We visit the Bulmer family’s Bodior estate located on the tip of windswept Anglesey where Beef Shorthorn is proving to fit like a glove on the low input LFA unit. The herd grazes for literally 365 days of the year, it thrives on the rough stuff – heath, marsh, shrub and scrub, it calves outdoors within a tight six-week period, has a 95% rearing rate and an average 12 crops of calves.
Finished cattle are also offering added value Shorthorn Beef branding opportunities via direct sale through Bodior’s farm shop.
However, it’s the Beef Shorthorn’s quiet temperament that is also amongst the breed’s greatest management assets for estate manager, Frank Roberts. Gwyn and Frank Roberts
“After working for years with Continental cross sucklers, Beef Shorthorns are a dream,” he says. “In fact, since we introduced the breed 15 years ago, we’ve found Beef Shorthorn so conducive to Bodior that we’ve since more than doubled cow numbers at the expense of the sheep enterprise.”
And with Frank’s son, Gwyn having recently returned to join his father at Bodior after studying at Harper Adams University, plans are firmly in place to progress the estate. “We’re facing very challenging and uncertain times post Brexit, however we believe we have a mix of tools to hand to embrace the likely changes and cover our salaries – our own and our butchers,” says Gwyn.
“We’re now slowly building to 100 pedigree Beef Shorthorn cows and followers – our core farming enterprise whilst maintaining our low input strategy. In fact, we’re so low input - we even use a seaweed based fertiliser that’s the next best thing to organic. We’ve just installed a new outdoor handling system featuring weigh cells – measuring and monitoring will be vital going forward to help us improve our management efficiency. And we are joining Breedplan, another tool to help us select more carefully for commercial traits and add value to the herd.
“Our plans include to develop our farm shop and we also have a commercial shoot and holiday lets. We’re kept busy! Added to that is a full line-up of continuing conservation work on the estate – restoring stone walls, re-planting hedges and maintaining the unit’s biodiversity, which began in the 1990’s when we joined an ESA scheme and latterly, Glastir. Dad is a Silver Lapwing national award winner,” says Gwyn.
Bodior’s journey with Beef Shorthorn began in 2002. “We ran a 75 cow Continental cross suckler herd but had reached the point where enough was enough,” Frank explains. “The estate incorporates five farms and moving cattle around was a challenge and didn’t go without incidents. Poor cow temperament was a real issue.
“I was aware that native cattle were noted for docility which led me to investigate further; I visited a Yorkshire unit stocking various different native breeds and left with the conclusion that Beef Shorthorn was for Bodior. Since then I’ve never looked back. This native breed has proved to deliver performance that clearly surpasses the Continental crosses on a financial basis for our holding, especially as the rearing and finishing costs are considerably lower. “We started out by buying in purebred Beef Shorthorn heifers and gradually built up numbers to replace the Continental cross cows which had required so much hard work; that’s now behind us along with their sharp temperament. “Beef Shorthorn has proved to be a hardy, rough grazing animal with a very quiet temperament. The entire herd with calves is wintered on sand dunes and its noticeable they graze individually rather than in gangs which prevents poaching. We supplement with high dry matter grass silage and minerals and aim to keep them in condition score 3 throughout.” Calves are weaned at 10 months at an average 220kg to 250kg, and housed for a couple of months to prevent a check, before returning to graze, whilst the cows are given a two month break before calving outdoors. “Time of calving can be unpredictable yet it’s not of any concern, we can go out the next morning and the calf can be guaranteed up and sucking and the dam will let me get up close to tag it. I’ve never had a calf that doesn’t know where to find the milk tank. Last season, we assisted three out of 70 calvings.”
Since cow numbers have grown to achieve a critical mass, Frank says they’ll now be able to select the heifer replacements they really want to keep. “We’re finally able to put a bit of boot polish on the herd.”
Steers along with non-replacement heifers are currently finished off grass for Bodior’s farm shop with surplus sold to Woodheads for Morrisons Shorthorn Beef scheme. For the final four months they are introduced to a homegrown silage, rolled oat mix plus shredded sugar beet. Steers are finished to 340kg to 400kg from 23 months and heifers, 270kg to 330kg from 21 months.
There’s also the handful of bulls Gwyn plans to identify each year to retain for in demand breeding purposes. “We sold our first bulls in 2016 to commercial suckler men on the island and we’re planning to follow their progeny to see how they perform. We’re also keen to get on to the regional show circuit to literally show case our Bodior Beef Shorthorn herd.”
Bodior Farm, Rhoscolyn, Anglesey
670 acres LFA grazing and conservation
30 acres cereals for home use
70 pedigree Beef Shorthorn cows and followers
380 Welsh Mule ewes
Bodior Farm Shop
Shorthorn branded beef headlines the offer at Bodior’s farm shop which the Roberts – Frank, his wife Karen and Gwyn is focused on developing with their full time butcher Dave Williams.
“Our customers keep coming back for more and more Shorthorn Beef simply because they appreciate its consistent eating quality which is down to marbling combined with our management both pre and post farm gate; we have our own cold storage and hang the steers for 28 days and heifers, 21 days,” Frank explains.
“All our meat is also accompanied with 100% traceability and provenance, all the animals are reared and finished on homegrown feed and food miles are kept to a minimum.” Bodior is currently killing one carcase per week together with eight lambs, at its nearest slaughter house, less than 40 miles away in Conwy. The higher value cuts are retailed through the farm shop to local customers as well as holiday makers. Sausages, burgers and kebabs are made on the premises, whilst the remaining lower value cuts are sold for catering purposes to selected island pubs and restaurants who use the Bodior Beef Shorthorn brand to introduce to their menus which in turn helps to promote farm shop sales.
Bodior launched the farm shop and catering as a diversification enterprise three years ago. “I was fed up of fluctuating livestock market prices and after doing some homework, we agreed a retail operation held added value potential for both our beef and lamb. That’s proved the case, as well as giving me the satisfaction of managing the entire chain – from choice of genetics through to counter sales and meeting our customers.
“Having become established, we are now planning to build sales with a new on-line service, whilst maintaining quality. We’re also aware of interest in Shorthorn Beef in mainland Europe and are planning to explore export markets.”