Beef Farm
May 06, 2023

the Beef farm

Having taken a couple of other groups from the Food Hall around the farm recently, we thought it would be interesting to explain more about our beef enterprise.  Previously, we’ve written about the merits of our predominantly grass-based system but there is more to the high-husbandry way we look after our cattle.

To keep up with demand at the Food Hall, there are two herds run across family farms which work closely with the butchery team.  To use the correct terms, both herds are ‘closed’, ‘extensive’ and suckler/finishing operations.  This means that the cattle are born, reared and finished on the same farm and are mainly fed on grass and home-grown fodder.  This helps maintain a high health status within the herd.  Within a closed herd, every few years a new bull will be purchased to improve bloodlines and prevent in-breeding, but only after bio-security tests and a period of isolation.  This principle has helped us avoid TB, BVD, Johne’s and other common diseases found elsewhere in the country.

Our cattle management principle is not intensive and does not aim to maximise growth rates.  Rather we are looking to produce great beef that has had a good life.  It takes longer to mature increasing depth of flavour and as a result of the time at pasture, age and marbling (intra-muscular fat).  The Red Poll cow lends itself to such an extensive system.  As a dual-purpose breed (developed for both milk and beef) they have a good butterfat genetics, so calves do well with the cows and ‘stay afoot’ with their mothers for longer than more commercial operations.  As the native breed of East Anglia, they thrive on the drier and more acid grasslands we have in East Suffolk, compared to more lush corners of the county.  They are smaller than the beefy continental breeds, so are lighter and more sympathetic to the historic pastureland on which they graze.  These pastures are rich in biodiversity and include wildflowers and herbs that are not present in pastures grown for more commercial operations.


This compassionate beef system is a trade-off with output, which we willingly accept because an extensive system inherently higher welfare and has lower input costs.  Good cattle look after themselves; gathering their own forage, growing relatively well without expensive high protein feed, grazing without stress and therefore have better health and less need for medication.  We adjust carcass conformation by using a slightly beefier Aberdeen Angus bull which is why you see brown (Red Poll) cows with black (crossbred Angus) calves.  Crossbreeding gives the calves more vitality, vigour and character – a bit like a mongrel compared to a pedigree dog.  Using an Angus bull also has the advantage that the breed, like the Red Poll, is ‘polled’ (naturally without horns), so removing another risk when handling them.

We look to finish our fatstock at grass although in Suffolk it only really grows between April and November, and can get ‘burnt off’ (excessively dry and stops growing) during the summer.  To help protect the sensitive ecology of our permanent pasture and for the welfare of cattle, they do come into sheds on the farms when the weather turns.   We gather variety of forage over the summer in preparation for winter.  Surplus grass and outlying meadows are cut for hay (dry baled) or haylage (wet baled and wrapped).  We also grow ‘wholecrop’ which is a varying mix of peas, vetch, barley, oats and/or rye.  This is cut ‘whole’ (grain, husk, leaves, stalks, and all), crimped, baled and wrapped to preserve it for the winter.  This provides a balanced energy/protein/roughage feed and fits well within the arable rotation with vetch and peas naturally fixing nitrogen into the soil, reducing the need for artificial fertilizer.


The adaptability of the Red Poll means that we can also use other local feedstuffs which would otherwise go to waste.  For example, we have a licence to feed old bread and rejected vegetables from the Food Hall.  If home-grown barley fails to meet malting-grade, it can be milled and used to supplement wholecrop, hay and/or straw.  The straw from the cereals grown on the farm, not only provides bedding for the winter but also Red Polls eat a surprising amount, providing essential roughage for their rumen.  The subsequent bedding and cow manure from the sheds goes back to the arable land as natural organic fertiliser providing both nutrients and organic matter for the soil.

Finally, we are pleased to confirm that for years the farms have conformed to a number of voluntary, higher-level, Assurance Standards and agri-environment schemes, as well as the statutory cross-compliance requirements.  Such standards audit and verify a plethora of obligations such as feed records, animal movements, annual health checks, carcass inspection feedback, that antibiotics are only prescribed by a vet when truly necessary, stocking densities, excreta calculations to safeguard watercourses, low & no grazing / feeding zones, herbal species per square meter, rodent control protocols, health & safety, staff training etc.


If you would like to see our cattle, the AONB walk we co-designed takes you across the farm.