The right product for the chain

Welsh farmer Rob Rattray’s business has grown steadily from his farm to his butcher’s shop in Aberystwyth and now spans the entire distance from gate to plate.

Mr Rattray knows the importance of producing the right carcass to meet butchers’ and retailers’ requirements – the same standards he demands in his own shop.

He and his wife Sheila farm 530 ewes at Ffos y Fuwch, New Cross, Aberystwyth, using Suffolk-cross and Texel-cross Mules put to a Beltex ram.

“This gives us the milk of the Mule, with the size of the Suffolk or Texel and the conformation of the Beltex,” says Mr Rattray.

“The lamb carcass this produces means a high meat-to-bone ratio to suit modern butchers’ needs.”

Mr Rattray has worked at both ends of the red meat supply chain.

Initially, he began working for a local butcher before starting agricultural college, but he enjoyed the business so much, he decided college could wait.

He trained and became a butchery manager with a large retail chain, and then rented a shop of his own in Aberystwyth, launching his own business.

It continued to grow and new outlets for produce were developed.

Among these were a county council contract to supply local schools, and in 2001 an agreement with the University of Wales at Aberystwyth.

But not even the most successful businessman can do everything himself, and Mr Rattray was spending more time behind the scenes.

It was time to expand.

“The business couldn’t grow anymore without new premises.

The shop handles four beef carcasses and 40 lambs a week, but with more supply contracts like the university, the preparation space needed was pressing too much on the retail space,” he says.

To get around this, Mr Rattray set out a plan for a new boning and meat preparation plant on his farm.

A 40% grant from the Welsh Development Agency meant he needed to find 80,000 to support his total project cost of 120,000.

“Mr Rattray already had the business strategy behind the project clearly thought out,” says his local NatWest agricultural manager Graham Harvey.

“Projected trading figures, both for throughput in the on-farm meat plant and linked to over-the-counter sales, were set out three years ahead.

That is the kind of business planning a bank is looking for.”

The expanded operation also meant that, by keeping preparation and cutting costs within his business, Mr Rattray would benefit from some economies of scale.

“Getting bigger will not automatically make a business successful.

In Mr Rattray’s case, moving the processing and preparation side out of the shop and on to the farm allowed him to get back to the frontline of his business – his shop,” says Mr Harvey.

And that contact with customers has brought more opportunities to develop.

“That allows the business to grow further with bigger contracts,” says Mr Harvey.

Having a dedicated local contact with his bank is important to Mr Rattray, whose says his success is based on meeting demand for locally produced, processed and retailed food.

“This is why we need the smaller, local abattoirs.

They are essential, and help to reduce unnecessary food miles.”

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For further advice on growing your business please look at these articles:

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