Increasing demand for 100% grass-fed beef
Starting a herd of 100 per cent grass-fed suckler cows on a farm where fattening cattle with grain was the norm, was a brave thing to do. But now beef farmer Anna Blumfield is building up cow numbers in response to increasing consumer demand. Sara Gregson finds out more.
Anna Blumfield has known beef cattle all her life, growing up on her parent’s farm near Braintree in Essex, where numbers peaked at 850 continental cows and youngstock.
But by the end of November 2012, Anna’s father had made the decision to sell up and just had 33 cows left, waiting for the last one to calve.
Gathered for a final Sunday roast dinner on the farm, Anna, now a sports therapist and married to Phil and with two small children, and her father joked about Anna coming back to farm. Six weeks later that is exactly what happened.
“Dad never realised that we wanted to come back and we had definitely never spoken about it,” says Anna. “Neither of my two sisters were interested but I think Phil and I always have been – but never told Dad.”
Anna wanted to produce meat in a different way to her father, so in 2014 she bought some Sussex cows to run alongside the continental beef business.
She started with 30 spring calving and 25 autumn calving cows and began direct selling her meat through local farmers markets, food festivals and from a small cabin on the farm.
“Dad was worried about all the work involved with direct selling, with the packing and labeling and distribution,” admits Anna. “But I wanted local people to have access to nutritionally-rich, tasty meat that has been ethically produced. This is the kind of meat I want my family to eat and the kind of meat I want to sell.”
Anna’s grass-fed cattle finish between 26 and 29 months of age at 300–340kg deadweight and grade at an average conformation score of R4L.
Animals in the continental herd finish an average 50kg heavier than the pasture-fed herd, but the extra weight comes at a much higher feed cost.
When the Sussex animals are ready for slaughter they are taken to the family-owned Humphries abattoir, twenty minutes drive away at Chelmsford.
“I really like the way the animals are handled at Humphries. The entry to the slaughterhouse is straightforward with no awkward turns so the cattle are not confused and remain calm. I believe this makes a real difference to the quality of the meat.”
The herd has now doubled to 60 spring calvers and 50 autumn calvers and a purpose-built shop, butchery and drying room were opened last December.
“Demand was increasing to the point that I was quickly selling out each week,” Anna explains.
“Because I was only having one animal butchered each week and the carcases were hung elsewhere, I didn’t have the option to break into another carcase. Our new air drying room has capacity for four beasts, which gives us more flexibility in what we sell.
“Customers come from as far away as Cambridge and Southend on Sea and everywhere in between. Those with large freezers opt for the best value for money option and buy an eighth of a beast. A few even meat-share between families.”
The new 5m x 12m butcher’s shop, butchery and 3m x 9m drying room took 6 months to build and cost the business £76,000, with the aid of a 40 per cent LEADER grant from the Rural Development Programme for England.
Anna advertised for a butcher on Facebook and took on Tara Davies, who had trained at the Gog Magog butchery and farm shop near Cambridge. Tara is the first butcher in the country to graduate with a butchery degree, from Crosby Management Training based in Wolverhampton, accredited by FDQ.
“Tara has fantastic knowledge and butchery skills,” says Anna. “She also knows how to cook the cuts she sells, and how to engage positively with customers. It was obvious that she would fit in well here.”
The shop is run by Anna’s friend and former book-keeper Cherry Adams. They sell one whole beef carcase a week, along with their own pork and locally reared grass-fed lamb and free-range chickens. Sometimes there are also guest meats on offer such as goat or wild venison.
Pasture for Life
Anna is a member of the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association (PFLA) and was one of the first beef members to become ‘Pasture for Life’ certified.
“Our grass-fed herd met the production standards easily as they truly are just fed and finished on pasture, silage and hay,” says Anna. “We are proud to display the Pasture for Life rosette on our butcher’s counter and all my customers understand what it stands for. They know that the animals have been very well cared for, the environment has been enhanced and that the meat is the healthiest you can buy.”
Results from nutritional analysis of thin cut beef steaks carried out last spring showed them to be a good source of high quality protein at 22.6g/100g of meat. They are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to be protective against many diseases, including heart disease and cancer.
