ENSURING there is a market for what you produce and telling a story to enhance the value of it is the thinking behind Newcastle University’s recent contractual agreement with Buitelaar on their Longhorn Beef Project, explains Gareth Hancock, farm manager for both Cockle Park and Nafferton Farms in Northumberland.

Currently they are one of around 60 UK dairy farms who are signed up to Longhorn beef scheme with Buitelaar, who have found that the market for beef is evolving, with demand for the Longhorn cross dairy beef growing in top-end restaurants as well as in export markets such as Asia (which will require scale and consistency of product).

The Newcastle University team have restructured the dairy operation in recent years, with currently a herd of 300 milkers run at Nafferton Farm (plans are to increase to 350), with heifer rearing carried out at Cockle Park.

In their overview finding an end market for their dairy surplus and by-products was important.

Advice was sought from their vet, Lee-Anne Oliver, of Scott Mitchell Associates, based in Hexham. From here Buitelaar were invited to meet with farmers in the area, and Gareth felt the Buitelaar Longhorn Beef contract had merit, with the policy evolving to see 160 dairy replacements bred to sexed Holstein semen through a synchronisation programme, while the current 300 milkers at Nafferton are bred to Longhorn semen, with three Longhorn bulls also purchased which will run with the herd at grass.

Gareth says he has been pleased that the three bulls have been content to be housed together, which bodes well for their integration among cows at grass and this was a consideration in his breed selection.

The herd is moving to block calving in spring and autumn, with milk supplied to Arla, and Newcastle University aims to enhance the systems throughout their dairy business by data capture and sharing, to help and assist both themselves in heifer rearing and also the crossbred calves for the Buitelaar scheme.

As part of Buitelaar’s commitment to the farmer the use of the Longhorn breed is seen as a point of difference, producing meat of exceptional eating quality, being the oldest English breed, and it ticks the box of the consumer wanting and having a story.

To be fair to the farmer a contract is in place, with an assurance that even if a farm is affected by TB the calves will be purchased.

It is important that calves are well reared and should exceed 50kg between 14 and 41 days of age, with reduced antibiotic use and full traceability key elements of the programme. Feeding and growing these calves is rewarded and payment is based on the AHDB average native price as well as a breed bonus.

The dam must be a cow of some merit, exceeding 600kg liveweight herself, and another criteria is that the sire must be pedigree and shown on the calves’ passport – contributing to the traceability element.

Although Newcastle University has not had Longhorn cross calves born yet, others around the UK have found the calves from their dairy herd to be easily born, distinctively marked, vigorous and thrifty, as well as being fast growing with some weighing over 80kg at four weeks.

It is then anticipated that the Longhorn cross calves through the Buitelaar Longhorn scheme are finished at around 18 months of age, to have included at least one grazing season and are in excess of 260kg deadweight when slaughtered.

All of which shows provenance of the meat sold and creates an eating experience which appeal to the consumer who will pay a premium for the meat in exchange for the story of its evolution, so ultimately the farmer is rewarded for the good rearing of a by product.

The Newcastle University team admits they had no preference to beef breed used to cross onto the dairy herd, but their driver is the demand of a buyer and their choice is supply chain driven, which they perceive as more efficient than trying to second guess the market.