Like many dairy farmers, Co Leitrim man Patrick Bradley used to buy pasteurised milk for his family from the supermarket fridge, up until a few years ago.
But the Bradleys ended up changing their farming practices almost by accident when Patrick developed stomach problems and went in search of answers.
Now, he and his 85-year-old father Hugh have a raw milk bottling plant on their 100-acre farm on the shores of Lough Garadice near Newtowngore, which is kept going by their 60-strong dairy cow herd.
Their For Gut Sake Lovely Leitrim Raw Milk is being sold in about 70 outlets across Ireland and also online to customers, with next-day delivery of glass bottles through the post guaranteed.
It all came about after Patrick had a live blood analysis to get to the root of his stomach ailment. He was advised to avoid dairy, bread and many other foods.
“I thought I’d have to eat grass,” he recalls.
The changed diet helped with his symptoms, and Patrick lost three stone, but one day found himself yearning for a protein fix. His nutritional adviser had given him the green light to drink raw milk, so rather than going “for a steak or a pint of Guinness”, he went to the farm’s milk tank and filled a mug.
After drinking the contents, he said he “felt it going to every part of my body” and started to question the widely held belief that milk needs to be pasteurised.
The Bradleys drank their own cows’ milk until about 40 years ago when, against the backdrop of concerns about tuberculosis and brucellosis, the accepted wisdom became that pasteurised milk bought from the shop was safer.
However, having previously been banned, it again became legal to supply raw milk in 2015 thanks to the work of the campaigning group Raw Milk Ireland.
In 2017, the Bradleys started selling their raw milk. Patrick concedes that it remains a “very niche” market, with much of the demand for the product, which is regulated by the Department of Agriculture, coming from Ireland’s eastern European community.
With so much talk about the carbon footprint of farmers, Patrick says it is gratifying to know they are doing their bit by supplying glass bottles of milk to people who might otherwise be buying plastic containers.
The milk is doubled-filtered and chilled on the farm . “There is no processing, nothing is added,” he adds. “We bottle by hand. Every litre takes a few seconds to fill.”
On the Bradleys’ farm, the cows are milked once rather than twice a day.
“I love it and the cows love it,” says Patrick, who concedes that while this approach does impact on output, it means the quality of the product is higher.
The Bradleys have also opted to install solar panels on the farm, which Patrick says has allowed them to meet some 35 to 40 per cent of their energy needs.
“And we are displacing five tonnes of carbon per annum,” he says.
On “a long bright day”, he says he can see the power clocking up on the solar system and is hopeful that, in time, the farm will be self-sufficient when it comes to electricity and perhaps have a surplus to be sold into the national grid.
Patrick says that if more grant aid was available to help farmers install solar panels, the sector could contribute to decarbonisation and be to the forefront in generating electricity “especially now with all the talk of power cuts coming down the line”.
Even with grants available, he says the cost of installing solar panels is prohibitive.
“We have room to have four times as many panels and most farmers have plenty of space,” he says. “The roofs are there facing the sky. The technology is there. To me, it’s a no-brainer.”