“Our samples showed Omega-3:Omega-6 ration of 1:2 which is ideal,” says Anna. “The human body can make all essential fatty acids except for Omega-3 and Omega-6 which are absorbed from the food we eat. So eating rich and balanced sources of these is key to human health.”
What does Anna’s father think now to the direction she has taken her business in?
“Dad can now see that there is demand for 100 per cent grass-fed meat and he is fully on board and supports what we are doing,” says Anna.
“By looking at the facts and figures, the accountant and bank manger are also convinced, as they can see that raising Pasture for Life cattle and selling them direct, is more profitable than feeding them with grain and selling them to the supermarkets. In the future there will definitely be less continentals and more 100 per cent grass-fed animals on the farm.”
Workhorse with modern styling and improved performance
The Kioti Mechron K9 2400 sets high standards in the UK diesel side-by-side utility vehicle market, says Kioti UK.
High ground clearance, large capacity load space and comfortable seating for up to three people make this model a good option to choose, adds the company.
The unit uses a 24hp, 3-cylinder Kioti engine and is homologated for road use.
Keeping the workhorse characteristics of the previous generation, the K9 2400 includes modern styling, a 30 per cent increase in braking performance and top speed of 40kph. The standard new model incorporates a urethane spray coated bed liner and optional cabin half doors.
A high visibility cab with glass doors is available. The cab is a modular design and therefore can be purchased in individual components if required. It comes standard with a heater.
Pulling away and slowing down characteristics are also improved with changes to the design of the CVT clutch giving a smooth operation.
Operator comfort has been a major consideration throughout the design process. This is proven with, among other features, double wishbone shock absorbers for the front suspension to give additional strength and a smoother ride, a tilting steering wheel and high visibility digital dash console low vibration and noise levels.
Options that are available include a front bonnet storage tray, hydraulic tipping, dust guard protectors for the front axles and a front winch bracket.
The units are available to order in Green, Red or Camo. A local Kioti dealer can be contacted for further details, concludes the firm.
More certainty in uncertain times
With the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, livestock farmers are facing an unparalleled period of ambiguity and the decision as to which direction to turn has never been murkier, says livestock marketing co-operative Anglia Quality Meat (AQM). In this situation everything related to running a farming enterprise can be tested to the full, and it is AQM’s belief that its extensive experience can help farmers maximise the opportunities they have and improve their production.
AQM says that it prides itself on working for farmers and it has developed strong relationships at all points throughout the supply chain to ensure all of its customers benefit – whether they are large or small businesses.
An area the organisation is strongly suggesting customers look at, is ways to improve on farm productivity through simple steps such as forage and feed analysis through to improved handling equipment and EID Management, all areas AQM can help in.
It is also proactive in working with its technology partners in promoting products which can help monitor a herd’s health, reduce the use of antibiotics, improve productivity and, very importantly, secure farmers’ homes, farms and assets. Through its partnership with ActiveFarm Solutions (www.activefarmsolutions.co.uk) AQM can offer a tailored range of security products that are straightforward, secure and easy to install and, via ActiveHerd, it has a cutting edge cattle bolus which can alert the stockperson to health challenges several hours, if not days before clinical detection.
Livestock farmers well catered for
Essex based Di’s Supplies has been providing help and advice to stock farmers in the region for more than 17 years as well as selling equipment and sundries.
The range of products stocked include animal health items to complete handling systems for cattle and sheep. Handling systems can be fixed or portable using components from IAE and Ritchie.
Di’s Supplies stocks “everything you require for the spring turnout” from high magnesium and mineral buckets to trace element boluses and cattle and sheep wormers. External parasite control is also catered for with cattle and sheep pour-ons along with a range of animal health products to keep livestock in good condition. Ear tags can also be ordered.
All types of fencing from electric to post and rail, barbed wire and stock-fencing is stocked including gates and posts. Di also supplies a range of water drinkers – both galvanised and plastic, as well as water pipe and fittings.
With spring drilling underway the store also has bird scaring products to keep the pests from crops including rope bangers, gas guns and kites.
Visitors are assured a warm and friendly welcome this spring at the shop at Whitesbridge Farm, Margaretting, CM4 9JT.
The company will also be represented at the Essex Young Farmers Show on May 19 at Boyton Hall, Roxwell.