A desire to directly connect with consumers led dairy farmer Joe Dugdale to launch his Milk Hut operation.

He told his MP Rishi Sunak how the novel retail outlet in the village of Crathorne, near Yarm, was helping him maximise the value of the high-quality milk produced by his 450 Friesian-Jersey cows.

“The bulk of our milk goes to the Wensleydale Creamery at Hawes for cheese-making under a contract which recognises the high milk solids content,” said Mr Dugdale.

The Northern Farmer: Rishi Sunak with the Dugdale family at the Milk Hut in Crathorne village

“Our Milk Hut is another way of adding value to what we produce and recognition for what we know is a top-quality product.”

Mr Dugdale, who runs Crathorne Farms with his wife Sasha and in partnership with his parents David and Susie, said the Milk Hut opened a year ago to help grow the 2,500-acre mixed arable and dairy operation.

The timber hut in the centre of the village houses a vending machine that allows customers to purchase a reusable glass bottle and fill it with plain pasteurised or flavoured milk.

The Northern Farmer: Rishi Sunak with the Crathorne Farms' newborn calves

The Milk Hut generates about five per cent of the farm’s total turnover, a small percentage Mr Dugdale acknowledged, but he added that it is steadily growing.

He said: “Unlike other similar farm milk vending operations where flavoured milks make up to 90 per cent of what is sold, our unflavoured milk sells well which is testament that customers value its quality when putting it on their cereal or in their tea.”

Read more: Nidderdale Show proves a winner for farming families and visitors alike

An important part of the Milk Hut operation was the branding, developed with local artist Claire Baird. She created the Clemmie the Calfacorn character (a Friesian cow turned into a unicorn), which adorns the reusable bottles.

“We like to be local in everything we do and Claire was literally on our doorstep,” said Mr Dugdale.

Local links manifest themselves further in a growing list of hospitality businesses supplied by Crathorne Farms. They include Fletcher’s Farm Shop and Cafe at Great Ayton and the Mixology Brew Company café in Stokesley.

Read more: Pictures as over 60 tractors take part in 35-mile rally across County Durham

Mr Dugdale said autumn block calving and investment in the care of the herd, productivity, and the farm environment was an important part of their approach. The farm had successfully applied for grant support from the Government’s Farming Equipment and Technology Fund to buy electronic ear tags for the cows which monitor their health and behaviour 24/7 giving early warning of problems and providing a wealth of data relating to fertility, heat status and overall herd performance.

During his visit to farm, Mr Sunak bought milk from the Milk Hut and fed some of the Dugdales’ young calves.

Mr Sunak said: “This is a great example of a modern farm business that is making the most of the opportunities to grow by developing the market for their excellent milk.

“I commend the Dugdales’ approach and their dedication to their beautiful herd.”