The co-owner of Wild Beef on old-fashioned farming, loyal customers and surviving the foot and mouth crisis
Where does your meat come from?
We have our own herd of cows, which are almost all Welsh Black—a slow-growing, hardy breed whose meat has a lovely deep flavour—based in Devon. It’s a wonderful place for beef, because it’s warm and wet and the grass will grow until the end of November.
Where we are, up on the moors, there’s a lot of wild grass which is very lightly grazed and contains a lot of goodness. Our cattle graze on ‘unimproved’ pasture, which is pasture that hasn’t been ploughed up and planted with seed grass, unlike the pasture used for most commercial herds. As well as the nettles and wild flowers, these fields also have about 30 different wild grasses, all with different tastes and qualities, which is all really good for the cattle. The cows seem to really enjoy the varied diet—they even eat the ivy as they walk along the lanes between pastures.
What’s your farming philosophy?
My husband Richard calls what we do “stick and dog farming”. All we do is move the cattle onto the moor or into a field and then let them roam free. It’s the old-fashioned way of doing things; the way that everybody used to farm. You get to know your animals, they are looked after properly and you approach the farming ethically. No corners are cut chasing a quick profit—we just try to produce the tastiest meat we can. When they’re ready, we take the animals to a very nice small abattoir nearby, and once butchered, the meat is hung for about four weeks before coming to market.
How long have you been at Borough?
We’ve been coming to Borough ever since the Food Lovers’ Fair in 1998. It went really well, so we kept coming back. In those very early days, we would tip up with a whole bullock butchered and already packaged. By midday we would have sold the whole thing, from nose to tail, except for maybe a few bags of mince and suet. Our butcher was amazed—he didn’t believe we could do it. They were really happy fun days, chatting to the customers and selling from the van parked behind us.
What does the Market mean to you?
This place is very important to Richard and me. Ever since the beginning, our Borough Market customers have been very loyal to us. I remember during the foot and mouth crisis of 2001, which was really dreadful, they took a genuine interest in how we were coping. Sometimes they would reduce me to tears.
Those terrible images of whole herds of cattle being burned were all over the television, so people would bring their children to the stall and tell them: “This is a farmer and they are going through an awful time at the moment. We have to do everything we can to help them through it.” We got a real sense of support from the people here, and that meant an enormous amount during what was a really difficult time for us. It was trading here that allowed us to get through that period.