A three-way route to meat sales Keith Siddorn is well-known in breeding circles for his expertise with Traditional Herefords. Although he has no interest in raising beef cattle, he recognised that meat sales could provide a valuable income stream for his farm and with the help of a finisher and a butcher, he has found a way to achieve this without keeping bullocks on the farm. The Siddorn family has farmed in the village of Broxton in Cheshire for over 100 years and Keith started farming on his own account at Meadow Bank Farm with a herd of continental sucklers. Having sold those, he tried Limousin store cattle for 12 months but found that with just himself and his father, their temperaments made them very difficult to handle. What Keith wanted was something that would be practical from the farming point of view and, in addition, offer an element of interest. He decided to look at pedigree cattle, looking for “a breed I could cope with – I didn’t want to die too young”. Until he had started his research, Keith didn’t realise there was such a thing as a Traditional Pedigree Hereford but having discovered them, he found some that took his eye just after the 2001 FMD outbreak. Interested in breeding and genetics, rather than fattening, he produces breeding stock and offers everything from single breeding females to complete starter herds and can claim to have provided the foundations for at least six or seven new herds. He also sells embryos both in the UK and overseas to breeders looking to improve their herds. There are no bullocks over the age of 12 months on Meadow Bank Farm, but Keith still manages to stock the farm shop with his own beef thanks to a working relationship he has built up with finisher David Charlesworth and butcher Callum Edge. Keith says: I’ve never wanted to be a retailer, but I’m happy to be a farming retailer because that fits in with what we do and the meat sales can be profitable. Everything is sold through our on-farm shop – no farmers’ markets and no on-line sales. We have a good local base and being right on the A41, we get a lot of passing trade just from our signage. The working method that Keith has developed involves selling bullocks, at 10 to 12 months old, plus any non-breeding females, at commercial store price, to David Charlesworth, who finishes them on his farm at Market Drayton. Keith then buys back one animal per month at fat stock price, which David delivers to butcher Callum Edge who slaughters, butchers, packs and delivers the meat. Explaining the economics of the arrangement, Keith says: On current prices*, I sell a bullock to David for around £600. At 270kg average deadweight I buy an animal back for £1,000 and pay Callum £300 per beast for slaughter, butchering, packing and delivery to me. That meat retails at an average total of £2,500. So, I earn £3,100 from each animal, with costs of £1,300 and I get two draws, one when I sell the animal and the second when I sell the meat. This is a good generator of cash for the farm from high-quality pedigree rare breed beef, which I can guarantee I have bred myself. There is no contractual arrangement between breeder and finisher and this is very much a relationship of trust. Keith adds: Once I have sold the animals to David, I am just another customer when I buy them back and I have no control over to whom he might sell ‘my’ animals. However, he knows that I will buy one per month and so buy back pretty much all of the animals I sell him. At the same time, while I have no control over the way the cattle are finished, I know that David will look after them and finish them on grass, in exactly the way that I would. The trust relationship also extends to the slaughter and butchering. Having originally tried another slaughterhouse and having the meat returned “in slabs”, Keith turned to Callum Edge, who he first met through the Traditional Breeds Meat Marketing scheme. He says: “With my first experience, I wasn’t happy with the way the meat was presented, but with Callum, it comes back in the cuts I want or my customers ask for, well presented with ear tag number on the label.” Over 10 years, Keith has built up a regular local customer base for Traditional Hereford beef, in an area where the breed was not previously known. He acknowledges that it is not the cheapest meat that people can buy, but counters this with quality and provenance. The fact that so many of his sales are repeat business testifies to the fact that there is a market for premium produce. The Meadow Bank Farm shop is always open and customers know that on the first Saturday of each month, except January when Callum doesn’t slaughter over the holiday weekend, there will be fresh meat available. Between a third and a half of the meat is sold fresh, with the remainder selling throughout the rest of the month from the shop’s freezers. All of the animal is used, with tongue, ox-tail, heart, liver and bones offered free “for the dog” – although from customer comments, Keith knows that much of this never makes it anywhere near the dog’s dish! The shop also sells pork, which is raised on Meadow Bank Farm, and lamb sourced locally through Callum. All the beef is home bred, and summing up, Keith says: I wouldn’t buy in other people’s beef and to operate the way I do, you have to be of a certain size to ensure a constant supply through the shop. It is an operation that allows me to focus my efforts and dedicate my land to breeding and genetics work while being a good generator of cash for the farm. *Prices quoted were current at the time of original publication – Spring 2016.