WITHIN just a couple of years Natalie and Mark Mashiter have developed a growing market for the grass-fed Dexter beef they produce.

It started with the couple just buying a couple of Dexters with friends and enjoying the beef they produced but then the Cumbrian couple decided to start their own herd - buying the entire Croitachonie herd of 22 cattle from Argyll in Scotland in 2017.

Now the Whimasholme herd runs to a total of 70 head - which includes 38 breeding females producing branded Lakeland Dexter beef which is sold to local restaurants and pubs and direct to the public in boxes.

The cattle are grazed year-round in a partnership with Askham dairy farmer Thomas Holme at Hall Farm. They are easily managed with little by way of inputs.

“Initially, the idea was to produce beef for our own consumption because we liked it so much. However, as cattle numbers grew we started selling the beef in early 2018, initially to friends and then on a bigger scale to pubs, hotels and restaurants in the area,” said Mark. A restaurant in London is also buying the beef.

Even in the early stages of the beef business, which is owned by Natalie who also works part-time, Lakeland Dexter was a finalist in the Cumbria Life Food and Drink Awards 2019 for its Dexter beef fillet - down to the final four out of 36 entries.

Mark’s roots are in agriculture - his father Michael Mashiter is an auctioneer and valuer with NWA in Kendal - and Mark would have liked to have followed in his footsteps.

However, he studied urban property management at university and spent seven years in the US. He moved back to Cumbria for family reasons and now runs a company which builds around 100 houses a year and manages 1,000 other properties in Florida.

The cattle are grazed at Askham Hall Farm alongside the dairy herd. They calve all the year round to help provide a regular supply of beef. They are run in family groups and calves are left on their dams to wean naturally.

The breeding cattle are out-wintered and steers, which are finished off grass in the summer, are housed in winter for a short period and fed brewers grains from a local brewery if available.

They are finished at up to 29 months old and taken to an abattoir in South Cumbria where they are cut to meet orders and packaged.

Around half the beef is sold to local restaurants and the rest is sold in fresh 5kg or 10kg boxes with a mix of steaks, joints, mince and stewing meats direct to the public. The beef is delivered but a refrigerated collection point in premises in Penrith’s Corney Square is opening soon. Orders are managed by Mark’s PA Lisa Walton.

“To meet the increasing demand for the beef we’re selling some of our breeding stock at the Carlisle society sale in September and the plan is to purchase weaned steers at around 12 months old from breeders in the region that we can take on and finish.

“Our aim by the end of next year is to be processing three to four animals a month but we need to have a consistent supply to meet the demand of restaurants.

“We wanted to focus on growing the herd but we have the short term problem of consistently supplying our customers so we have decided to sell some of the breeding cattle and build numbers up again and buy in the steers to increase throughput,” said Mark.

“I think we can finish 45-50 cattle a year which will need us to be running up to 175 cattle. The farm’s 300-plus can accommodate this with the Dexter’s stocking rate of one animal to the acre.”

The Mashiters are hand-picking restaurants to market the beef to with the expectation that chefs will be sold on the taste and eating quality of the beef as well as its local provenance.

“The beef is just amazing and its easy to sell once people have tasted it,” said Mark. The beef is prepared in both traditional and more modern cuts for the restaurant chefs,” he added.

To help increase the beef throughput, up to 20 breeding females will be sold at the Dexter Cattle Society’s annual autumn sale in Carlisle on September 21.

The current stock bull is Harron Loyal Commando classified EX91 which at eight years old has left his mark with heifer replacements.

The herd has a lot of Burnside bloodlines and one of the oldest cows still breeding at 19 years old is Burnside Film Star.

“We like the breed because they are hardy and easily managed - almost self-sufficient. And they produce excellent grass-fed beef which is in demand,” said Mark. “We want to build on the business for the future.”