High premium for Rules favourite

Undoubtedly run as one of the lowest-input beef systems in the country, Paul Coppen’s pedigree Belted Gallloways secure him a guaranteed high premium in the marketplace.

All the steer beef from the County Durham-based herd is sold to local estate owner John Mayhew, who also owns Rules restaurant in London’s Covent Garden.

It specialises in game and traditional English food, and Belted Galloway beef is a favourite on the menu.

While Mr Coppen prefers not to reveal the exact price he receives for his beef, he admits he gets a premium/kg, which mirrors the rare-breed butcher’s price.

Surplus heifers from the pedigree Gilmonby herd are sold for breeding and in recent years have been much in demand for hill conservation grazing projects, because native cattle are less selective grazers than Continental types.

Having taken early retirement after working in the crop protection industry, Mr Coppen set up his Beltie herd in 1985.

Although he admits he has a small pension to cushion his income, he is adamant the cattle enterprise must pay.

The farm maintains profitability because of the premium achieved for steers and the extremely low input system, he explains.

Cattle are out-wintered, with access to a straw-bedded shed during harsh weather.

Mr Coppen’s herd was also one of a handful in the country granted a derogation to sell over 30 months cattle into the food chain.

He was permitted to finish animals at 3-3.5 years old, because of his long-standing policy of feeding only grass, hay or haylage.

Bought-in concentrates and supplements have never featured in the diet, and cattle receive no routine vet treatments.

Organic registration has so far been avoided, as a small quantity of chemical fertiliser is used to improve the grassland.

“It is more expensive to send cattle of more than 30 month sold under the derogation, due to the requirement for BSE testing,” says Mr Coppen.

Slaughter lines have to stop for washing down between batches, which means additional expense.

However, with more OTMS cattle entering the food chain, I expect the fee/head to be reduced.

“I don’t see other farmers as competition, as I already have an outlet arrangement that is working well.

The proximity of this holding to my customer’s estate gives me what marketing people call a unique selling point.”

With 35 females, Mr Coppen probably has one of the largest Belted Galloway herds in the country.

Replacements are home-bred, and a new bull is brought in about once every six years.

Calving is mainly in spring, but steers are finished throughout the year.

The herd is run as one group, with the exception of weaned calves.

They stay with their mothers until the next calf is born.

Breeds like the Beltie thrive on extensive, natural systems, he points out.

“It’s no use trying to finish Belties quickly on concentrates, or they will lay down fat.

When allowed to mature slowly, they will produce a lean, marbled meat with great flavour and texture.

“The meat is the opposite of what the supermarkets want.

They seem to prefer pink meat with white fat, whereas the grass-fed Beltie meat is dark in colour, with yellow fat.”

He is certain Belties will increase in popularity in future.

“As margins are squeezed, some farmers will be tempted to keep cattle more intensively to save costs,” he says.

“However, that may have serious animal welfare implications.

We can’t afford to compromise our high welfare standards, as they give the UK an advantage over imports.

“Other producers are joining environmental schemes and that’s where the Beltie comes in.

I believe the breed definitely has a place in the future of UK beef production in the uplands.”