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By Rosewood Farm, Jul 16 2017 05:49PM

Why aren’t there more farms like Rosewood? is a question I often hear, which does have a very short and simple answer, but more of that later. Unless you’ve been following us for sometime, you are unlikely to know what it is that makes us different, and for that we need to go back in time to talk about how Rosewood Farm came to be.

We grew up as part of a large extended farming-family, in the 1970’s and 80’s, so farming was always in the blood. Both families were mixed arable and dairy farms, very traditional with about 50-60 cows each, grazing on summer pastures and rearing the calves for beef. In farming the ‘farm’ was an entity in itself, a being around which life revolved. Both holidays and weddings were timed around hay making or harvest, and the daily routine was heavily influenced by milking twice a day, every single day.

The family dairy herd grazing in the Ings Photo credit: K Laverack
The family dairy herd grazing in the Ings Photo credit: K Laverack

The 1990’s were a time of great change for agriculture, the cracks were beginning to appear in the post-war drive for intensification. Europe’s farms were more productive than ever before, boosted by subsidies from the EU that encouraged us to produce more food but which, ironically, had made food cheaper and less able to support the people who produce it. This effectively spelled the end of farming for our family, the writing was on the wall, the family business was approaching the end of the line.

Paul and myself had both wanted to carry on the family dairy farm, working before & after school, and throughout the holidays to gain experience. The inevitability of it not being possible, however, was always there, so we both had to accept that it wasn’t going to happen. We set out to continue a path in farming, and went to agricultural college alongside working on farms to gain a wide variety of experience in the world of farming. This coincided with the establishment of the pedigree Dexter cattle herd, which began what we know as Rosewood today.

Despite being a mixed farmer at heart, during and after college Paul found himself working on a conventional arable farm, albeit it one that enabled him to follow his passion for tinkering with old machinery. Meanwhile I was studying for a diploma in agriculture and working on a variety of farms from intensive pig and arable farms in East Yorkshire to an upland sheep farm in Wales. Always taking an interest in animals and biology, my own passion became clear when I began my second-year assignment on forage crops. The result was a document that was five times longer than any other assignment I had written and fully illustrated, in colour!

Cultivating land in prairie-like fields used to be my 'day job'
Cultivating land in prairie-like fields used to be my 'day job'

Agriculture is an important sector in the UK, but it is dwarfed by the ancillary industries that provide farming with a plethora of products and services from tractors to software, and it is these which eventually employ the majority of agricultural students today. With an interest in livestock and biology, I decided to follow the diploma with a course in animal science, still unsure where I would end up.

During my final year at college I was somewhat rail roaded into studying the effects of comparing homegrown and milled feed with commercially formulated rations in lamb production, both absolutely grain fed, far removed from my passion. I had wanted to study more interesting subjects that were closer to my heart, such as the fascinating genetics of my own breed, the Dexter, or the behaviour of the ‘wild’ cattle of Chillingham. Unfortunately for me these subjects were too far removed from anything that happens as part of ‘commercial’ modern agriculture and my tutors were not keen.

The public perception of lamb production is one of lambs skipping around in fields, but I found myself weighing lambs each week to compare the two rations. These lambs never left the shed they were born in during January until the end of their lives three or four months later, providing for the comparatively high prices of the ‘new season’ spring lamb market. It didn’t sit right with me, compared to my own grassfed cattle at home which were grazed on pastures for two seasons (part of the fallout from the BSE-crisis was that cattle at the time were only allowed to be eaten if were they slaughtered at 30 months of age or younger) and never received a sniff of grain.

To my surprise, the home grown ration out performed the purchased feed, with the lambs fed on grains grown and milled on the farm. It got me thinking about how farmers are ‘fed’ the formulated rations by outsiders who have a product to sell, rather than making use of the farmers own knowledge and experience (and feed!).

Farmers, being on the frontline of the countryside, are often the first to be criticised for changes that lead to problems with animal welfare or wildlife. The best way I can describe ‘agriculture’ is like a combine harvester - farmers are like the header, seen to be gathering in the crop at the front. Internally there is lots going on which very few people see, the engine [supermarkets] is in the middle, pushing farmers along, controlling the rate and speed of all the other processes, including how much is wasted. Out of the back, out comes the processed product, looking quite different from what went in. It is that way because not everyone *needs* to know how a combine works in order to benefit from the food it produces.

