Historic Willowdene dairy farm was the home of legendary Harrop-Allins Print E-mail
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Friday, 16 October 2009 00:05
Untitled Document

Elsabé Maré

Do you remember the days when milk was delivered to your doorstep? Chances were you drank the milk from the historic Willowdene farm that used to be in the area where the N4 Simon Vermooten and Rossouw Street off ramps are today.

A painting of George Harrop- Allin snr and Hazel

Chances are also that you’ll recognise the name Harrop-Allin, a family who played a major role in fencing farms and borders across Africa. This is their story and it tells the tale of historic milk production, a herd of cattle and how the family up and relocated their whole farm to Cullinan when Pretoria’s suburbs started moving in too close for comfort.

The dairy started out in The Willows and was known as Willowdene “but as the town moved in,” recounts Ian Harrop-Allin, “my farther decided to buy land near Cullinan and we moved the dairy. We have been a producer, processor and distributor of milk to the east of Pretoria since 1957.”

The only traces left of this family’s occupation in The Willows can be found in street names. In the enclosed safety area next to Willows Crossing shopping centre you will find street names such as Opstal, Willowdene and Harrop- Allin. The Masonic Haven old age home in this area was donated by the Harrop-Allin family.

The Willows on Willow Valley Farms really do credit to the name

The herd of cattle started with George Harrop-Allin snr and his brother-in-law, Hubert Knight, at the farm Willowdene. It continued with David Yeomans, who was later joined by his son Michael Yeomans, who now runs the farm at Willow Valley in the Cullinan Magisterial District.

The farm started producing certified raw milk, then pasteurised and now homogenised milk. It was registered in 1968 as (Pty) Ltd and started home deliveries, which continued right up until 1994, as well as deliveries to shops, factories and businesses in the east of Pretoria.

Farming at Willow Valley started in 1972 but as the farm was out of the designated artificial insemination area, they reverted back to using their own bulls. David Yeomans went on a course at Onderstepoort in 1979 and from then onwards they used donor bulls like Fleisbank Helderberg (FVH) and Fleisbank Ivan (FIN).

These were the top bulls of the time and were used to improve the herd. They were all recommended by Errol Hicks, head geneticist at Taurus in those years. All the top bulls Taurus had from 1979 onwards, formed an important part of the genetics of the present herd. The imported semen didn’t perform as expected and in 1999, through contact with Errol Dicks, some of the top European genetics were introduced to Willow Valley. Their high accuracy of bull testing and the longevity of their herds, high milk yields and also their good semen quality made the contact worth their while. One of the most important aspects of the herd is that because of the variety and relatively short usage of bulls used, there is little inbreeding in the herd.

The Willow Valley label and the Branch-Out Tree Farms label

On Mondays and Wednesdays school journey services visit the farm; Michael gives a short talk and then shows the children the dairy procedures

Today Willow Valley farms nestle in the valley of Rietfontein in the countryside situated near Cullinan. The various farming activities are closely linked and it comprises five farms, namely Willow Valley, David’s Place, Michael’s Gem, Dottie’s View and on Lulu’s Land the latest addition, Branch-Out Tree Farms.

The farms consist of a total of 275,34 hectares that are used for grazing crop production. The herd size is 384 animals, with 163 currently in milk. The current milk production is 29,5 litre per cow per day with 3.8% butterfat and an intercalving period of around 390 days.

The herd is TB and CA certified and has been for the last 46 years. Cattle are on total mixed ration and all roughage is grown on the farm. Maize silage also forms an important part of the ration. They grow their own maize and mix concentrate to suit their needs. All non-producing animals are on pasture and maize-residue.

The dairy markets and distributes all its own milk, cream, maas and yoghurt under the Willow Valley label. The milk is tested independently to ensure that they maintain the highest possible standard after milking as well as during the bottling and packaging process. This takes place in a well-equipped factory on the farm. Willow Valley is a member of the Milk Producers Organization, SAMPO, SA Holstein Breeders Association and of Milk Recording and they believe in organised agriculture.

The streets of Willowdene, Harrop-Allin and the Masonic Haven

Branching out
This family is active and undaunted by new challenges, such as branching out from fencing and dairying to propagating a variety of indigenous trees. Three years ago Ian Harrop-Allin bought saplings simply because there is a lot of water on this section of the farm. He started Branch-Out Tree Farms with thirty odd indigenous trees and has already accumulated 40 000 trees such as black karee, apiesdoring, river bush willow, fever tree and kei apple.

Success doesn’t come without hardship as is proven by the move and establishment of the dairy in the Cullinan area. But Ian says that if you put your mind to it, you can do anything. “It’s been like that all my life.”

Information: Ian Harrop-Allin and Michael Yeomans

Onderstepoort final year students pay the well-equipped factory on the farm a visit

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