The Horned Beef Company producing top class beef on the edge of the Lake District
PUBLISHED: 00:00 19 July 2018
A young couple are taking an innovative approach to farming on land overlooking Morecambe Bay
With a dozen of their cattle grazing on the National Trust’s Heathwaite land on the southern edge of Arnside Knott, and a fine sunny view across Morecambe Bay, it’s easy to see why David and Bekka Corrie-Close have worked so hard to get a start in farming. It’s not always like this of course, and they’ve had to be creative and determined to get a foothold, but it’s paying off.
‘With not being from a farming background we had to approach it strategically,’ explains David. They had no assets against which to borrow to buy an economic level of stock, and no chance when they started out in 2015 of obtaining a farm. But they found solutions to both problems. ‘Via our Horned Beef Company website we invited people to lend us £1000, in return for which they got a four per cent per annum return in beef over three years, with their capital returned at the end,’ says Bekka.
‘Lots of people did that,’ adds David. ‘Partly because they thought it was a good deal and partly to support a quirky farming business trying to work with nature.’
Working with nature is how they got over their lack of land – their cattle, now around 90 in number, plus 40 sheep, are grazed on lands that needs environmentally sensitive treatment. ‘Our approach is high quality land management, and it’s not faked, we believe in it,’ he says.
‘The National Trust on this land, for example, want it grazed now to take the top off the sward and let the rest of the herbage thrive and flower, otherwise the more competitive grasses will grow fastest early in the season and crowd out the wildflowers and finer herbs and grasses. Then we’ll take the cows elsewhere, and come back in September.’
The cows – a mixture on this site of Dexters, Highland, Belted Galloways and Shetlands – look very content with the arrangement, spreading out over the beautiful 100-acre site to sample the many different plants on offer, though that wanderlust can be a problem for the couple. ‘On a hot day recently some bedded down out of the sun in a hawthorn and bramble thicket, which made it tough to find them,’ says David.
The couple have now bought a radio-transmitter collar to help track the cattle down and reduce the amount time they both spend tramping the fields looking for them.
A rich and varied diet, and the relaxed way the couple handle the cattle – always led, not chased or pushed – pays dividends in the end beef product. ‘For me there’s an unbelievably big difference in a slow-grown piece of steak from an unstressed animal reared on species-rich pasture,’ says David.
‘I try to avoid saying one breed is better than another, and it’s hard to compare because the flavour, marbling and texture varies from one breed to another, but for us actually the Shetland beef is probably superior, though that may have been one animal to another, or maybe because of the ground they were finished on.’
Horned Beef meat is sold via their website – thehornedbeefcompany.com – with David’s background in the wine business prompting another novel approach – they sell en primeur, taking orders before the product is ready for market, to reduce the stress of having to find outlets for meat once it’s ready with the clock ticking. They courier meat all over the country, though want to focus on Lancashire and Cumbria in the future.
Help from various schemes designed to support young farmers has been valuable, and the couple are grateful to the Prince’s Countryside Fund for providing them with a Landrover Discovery Sport for a year. ‘Farming, and farming in places like this, is tough on vehicles, and that is so much easier to use for our work than our ageing Citroen Berlingo,’ he says.
But, he adds, it has still been demanding. ‘This winter we were getting to the stage where we doubted we’d pull it off. We’d set ourselves a deadline that if we hadn’t got a farm by the end of this autumn, we’d need to think seriously about changing what we were doing.’
But in the middle of May they took on a farm, a 150-acre National Trust holding at Levens near Kendal, on species-rich limestone ground and Bekka adds: ‘It’s brilliant having a base, and the farming infrastructure. It was hard this spring calving in Tebay when we were living in Lindale. But we’ll continue to work with the National Trust and others on sites that need environmentally sensitive grazing.’ David is now looking forward to another change in their work. ‘I’m trying to convince Bekka to sell all the sheep – on a per kilo basis they are far more work than cattle. I’m 32 but my back feels 20 years older dealing with them! I can’t love sheep, but cows are great.’