The food industry; like a giant combine with mysterious internal machanisms
The food industry; like a giant combine with mysterious internal machanisms

By the early 2000’s there seemed to be a growing public interest in the process of food production. The internet was just beginning to become popular and we decided that a website was the perfect way for the consumer to learn more about exactly where their food comes from. It provided a window into farming, giving unprecedented access between the farm and the consumer. I started to use the internet to talk to others, both farmers and consumers, about how and why food was produced in the way it was.

Paul and I had both independently come to the same conclusion that we simply didn’t want to continue work with the chemicals that conventional agriculture had come to rely upon. They were unpleasant to apply and we didn’t think they were having a positive effect on the land or wildlife. Our main contact with these chemicals was in arable farming, but they are also involved in more intensive grazed livestock systems too. We decided that our own farm would be different and we set out to offer the consumer a genuine choice.

We found that farming without chemicals was tough - not because things didn’t grow without them but because the support network for farmers was so heavily-ingrained in the chemical culture. Most solutions include a bottle on the shelf that can be applied for best results and we got more than a few funny looks when we said that we don’t use chemicals. “Oh, so you’re organic?” “Well, no, not organic, we just don’t use chemicals”. We can see why other farmers take the advice - it’s hard going being a rebel.

This became easier when I met a kindred spirit in Natalie in 2009 and together we have been able to continue experimenting and improving, working with other farmers and conservationists to really push forward and build upon our success.

It was equally hard going with our choice of cattle too - Dexters. They suit our system because they are tough, sometimes stubborn, and massively independent (just like us, you might say). Few farmers see Dexters as a commercial breed though, and rightly so because the system is not set up to make best use of small, grassfed cattle. As such we’ve had to buck the trend of selling livestock at market and go direct to you, the customer, instead.

Dexters are much smaller than most cattle - not what the supermarkets want
Dexters are much smaller than most cattle - not what the supermarkets want

Instead of being the header of the combine, harvesting the crop and passing it on to the next stage, Rosewood has had to take on all the roles within the machine. We produce, process, package, sell and distribute our product. This has given us almost total control over how we do things and as a result we have been able to ensure that our farming methods produce good food that has a positive effect upon the wonderful wildlife we have here in the Yorkshire Ings.

The conventional markets take the animal and divide it into individual components with steaks supplying pubs & restaurants, joints made into ‘steak’ pies, mince into burgers and offal sent all the way to China. The quantities of each required by the restaurants or fast food places mean that they are selling meat from many many different animals.

We need to sell every bit of the animal, not just the steaks!
We need to sell every bit of the animal, not just the steaks!

At our scale if we supply a restaurant with 4 sirloins a week that not only means that our customers miss out on steaks (already one of our most popular cuts!) but we also have two animals-worth of joints, mince & dice that all needs to find a suitable home. We can’t kill an animal for the steaks alone and China isn’t interested in a single liver each week either. The restaurant too can change their menu at a moments notice - not something we can quickly respond to for an animal that is many years in the making.

So, back to our initial question - why aren’t there many more farms like Rosewood? The answer, as I said before, is simple; the one thing that remains outside of our control is what you, the consumer, chooses to buy & eat each day. Our passion may be the grasslands and the vast array of wildlife that they support but passion alone can only achieve so much and as much as we’d like to, it’s not possible for us to work for free. Rosewood Farm may now be full of wildlife but if the bank account is empty it’s not a model that many can afford to copy.

By Rosewood Farm, Apr 1 2017 11:40PM

It's not so long ago that I blogged about Sainsbury’s and how if they really want people to eat less meat, they should stop selling it. Well, this week I decided to compare our prices with Tesco, as we’ve always strived to keep in line with the cost of the supermarket mid-range level. However, I stumbled in the low-end section and was utterly shocked by what I saw!

Rosewood Price - 100% traceable
Rosewood Price - 100% traceable

Here at Rosewood our prices are maintained at a level that is fair - we don’t want to charge too much and exclude people on a low income from eating good food. Nor do we want to charge too little so that we have to cut corners and let down our animals or destroy the environment in the process. Our Grassfed Dexter beef mince costs £9.20 per kg, and for that price we make a lot of promises. Our prices also include the cost of delivery so they are bound to be a little more but I don’t just want to compare Tesco with Rosewood, as when it comes to tasty beef, there is no comparison.

