FW Awards 2009 winner: Beef Farmer of the Year – Alistair Bull

  • Sponsored by McDonald’s
  • WINNER: Alistair Bull, Thelveton Farms, Norfolk

Passion and enthusiasm can go a long way in any job, but couple that with knowledge and ability and you undoubtedly have a winning combination.

And it is this combination which Alistair Bull exemplifies in managing the beef enterprise for Thelveton Farms, Diss, Norfolk.

Alongside an immediately obvious high level of stockmanship, Alistair also has a commanding knowledge of the production figures for both the suckler herd and the bull-beef unit he is responsible for, allowing him to produce quality beef at a significant margin.

“Everything we do is costed and if it isn’t working we look for a way to make it work.” The herd is based on replacements, largely Aberdeen Angus crosses, sourced from one local calf rearer AI’d to high EBV Limousin sires as heifers and then put to Charolais sires for all subsequent calvings. Alistair’s figures show replacement heifers cost about £400 to rear to bulling at 15 months old.

Cows calve from early April and Alistair aims to calve everything within 12 weeks with heifers calving first so they can be closely managed.

Calves are then weaned in mid-November when the bull calves, all of which are left entire, are gradually introduced to a finishing diet to enable them to be finished at an average of 14 months old at about 360kg deadweight.

Alongside this commercial suckler herd the farm also runs a small herd of pedigree Charolais cows to produce bulls for use on the suckler herd. “AI is the main source of new genetics here, with top EBV sires selected to ensure their progeny produce cattle which perform well in the finishing unit.”

With the herd on the receiving end of a significant bluetongue outbreak in autumn 2007 Alistair is well aware of the need for active health management.

And with health status paramount when sourcing replacements Alistair is adamant no stock are bought from sales.

Finished cattle are equally sold deadweight to avoid the sale ring. “I’m a firm believer in reducing stress for our stock. By selling deadweight to two outlets I can be confident our stock hasn’t been unduly upset on their way to the abattoir.”

Aside from running a profitable beef enterprise, Alistair is working hard within the rest of the estate to ensure its environmental obligations are met, including managing some grassland for the benefit of wildlife, largely through ensuring ESA marshland is restored to a productive yet environmentally-sustainable state. Additionally, Alistair is keen to help other farmers benefit from his experience and hosts several open days alongside his vet to pass on best practice.



  • 1566ha arable and beef farm
  • 325-cow suckler herd and 300 finishing bulls
  • All stock finished on farm


  • Maximising throughput for each labour unit
  • Rearing quality herd replacements economically
  • Using conservation plans to manage ESA marshland sensitively


  • Alistair leaves no stone unturned to improve all aspects of his beef system and this is truly reflected at Thelveton. And despite being heavily profit driven, herd health is also on his agenda. This determination to support British beef farming is demonstrated time after time in everything he does. Dean McKenna, McDonald’s Restaurants


  • Alistair exemplifies modern beef production and has an excellent knowledge of all aspects of the enterprise. He knows his stock and his figures well and works hard to market all the animals produced to maximise returns. Nothing is left to chance. Clive Brown

See more