From selling a few finished cattle as boxed beef to gaining reviews from spotlight chefs, such as Gary Rhodes and Gordon Ramsey, the Morgan family of Appleton have come a long way in the past four years.
Having established a strong commercial Charolais suckler herd at Field Farm and set up their own processing plant capable of handling 400 head of cattle a week, the Morgan brothers have one intention, supplying the best quality British beef that consumers are demanding.
The 1620ha (4000-acre) farm is home to 800 suckler cows, half of which are pure Charolais cows and the other Continental crosses.
Cows are bred back to a Charolais or Belgian Blue bull to produce what Danny Morgan terms the ideal carcass for the butchering trade.
“It’s all about focusing on quality and that means finding the breed that works for you as a herd manager and what suits your consumer, and for us the Charolais and Blue fit perfectly into our chosen system,” he reckons.
“Charolais cows have an outstanding ability to maintain themselves through grazing from April to October/November with the added bonus of longevity, as many cows in the herd are still calving well at 10 years of age and older.
And Mr Morgan says breeding many of the progeny pure brings the best financial returns due to the Charolais’ fast maturity, weight for age and quality conformation.
The block calving suckler herd is also substituted with bought-in Continental-bred heavy stores at 22 months old, which the Morgan’s finish on a separate unit before slaughtering and are then processed through Field Farm Fresh.
But key to the operation is the simplicity of the enterprise.
With block calving, progeny can be grouped into batches at weaning through to finishing, enabling them to form uniform quantities of finished cattle to meet slaughter specification.
“We take cattle right through to maximum weights because of the wide range of meat cuts we have to supply,” says Mr Morgan.
Finishing diet consists of home-grown maize and rolled barley mix, with steers slaughtered at 26-27 months old and heifers slightly younger before too much fat is laid down.
“Most cattle are slaughtered at 600kg plus liveweight, producing carcass weights of about 350kg – the ideal weight for the catering trade.”
“Capacity currently allows us to handle up to 400 primals a week for processing, as well as lambs from our ewe flock when they are ready, adding extra numbers from local outlets to meet demand throughtout certain times of the year,” he adds.
On top of that, Field Farm Fresh can provide their customers with a range of cured hams, poultry and game delivered to and processed at the farm.
But keeping herd management as simple as possible is one thing, health status of the herd is vital as well, comments Mr Morgan.
“We have worked hard to build the herd to the position it is in today and that has meant working with a dedicated vet practice.
“I’m a strong believer in the preventative approach and we annually vaccinate for BVD, Leptospirosis and IBR, as well as follow strict working regimes to maximise the herd’s progeny performance,” he adds.
And with high health status comes good fertility, with the herd regularly averaging just 3-5% empty at the end of the breeding season.
But Mr Morgan puts a significant amount of that down to accurate sire selection.
“Charolais bulls are bought privately from a local breeder and Blue bulls are sourced when required from the Chelford Belgian Blue sales.
“We’re now in to our third year of using Blues and have so far been pleased with their performance and fertility.”
So with the right genetics, management and commitment to the suckler herd, processing the farm’s own meat has been a natural progression for the family.
“It started when we sold some cattle as boxed beef and it exploded from there, with customers enquiring from all over Oxfordshire.”
Considerable investment has been made into converting existing buildings into the processing hall and packing line facilities.
“We have a strong customer base ranging from the local housewife to two-star Michelin chefs in London – whatever the product required, our butchers will provide.”
Looking to the future, Mr Morgan is under no illusion as to how much potential there is with the enterprise.
“We’re family owned and currently have extra building work in place to house and finish more cattle.
“After years of being pushed to one side, British beef is finally coming back in its own right, showing the rest of the world what it can deliver in terms of health and welfare, traceability and quality.
It’s vital producers like us promote what has to be the best beef in the world.”