Dairy farmers are staging a fightback - by selling milk straight from their cows.

Fakenham & Wells Times: Alex Wales with the raw milk machine. Picture: Chris BishopAlex Wales with the raw milk machine. Picture: Chris Bishop (Image: Archant)

William and Alex Wales, who farm 800 rolling acres at Binham, near Wells, have installed a vending machine next to the parlour where they milk their 120-strong friesan herd at Abbey Farm.

Customers can now insert £1 or £2 to fill a one or two-litre plastic container with 'raw milk', or buy a re-usable glass bottle to take it home in.

'We thought if we're going to diversify, this is the way to do it,' said Mrs Wales. 'We were going to do it seven or eight years ago, but at the time there wasn't a good vending machine.'

The couple sourced equipment from Italy, where farmers often sell their milk direct, after reading about a Suffolk farmer who had taken the plunge. They believe they are the first in Norfolk to offer the service.

Mr Wales said hygiene was of prime importance. The milk is filtered and kept at an optimum temperarture in its sterilised tank, but has not been pasteurised.

'From the time that the cows come into the parlour to when the milk goes into the tank, your hygiene has to be 110pc, you really have to go over the top,' he said.

Once poured and taken home, the milk must be refrigerated straight away and used within four days. Raw milk is believed to be healthier than pasteurised milk, as heat treatment destroys some of the vitamins it contains.

It can also contain bacteria, like other fresh, natural products. The Food Standards Agency says bottles must carry a warning and older people, infants, children, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems should not drink it.

Mr and Mrs Wales, both 54, have farmed at Binham for 37 years. Their black and white cattle can be seen grazing in front of the village's famous priory during the warmer months, while the herd spend the winter indoors.

Mr Wales is the fourth generation of his family to keep dairy cows on the land.

Raw milk will be going on sale from Sunday at the farm, which is on the Warham Road next to the priory.

The farm is also staging an open day on Sunday. Visitors will be able to see the cows and their calves, as well as buy their milk.