Getting by with a little help from his friends
A dale farmer has turned to selling meat direct to customers after ill health forced him to halve livestock numbers. Wendy Short headed to Orchard Farm, near Middleton-in-Teesdale, to find out more
GRAHAM Simpson has only recently introduced Longhorn cattle to the herd – but feedback from customers indicates that it is something special. His heifer was sent for slaughter at 29 months and achieved 318kgs deadweight.
“The Longhorn meat contains a high level of marbling and it is packed with flavour,” says Mr Simpson.
“I started out by selling meat to friends and family, but demand has been higher than I anticipated. It can be difficult to market a whole animal, as some customers will want only the choice cuts and therefore I offer the meat in 10kgs or 20kgs boxes.
“They contain a selection which includes steaks, mince and roasting joints. Heifer meat is the best for taste in my opinion and it is also fine textured.”
Born in Ramshaw, Mr Simpson was brought up on the family dairy farm and went on to become a farm worker.
A mixed career then followed and some readers may remember his mobile grocery shop which made the rounds of the Teesdale villages during the 1980s.
More latterly, he was employed as a cook working supplying meals for teams working on gas pipelines throughout the country and it was only in 2014 when he was made redundant that he took on the tenancy of Orchard Farm.
He now manages about 60 acres with the help of some “very good friends” and has recently cut down on the number of livestock to minimise his workload.
“Unfortunately, I have had two accidents and have suffered with pain from damage to my neck and back; I also have a lung disease,” he explains.
“The reduction in stock numbers was the main reason why I have turned to selling meat to the public.
“To date I have sold the meat from one of my animals and I will have a Hereford heifer to send in within the next few months.
“I will be looking to purchase a couple of young Longhorn heifers the next time I buy in new bloodlines, although I am also very fond of the Hereford as a breed. I have been also pleased with the Longhorn because it has a very placid temperament and also calves easily.”
The Longhorn cows are part of a small herd containing a range of breeds including the Beef Shorthorn, the Hereford, the Limousin and the Belgian Blue. The females calve over the summer months and youngstock are also bought in at seven to eight months old from the local marts.
A flock of 90 sheep is kept at Orchard House and like the cattle, these are a mixture of breeds. In general, Swaledale gimmer hoggs are purchased in the autumn and sold the following November as shearlings, but a couple of dozen ewes are lambed each year.
“Cash flow is extremely important on a small farm like mine,” adds Mr Simpson. “Having lambs to sell from July to September provides a welcome source of income at that time of year.”
“But I have no plans to give up my hobby farming and I am extremely grateful for the support that I have received from my neighbours, because without them I could not continue. I would like to mention Andrew Teward, John Hodgson, John Stobart, Tommy Willis and Michael Souter, as well as my niece Kendra Emery and her husband Paul, along with Courtney Merchant and Adam Laidlaw. Also, I would like to thank everybody else who has helped me; they are too numerous to mention. I really appreciate all that they have done for me while I have been at Orchard House. The people in living in Teesdale are second-to-none and it is the most peaceful place that I have ever lived.
“Like other farmers, I am concerned about the effects of our withdrawal from the EU. But I feel strongly that the importation of meat is not the right way to go. This country has the potential to be self-sufficient in beef, lamb and pork and our meat is produced to a high standard, so there should be no need to buy it in from abroad, in my opinion.”