farm and Andrew's is used for bedding and feeding our cattle
We use Derek Cheriton to do all the spraying and fertilising with his all singing all dancing Bateman. We have found this to be very advantageous in timing of operations, quality and speed of work and especially fertilising as we now satellite map the fields for phosphate, potash, magnesium and lime. This allows us to put the fertiliser where it is needed at varying rates. Nothing stands still in agriculture. A friend of ours does all our ploughing as it gives him plenty of practice for match ploughing!
The biggest change that has recently happened is that Tora has been swept off her feet by an arable farmer in Dorset, a great bloke called Peter Snell. How long his farm is completely arable with Tora down there is anybody's guess! Eds then surprised us and has come home to the farm after 11 years of seeing the alternative life to farming. I hope that he has as much fun from the farming life as I have had. Eds is hoping to go to Cirencester in October to do a 1 year course in Agriculture; making the third generation of Straceys there! Tora comes back to White Pond two days a week to keep up with the book work and help with the cattle etc.
Lindy is still very busy with the holiday cottages; some of our guests have been back 10 times – so book early to avoid disappointment! Over the past few years we have had brides and grooms stay here prior to their wedding day. It is always great fun seeing them leave White Pond via the garden in their smart wedding cars. We keep looking at our granary and thinking it would make a great and intimate holiday cottage one day!
The turkey venture has gone from strength to strength; last year we sold 150 turkeys and 16 geese as well as sausages, bacon and our beef. Gallons of mulled wine were consumed in the process – a great start to Christmas.
Recently we have been very lucky with the filming. In 2010 we had a Bulmer's advert made here which was great fun and left us with a hangover! In 2011 a film called 'Hyde Park on Hudson' was made in one of our fields by 'Pop's bench' and should be out at the cinema late summer/autumn. In April this year Midsomer Murders returned to make 'The Death and The Divas' which will be shown in the autumn 2012 or spring 2013. We always enjoy having the film crews here as they provide us with a different challenge and some great entertainment! It also gives Lindy a break from feeding the hungry family with the incredible catering wagons that come with the ensemble!
To celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and 75 of the Straceys at White Pond Farm we planted a 'Jubilee Lime Tree Walk' from our Dutch barn up to Hollandridge Lane. The weather has been perfect for the trees if nothing else. The Jubilee lunch was held at White Pond with 175 guests all celebrating the event in their wellies with true British spirit! We cooked 40kg of our beef and Yorkshire puddings in 'Puffing Billy' – a new addition to our diversification. To explain, it is a large charcoal oven made from a 250 gallon (1,136 litres) oil tank mounted on a chassis so it is towable. It is ideal for cooking beef, pork and lamb. Its next outing is Henley show September 2012.
It is nearly 10 years since we stopped milking, things have certainly changed except for the price of milk. When we stopped in 2003 the price was 20 p/l, some poor producers are now only getting 24 p/l – daylight robbery.
There have been plenty of ventures since we updated our history, no doubt there will be plenty more in the future!