Stuart Hutchings

Hall farm, Leinthall Earls, Leominster, Herefordshire

Beef Farmer of the Year finalist Stuart Hutchings’ motto for management is foresight rather than hindsight. Couple that with a drive for growth, a love of the environment and a meticulous method of analysing cost, the Gatley Farms estate manager has created what he terms a microcosm of British agriculture and forestry.

Set in the stunning rolling hills of Herefordshire, this 1010ha (2496-acre) estate has been producing beef for many years, but now it incorporates a newly invested potato store, arable crops, forestry and a 900-ewe flock.

The beef enterprise has been the main driver of growth during the past 20 years, followed by grass keep and a longer-term FBT, says Stuart. During that time the farm size has doubled, as has the suckler herd, which consists of Simmental and Limousin cross cows put to British Blue, Charolais or Limousin x British Blue bulls for optimum conformation.

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The suckler herd has also seen the recent addition of 120 British Blue cross heifers bought as replacements from one high-health-status source, running with a Blonde D’Aquitaine bull.

Calving from March to mid-May, with 75% calved by April, all progeny is sold finished. Males are kept entire, reaching carcass weights of 390kg at 15 months old. Heifers are sold having had a second summer at grass at 21 months old reaching 330kg deadweight. Gross margins from the beef enterprise alone secured £93,960 for Gatley Farms last year, excluding SPS and ELS payments.

“The aim is for faster growth rates from our resources, each year this is evident from our heavier average carcass weights at the same age of slaughter,” he reckons.

“The breed choice works well for the herd, as the frame and growth potential of the Charolais complements the Limousin and Simmental cross cows. The leanness of the Blonde and Blue also work as well,” he says.

Cattle are run in small groups, as blocks of land are scattered across the estate. “Most grassland is permanent pasture, with 80ha of silage ground in long leys on north-facing slopes.”

Much of the grazing is low input ELS pasture and conservation of this is an area close to Stuart’s heart. “I have CEVAS accreditation for school visits and regularly host parties of school children on nature trails and educational visits, teaching them the qualities of the countryside they live in.”

It’s this desire for building strong relationships that has resulted in a solid relationship with Stuart’s processors, Dawn Meats at Bedford. Cattle finish at a predictable age, so wagon loads of equal batches are despatched together.

“The aim is to provide a long loin and excellent meat-to-bone ration to meet requirements of the cutting plant.” And with carcass grading sheets reading reams of uniform grades and weights, deadweight marketing is something Stuart has down to a fine art.

“The focus on deadweight slaughtering helps maintain one goal for the enterprise,” he says. Heifers have historically been marketed locally through an abattoir at Bishops Castle. But although Marches Quality Meats has been closed since August, Stuart and a number of other farmers in the area are working hard to buy it and give a smaller abattoir a new direction.

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All staff on the farm meet every morning for a review of the daily tasks, which Stuart believes is a vital part of the management process. “Without these guys my ideas don’t mean anything, so everybody has to be involved.” Stuart is also keen for them to attend various events and training exercises on farm to make them feel a valuable part of the estate.

A realistic monitoring programme and continuing assessment of inputs and performance means Stuart leaves no production criteria unquestioned. Through that and his continued review of breeding and production policies, he’s worked hard to produce a blueprint for economical beef production.

Farm facts

  • 1010 ha of owned and rented land
  • Running 240 suckler cows of mixed breed including progeny
  •  Marketing deadweight through Dawn Meats
  • Enterprises include arable, potatoes, forestry

What the judges liked

  • Impressive financial and physical management
  • Balance between environmental sustainability and farm production
  • Involvement of wider team in management decisions
  • Good grasp of cost of production