The Muddy Business of Running a Farm

“I have never seen such healthy animals before in my life,” was my first response when visiting Middletown Farm. Being an animal lover and cat breeder myself I am very aware of what a healthy and unhealthy animal looks like. The animals at Middletown Farm are different, displaying not only signs of physical health and vitality but also real personality and love for the farmer, Dordie Ketley. Dordie single handedly runs Middletown Farm. She cares for the animals, drives a tractor, carries heavy bales of straw and does all the things you would expect a farmer to do as well as does the shopping and bookkeeping! Dordie did tell us that she draws the line at housework, she doesn’t do the housework.”

Middletown Farm is a 1510-built ‘black and white’ Tudor farmhouse with two cottages on site for rent by the night, week or month. Dordie Ketley & her husband Graham bought the farm in 2012 and opened the farm shop in 2016.

Could you tell us about your background?

I worked in the Tax Department for KPMG in London. It was a very interesting job and extremely demanding. Working for a firm like that, you have dealings with many, many high-profile clients and so you are party to some fascinating aspects of UK business. I left KPMG in 1990 and moved house almost thirty times with my husband because of his career. Our children – two boys – were born when all the moves started. We lived in Surrey; Yorkshire; Shaker Heights, Ohio and Chicago, America, and also Recklinghausen, Germany. We lived in hotels, flats, huge glamorous houses and small houses. Subsequently, we have a very bizarre collection of furniture from all over the world. It was difficult to work with all the moves and so I pursued my greatest passion in life, which is horses. In 2004, I bought a young horse, Krogardens Riks, Rikki for short, and trained him up for eventing. He was a seventeen-hand-two Danish Warmblood and he matured into a very serious international athlete. I had to up my game in the saddle. At our peak, we were competing against Olympians from five different countries, eventing in Bielefeld, Germany.

When did you move back to England?

We moved back to England – for the third time, in 2012 and bought Middletown Farm, Upleadon, Gloucestershire so that I could carry on my eventing. Tragically, that year, Rikki had a leg injury and had to be put down. So I was left with a beautiful farm, a broken heart and funds that would not stretch to a new horse. I had the empty land and some degree of enthusiasm so I just tried out every business opportunity that came my way and interested me! I raise geese, breed Jacob sheep and produce our own apple juice.

How has building up the Middletown Farm B&B and farm shop business been?

Interesting along the way and I am learning all the time. There have been scary moments because I am in a new situation with every new idea and it is very much my own solo business. My husband still works away a lot and so Middletown Farm is very much my responsibility. I love the intellectual aspect of building a new venture and I love meeting new people. Most of the visitors who come to stay in the cottages are amazing people with so many stories; I think that is probably my favourite part of the business. You never quite know who is coming to stay next and you learn such a lot about the rest of the world. Newent is definitely a tucked-away corner of England, even within Gloucestershire, and yet I meet people from New York, Hong Kong, Germany, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Australia and so on. For the Cheltenham Races, for example, we are only a half-hour drive via Appleby and Deerhurst; we can also transport our visitors via a six-minute helicopter flight! This little corner of Gloucestershire is rural and not well known but – and I don’t just say this because I live here – it is stunning and many of the old houses and villages just make my jaw drop every time I drive past, even five years’ on. It’s trite to say it and true for many businesses but, in an accommodation business, no day is ever, ever the same. People are on holiday and they all have different expectations of what will give them a perfect stay. The same goes for rearing geese, sheep and running a farm shop with over 5 shop partners.

What do you feel your worst business mistake has been?

I had an awful, awful situation in Summer 2015. I was due to go to a particularly lovely lunchtime party in Sussex that day. I put the geese out at 4am. As we got to the paddock, they clearly – by their ‘goose’ body language, if you want to say it that way – didn’t want to go in. I was keen to get all the geese and sheep fed and set up happily for the day in the paddocks. I ushered them in, thinking what a fuss they were making. Geese have very good eyesight, far sharper than ours and, as it turned out, they saw a fox was nearby. Later, when I found thirty-one of them had been killed; I knew it was entirely my fault. I now know to listen to my animals – always. Any farmer or anyone who looks after any type of animal knows how important it is to read the body language of the stock. I learned a very hard way and I still feel very, very sorry to this day.

And your hopes and dreams for the business?

To continue to share the magic of Middletown, with happy and relaxed visitors and keep the animals thriving in the peace and tranquility. The animals have a wonderful life and are looked after to a very high standard here. Even though some of the sheep and geese go for the table, they are still loved and cared for. I am very proud of the fact that a friend once told me she wouldn’t be vegetarian if all meat was raised like this. Kindness to the animals and a stress-free life leads to soft meat with a wonderful flavour that can be eaten with a clear conscience. This is something I am very keen to continue.

Middletown Farm cottages: ‘The Poppies’ and ‘Orchard Barn Cottage’ both sleep two and cost £100 per night, £500 per week or £1200 per month. Middletown Farmshop is open the final weekend of every month: Saturdays, Sundays and the following Mondays and Tuesdays (9am-6.00pm). Check Facebook ‘Middletown Farmshop’ for exact opening dates and times.

For 2017, accommodation & helicopter rides to Cheltenham Races are being booked now.

Contact Dordie

tel: 01531 828261 or 07717 742791

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