We have made it to the end of the second week of lockdown! I have to say, I thought I would be climbing the walls slightly more than I am. Having been nervous about how this time would make me feel I have actually managed to relax into it a bit and start enjoying the time at home. With so much planned for the summer and rest of the year, I actually think I will look back on this period of time and be thankful we could recharge our batteries. I hope everyone reading this is managing to avoid total boredom, finding some odd jobs to do and enjoying having some time with their families. My sister’s boyfriend has decided to mow a putting green and fairway into one of the grass fields, so that’s kept him amused for the weekend!
Life here at Holly Lodge is still busy and lockdown has actually allowed us to really crack on at the farm. I feel like this needs a fanfare, but we have finally finished our spring drilling! Looking over the hedge rows it seems that most of our neighbouring farmers have also managed to get some drilling done. This will be a welcome relief to everyone as there is now something in the ground for us to sell in the autumn. Safe to say Dad has certainly perked up now he has put his drill away! With everything planted and handed over to Andrew to look after for the spring, I am going to focus more on our beef enterprise in this blog post.
Dad has around 200 cattle on the farm at any one time. He buys his cattle in from the same 4 farms in Kent, Essex and Lancashire, and has done for as long as I can remember. Dad primarily buys traditional British and European breeds. Hereford and Aberdeen Angus cattle, as this is what most markets desire, and occasionally he will have some Limousin and Belgian Blue. My favourites are the Herefords as they have fab markings, and also some funky hair styles! The picture below demonstrates this perfectly and will hopefully make some of you chuckle!
We used to have a breeding herd of cattle, however in 2010, after nearly 25 years of calving cows Dad decided to change his system to a finishing system. I don’t blame him as a suckler herd is an incredible amount of work, plus it meant my sister and I weren’t going to be dragged out of bed at the crack of dawn to hold the calving jack! A finishing system means that he buys cows in at a young age, typically 6 months, keeps them for 2 summers on grass and in straw yards through the winter, and then sells them on at roughly 18 to 24 months old to major retailers in the UK. When I was chatting to dad about his beloved moos, he told me that there have been cattle on the farm every year since 1949! Impressive!
The cows at Holly Lodge are fed on a mixture of goodies! As I mentioned they have 2 summers out at grass – normally from late April/May through to October. In October they come inside to straw bedded yards. All the straw we use at Holly Lodge is homegrown and is a by-product of our arable enterprise. In winter the moos are fed on a simple ration of homegrown grass silage, homegrown milled barley and pressed sugar beet pulp that is a waste product of the UK sugar industry. Dad also tops them up with mineral licks so they can get all their essential vitamins – much like any supplements we may take. Feeding our cattle on homegrown food is something we pride ourselves on. It means we know everything that is going into our animals is top notch to help produce the best end quality product.
The high standard of welfare we have at Holly Lodge is solely down to Dad and James’ passion for producing fantastic British beef. Whether you disagree with, or support beef production, I have to say I have never seen a better looked after herd of moos, and whilst their fate is inevitable, I totally believe that if you are going to eat meat you should be educated and aware of the production process. I personally have seen everything from the birth of calves through to the slaughter of cows and knowing British agriculture the way I do; I would quite happily say that you would struggle to find a higher standard of welfare anywhere else in the world. I’m sure I speak for every British livestock farmer when I say they are passionate about caring for their animals. Recently I have been following some more farmers on Instagram and for a true picture of the highs and lows of farming animals a great follow is the_chief_shepherdess.
Once the cattle at Holly Lodge are the desired weight for slaughter Dad hand selects different cattle for different markets. With over 40 years of experience in handling cattle, Dad only has to walk through his herd to know which animals will be suitable for certain retailers, and which animals will be better for some of our independent clients. Normally when selecting cattle, he looks at the fat cover on the brisket (between their front legs) and the rib, and the muscling in the loin and forequarters. Our independent clients like animals with much more fat as they tend to hang the carcasses for a lot longer than major retailers. This extra fat protects the ageing meat underneath and also gives the beef a cracking flavour. Once he has sold his cattle on to the retailers via the slaughterhouses, the whole process starts again with another batch of moos.
Farming livestock is certainly a labour of love. You can’t force yourself to be good at it, you have to love it, live it and breathe it. There is no day when you can wake up and think ‘oh, never mind about the cows today’, you have to be there, 24/7 to look after your animals. There are days when it can be challenging for Dad and James, namely when they are covered in poo from calving a cow or being chased through the yard by a young bullock who has just come back in off the grass, but I think I would be fairly accurate when I say they also absolutely love it.
This blog is a little longer than normal, but hopefully it has given you a little insight into how things work in the beef enterprise at Holly Lodge. Again, I hope everyone is continuing to stay well and keeps a positive mind throughout this strange time. One thing I am doing to help is a lot of cooking, so on that note, I’m off to put my locally sourced flat iron steak on the BBQ! xx