2021 winners follow up: The Dalton Family, Family Farming Business of the Year

In the first of our category features, we catch up with the Dalton family to hear more about their farming business and the opportunities they have embraced as a unit.

The Dalton family are admirably passionate about what they farm and, in equal measure, how they go about doing it. Their sincerity and positive attitude towards farming and rural life not only impressed the judges but helped secure their win as last year’s Family Farming Business of the Year. Leading the collective unit are Suzie and Angus with son Henry and daughter Rosie, who are running a 500-cow, spring block calving Friesian herd across a 100 per cent grassland system. Keen to add value to their core produce on their 322-hectare (796-acre) land, an honesty shop on the farm in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, was created in 2017 providing an outlet for their homemade ice cream, three of which have gone on to win a Great Taste Award. The family and the farm have fundamentally always been at the heart of their community, but when Covid-19 struck, the family upped the ante and have been adapting to customer needs and trends ever since. After selling most of their milk to a buyer, they began bottling their own following the request from villagers during lockdown. Homemade butter shortly followed and the honesty shop suddenly became a valuable lifeline for many. Rosie says: “We have wanted to make a real difference to farming and the local economy. “At the start of Covid-19, the pubs and restaurants we supplied with our ice cream stopped trading and there was a lot of uncertainty as to what was going to happen next.


“A lot of people came to the shop and sat outside. Nobody was allowed to do much apart from be outside and it became an escape for many. People felt safe and developed more appreciation for home produced food. And it hasn’t really stopped since.” Today, the ice cream is supplied once again to pubs, restaurants and direct to the public, along with eggs, cheese and other locally produced foods in the shop – all of which are clearly priced and honoured by customers. Each member of the family plays to their strengths. Angus switched his role from farm work to the production of ice cream, butter, milk pasteurising and product development. Suzie takes responsibility for all calf rearing in spring and then other duties, including hop management, financial and office administration. Son Henry returned from Nottingham University to run the dairy herd and seven staff, including the students on work placements and work experience. Daughter Rosie returned to the business after completing her business degree at Nottingham Trent University and is responsible for all things ice cream. She also manages all new customers, sales, marketing and social media. Henry’s wife Rosa joined the team in 2015 after studying agriculture at Harper Adams University and she is responsible for accounting and budgeting. Rosie says: “We have our own roles and we try not to stray from this so we are focused on our own things. “We do meet once a week as we are dealing with different parts of the industry so its important to come together and communicate. “We are all very different which works well and keeps the brand and the story alive behind the food.” Their most recent venture into the introduction of a real fruit blended ice cream, has proved particularly popular.


The innovative move was inspired by a holiday to New Zealand where Suzie and Angus came across a real fruit ice cream machine that blended vanilla ice cream and frozen fruit. Suzie says: “We returned home, told the family, did our research and made a phone call to the business in Nelson, New Zealand. Before we knew it the deal was done and the machine arrived in 2019.” Fast forward and Rosie now runs The Hatch, a coffee and cone kiosk which launched last April, serving the family’s very own blended fruit ice creams, Rosie says: “It is in a really nice location and you can see the hills and fields of cows. “We have such a varied demographic and people have really embraced outdoor walking.” With 20 flavours to choose from and the introduction of seasonal specials – such as the mini egg ice cream which launches next month for Easter – customers are spoilt for choice. “Grabbing a coffee, an ice cream and a walk has just become quite a thing,” adds Rosie. “It’s a wholesome and healthy trend to have come out of Covid-19. Teenagers in particular love our honesty box and seem to really respect what we do.”


Looking ahead, the family believe they have already taken pro-active steps to mitigate one of the industry’s biggest incoming challenges in the removal of farm subsidy. Suzie says: “The simplicity of our farm system enables us to keep labour costs down and the diversification has given us another income stream. We are working to continually reduce our costs of production to remain profitable.” With ice cream production now reaching up to 1,000 litres a week across the summer and the shop operating 365 days a year and welcoming around 200 customers a day, expansion of direct sales is also on the cards. Suzie says: “We have been able to grow the business with the skills of the family to ensure it will support three families. “We enjoy working together and each of us have the same aspirations for the future. “We aim to continue to farm sustainably and always produce quality products.”