A more consistent carcase
SELLING direct to the public drives the Garthwaite family to ensure that all their stock is of premium quality.
Everything they produce is sold through their Blacker Hall Farm Shop and it is a testament to their farming business that not only was it voted Farm Shop of the Year in 2005, but also the supplier of the UK’s finest roast beef, in an Eblex-organised competition in 2006.
The family has farmed at Calder Grove, Wakefield, for several generations, but, when John and Anne Garthwaite set up on their own, a major part of their business was breeding and rearing pigs.
When sow stalls were banned, however, they took the decision to open a farm shop, rather than invest in alternative pig accommodation.
As the shop has gone from strength to strength, the farming enterprise has grown alongside it. They still have the capacity to finish 1,000 pigs and run 100 breeding ewes, but their main emphasis has switched to rearing cattle to supply the shop.
The farming business is now made up of 140 hectares (350 acres), which is mainly grass. In addition, they farm a further 120ha (300 acres) of grass and 80ha (200 acres) of arable at Brighouse under a contract farming arrangement.
Now John, his daughter Mary Burgess and her husband Matthew, run the farm, while Anne and son Edward, run the shop. “The farm and the shop are entirely separate businesses, although we work closely together. The shop buys from the farm at a fair market price,” says Mary.
“It makes a huge psychological difference to us knowing we have a guaranteed market for all our stock and, likewise, they know they have a constant supply of quality product.”
The beef enterprise consists of 170 commercial suckler cows, all of which have a percentage of native blood, usually either Angus or Hereford. The farm runs eight bulls – heifers are put to the two Limousins, to ensure easy calving and there are two Belgian Blues, a Charolais and three Simmental bulls.
Mary says: “We tend to put our best breeding cows to the Simmental with the aim of breeding heifer replacements.”
All the cattle are housed over winter, with the cows at Brighouse and the youngstock at Calder Grove. The herd is spring calving and at turnout is split between the holdings.
The family employs just one member of staff on the farm, Matthew Kimbley, 18. He first started helping out while still at school and now attends Askham Bryan College on day release.
Every effort is made to keep the system as efficient and labour saving as possible and all the cattle are fed ad-lib, using a Keenan feeder wagon.
Mary says: “We can now feed and bed up in two hours. All the cattle are fed every other day, but we feed every day, doing one mix one day and one the next.
“Time is at a premium, good staff are hard to find and we are fortunate to have Matthew, who is extremely enthusiastic and competent, but we do not want to have to employ any more.
“We cannot afford to spend all our time on the cattle, we always have plenty of other jobs to do and the arable side takes up a good deal of our time, so this system suits us well.”
In winter, the cows are fed a diet of straw, silage, urea and minerals, which goes through a Keenan Klassic bale handler 200. Mary says: “We use this machine for the cows because it has a larger capacity and means we can incorporate more straw into the diet.
“The straw and silage incorporation is vital. It keeps the rumen healthy, the cows more content and we have fewer problems with calves and calving.”
At Calder Grove the youngstock are fed using a Keenan Klassic 140. Calves are weaned when the cattle come inside in the autumn and are initially fed a grower diet of straw, beans, minerals, barley and grass silage. After two months, the percentage of beans is reduced and urea added to the mix.
In spring the smaller steers and the heifers are turned out for the summer, then brought in to finish the following winter. The bigger cattle are kept in and switched to a finishing diet. This is based on barley with the addition of straw, urea, minerals, limestone flour, maize silage, potatoes and a dough product.
Mary says: “We are fortunate in that we have access to a lot of co-products and, by using the Keenan, we can incorporate them into the diet to make best use of what is available and keep our costs down.”
The Keenan Klassik 140 was fitted with the newly launched Performance Acceleration and Control Enhancement (PACE) computer system this winter.
This allows the different diets to be programmed in and then, depending on which one is required, it tells you how much of each ingredient is needed, in what order they should be loaded and then how many revolutions are required to achieve the ideal mix.
Mary says: “It is very user-friendly and it enables you to be much more precise and consistent with the diet. All the data from it can be transferred to my computer so that, used in conjunction with regular weighing and monitoring growth of the cattle, we know exactly where we are with costings.
“But the mixer wagon is only part of the package. Nutrition is key – we work closely with Keenan nutritionist Seth Wareing, who formulates all the diets and visits regularly.”
A year-round supply of cattle is needed for the shop and four or five are slaughtered each week, locally at Bramall’s abattoir at Penistone.
John says: “We are aiming for a deadweight of about 350kg – a good size and weight and good conformation. We like a good finish, more than some other producers, and a cover of fat.
“To supply the shop we need our carcases to be consistent, week in/week out. Since we have switched to this feeding system we have seen a big improvement in that. Our sole aim is produce what the customer wants.”
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