Ensuring meat suits consumer needs is much easier when you know the stock you’re breeding from will produce tender, succulent meat every time. Gene marker technology is now allowing one Norfolk farming family just such knowledge.
The Filby family has secured a strong customer base taking control of the supply chain from field to fork, with a strong focus on gene marking techniques to allow them to ensure they are producing what the market wants.
And it is the desire to meet this need that has meant they are embracing new developments being made in gene marking in the pedigree Shorthorn and Simmental breeding herds behind the 1000 head of cattle on farm.
Having always taken a strong interest in genetics the family has used the benefits of careful genetic selection to their advantage for many years in their pedigree herds, sourcing imports from Canada to establish the largest herd of naturally polled Simmentals in the country.
Using the Igenity tender gene identification programme, Brian Filby is testing bulls for the presence of a specific tender gene, tracking their progeny and refining the breeding process accordingly.
“It is another tool, alongside other performance indicators, to assess not only genetic characteristics, but how this translates in a commercial sense. We test all bulls kept on farm, from which we will select 10 to 15 replacements annually. By using the tender gene marker we will be able to, in the future, select on a more scientific, proven basis,” he adds.
“Because we breed our commercial herd alongside our pedigrees, we don’t breed for the show ring. We, as producers, must not divorce ourselves from who we are producing for, consumers are our judge. Gene marking allows producers a true and meaningful method of breeding animals for what we are really aiming for.”
Careful breed choice has meant the farm is committed to using breeds that are fit for purpose in terms of docility and meat quality, and the farm now runs the largest pedigree herd of Black Simmentals in the UK. “We believe Simmentals have the best quality meat for what we want to achieve and, coupled with their docility, the Black Simmental scores better in terms of eye muscle and is more suited to the market,” adds Mr Filby.
Recognising that this information would add value to their beef, the Filby family decided that to improve contact with customers, they would need to become the supply chain. “Our aim initially was to supply our own outlets entirely self-sufficiently. We now operate three butchers – two retail and one wholesale which supplies schools, hotels and restaurants,” explains Mr Filby.
“Not only do we now know where our meat is going, but we also receive the feedback, so if what we produce isn’t what consumers want they will let us know. This enables us to tailor breeding to what is really required,” he adds. Feedback has confirmed what they already knew, that consumers want tender meat which is easy to cook.
Converting a set of farm buildings into a complex employing 43 local people, there is now a farm shop, a bakery which supplies the shop and restaurant, garden centre, clothes shop and hairdressing salon. “We aim to market everything we produce in our outlets, which works well in our restaurant, which even sells wine from our farm in Australia,” adds Mr Filby.
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