FW Awards finalist: Hands-on farmer leaves nothing to chance

Bridget Borlase

Sacombe Hill Farm, Watton-at-Stone, Hertfordshire

Beef Farmer of the Year finalist Bridget Borlase’s workload is daunting. From running both the livestock and arable enterprises on the 357ha (882-acre) farm to managing the farm’s butchery and shop, Bridget B’s Traditional Meats, she plays a hands-on role in everything on the farm and leaves nothing to chance.

Along with her parents Judy and Paul, Bridget has established a completely new enterprise at Sacombe Hill Farm to complement 40 years of pedigree Simmental breeding.

Already a leading light in the pedigree Simmental world, she has taken on-farm marketing to a new level. In just two years she has increased business turnover by 125% and is on course to turn over £570,000 this year, with the butcher’s alone grossing £45,000 in busy months – a net profit of 22%.

“As with many farms, profitability has been somewhat minimal over the past 10 years, so in 2005 when we were at a real low, marketing our own product had to be the next move,” says Bridget.

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Just six months after attending her first Farmers’ Market, she was going to 26 a month. This level of marketing has now grown considerably. Her enthusiasm for finding new outlets and markets has grown her customer base and the farm now supplies local pubs, restaurants and hotels, other farm shops and three Budgens stores.

Her mission is clear: To maximise returns wherever possible. “I’m looking for sales from the suckler herd to gross £100,000 a year, including breeding bulls, finished bulls, breeding heifers and cull cows.”

Finishing cattle are accounted for, with the farm buying store cattle and selling them to Bridget B’s on a deadweight basis, the price based on the weekly average.

Along with the continued success of the award-winning Sacombe pedigree Simmental herd – built on the first Simmental bloodlines to be imported into the UK – and her motto of “breeding flesh not feeding flesh”, Bridget has always been prepared to incorporate innovative use of technology.

Having started DNA testing for assessing meat quality and breeding traits, along with research into sheer tests, marbling percentages and taste testing panels, the focus is very much on quality.

In terms of practical management, the winter feeding regime is simple and easily managed with a total mixed ration, using home-grown feeds and just a protein source and minerals bought in. “Growth rates are monitored and daily costs calculated, a tight control on overall production costs is important so that the transfer of the value of the carcass between the businesses is accurate.”

A herd of rare breed Belted Galloways has also been established at Sacombe, bringing added value marketing along with environmental benefits. “The herd is outwintered and has proved beneficial in terms of grassland management, cleaning the pastures as they go.”

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In terms of health status, Bridget works closely with her own vet and consultant vet group Westpoint Vet Services and undertakes a thorough vaccination programme.

DIY AI is also an important part of the breeding programme, giving Bridget the ability to source new genetics from all over the world. “Performance figures are vital, both from a commercial and pedigree point of view and the DIY ability helps enhance that.”

Off farm Bridget works hard for the British Simmental Cattle Society, having been a chairwoman of the South East Group and the Young Members Association, where she trains younger members in the art of stockjudging. She is also an active speaker at various meetings, including the Rotary Club, the NFU and farm discussion groups.

With daunting new plans for a state-of-the-art cutting plant, a new retail outlet and a continued search for new product outlets, Bridget’s vision and passion for the future of her family business is driving her forward to an extremely successful enterprise.

Farm Facts

  • 357ha (882 acre) of two-thirds tenanted, one-third owned including grazing and arable
  • Running 150 pedigree Simmental suckler cows, followers and finishing unit of 100 head rolling average.
  • Traditional mixed family farm complemented with finishing unit for marketing beef through the farm’s own brand name Bridget B’s.

What the judges liked

  • Huge commitment to customer needs
  • Strong environmental awareness
  • Simple, effective management system
  • Commendable business turnover

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