You will likely have heard all about Tesco and the controversy over their fake farms scandal, branding generic produce as if it came from a single, identifiable source has increased their profits. Well, they got away with it and are still selling products such as Boswell Farms “beef” mince (pictured below). The price looks amazing at just £3.38 per kg, and if you know anything about cattle pricing it’s even more unbelievable.

'Boswell Farms' - produced somewhere, by someone
'Boswell Farms' - produced somewhere, by someone

In days gone by supermarkets, wholesalers and butchers all had to compete for the best animals available at live auction markets. The cattle taken to market could be sold on the day or brought home if they didn’t make enough money, then returned the following week. Numerous factors changed this, a big one being ‘biosecurity’ - there were concerns over disease being spread between animals from different farms when they met at market, with unsold animals returning to the farm.

The supermarkets seized upon this and ‘sold’ it as an advantage to the farmer if his/her cattle could only move onto to an abattoir and avoid the risk of bringing back disease. Of course it also meant that the farmer has lost market discretion - you must accept the price, whatever it may be, and therefore the decision to sell must be made based upon the market prices from the previous week, which made selling even more of a gamble.

To take the gamble out of selling the supermarkets offered an olive branch - sell direct to them, delivering the animals to the supermarkets own abattoirs and you will receive a pre-determined price, providing the animals were of the right ‘specification’ (see below). The trouble was that the price offered was based upon the ‘market price’ and with direct contracts supermarkets no longer had to bid at the auctions. With fewer buyers available at the market, the price reduced further as at the same time supermarkets were outcompeting traditional butchers who couldn’t offer the cling-wrapped all-under-one-roof convenient shopping experience that shoppers now demanded.

Pricing for cattle that were no longer bought and sold while still alive had to be by the ‘deadweight’. That is the price for the carcass only, minus the head, feet, skin and insides, etc. which represents 45 - 50% of the live bodyweight. The carcass specification is determined by its on its conformation (shape) and fatness, with higher prices paid for animals that better match the buyer's demands. The deadweight system eliminates risk for the buyers as they are no longer have to pay for the bits they don’t want, although the price is usually higher than the ‘liveweight’ price to compensate.

Deadweight Cattle Price - something doesn't add up
Deadweight Cattle Price - something doesn't add up

As you can see from the current average cattle pricing, taken from Farmers Weekly today (02/04/2017) the highest price paid (the one for carcasses that will yield the most saleable weight for the supermarket) is 324p per kg, or in other words just 14p less than ‘Boswell Farms’ beef mince. That’s not to say that Tesco has made 14p per kg, as they will have to pay to run the abattoir, package and transport the product. Also, a carcass still contains a lot of extra weight in the form of bone and excess fat, which can represent a third of the deadweight giving an actual cost of 486p per kg of saleable meat.

At that price what Tesco, or ‘Boswell Farms’, are selling must be, essentially, a waste product of meat processing. The online information states that the animal was slaughtered in United Kingdom, Ireland (one of the two, I guess) and by investigating the UK code (5416) it turns out that the Hilton Food Group plc in Cambridgeshire was responsible for mincing it. We have no idea where exactly the animal was born or raised, where it was slaughtered or how far it travelled. All we do know is that the meat has travelled at least 530 miles before it reaches the York Tesco store. Even if you live in Penzance and order from Rosewood you still save at least 342 food miles!

Pricing is a little more complicated, as some cuts are more expensive than others, but mince is also the cut that requires the most work to produce, de-boning, cutting and mincing. It is the most convenient way to cook and eat grassfed beef though, and remains one of our most popular choicess. The advantage of eating beef from Rosewood Farm is that you know that it was grown in the Lower Derwent Valley in Yorkshire. If you check out the slaughter/cutting code on every pack we sell, you can also trace it back to the abattoir, which you will find is also located in the LDV. We include the individual animal ID code too, so you can get in touch with us for the full life history of the animal, including which fields it grazed in, for total peace of mind.

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