Jennifer MacKenzie is an agricultural photo journalist with almost 30 year's experience. Operating from her base in Cumbria, Jennifer undertakes mainly industry-related freelance writing and photography.

Lakeland Beef underpins the market

Dedicated beef producer and regular supplier of prime quality Lakeland Beef, Alan Brown says the brand has helped to underpin the market at a time when prices have been in the doldrums.

The third generation of his family to farm the stock rearing and grain producing Midtown Farm, Kirkbampton, near Carlisle on the Solway Estuary, Alan and his wife Sara take pride in all they produce.

Alan Brown and his beef unit
Alan Brown in his beef unit

Beef-bred mainly Limousin cross cattle have been selected for their superior and consistent quality from the same two hill farms in the region for a number of years.

At Midtown Farm, cattle are finished on home-grown barley to meet the high specifications of the Pioneer Foodservice Lakeland brand, which is now gaining recognition in the market place since its launch seven years ago.

“We are very pleased to have been selling beef through the auction at Borderway for the Lakeland brand since it started,” says Alan.

“While producer prices for beef generally have not been as high as we would have liked, it is good to see Pioneer buying these quality beef-bred cattle through the ring and helping to boost the trade.

“Not only can customers eating the beef be assured of its traceability, but the scheme is cutting down on food miles as well as promoting our area and the quality meat we farmers produce.

“If we go out for a meal I always ask where the beef is from and if it is local – and if it isn’t I say they should buy Lakeland Beef from Pioneer!”

Lakeland Beef is a partnership between Pioneer Foodservice, based at Rosehill, Carlisle, auctioneers Harrison & Hetherington, whose mart at Borderway neighbours Pioneer’s headquarters, and abattoir firm Dunbia, of Sawley.

Harrison & Hetherington gives help and guidance over the procurement of the beef of the required specification from farm-assured producers in the CA and LA postcode areas for the Lakeland label either through the ring or direct from the farm.

Pioneer takes ownership of the whole carcase which after being at Dunbia is further processed by Pioneer and the resultant consistency of the product is a further huge selling point. The regional brand has the full backing of EBLEX (English Beef and Lamb Executive).

Limousin Heifers
Limousin Heifers

Restaurants and other catering establishments across the north readily use the Lakeland brand on their menus. Guaranteeing the provenance of the beef, Pioneer’s sales team gives the names and addresses of producers and quantities of beef each has supplied to the caterers.

An average of 100 head of cattle are being processed each week and more and more producers want to take part in the supply chain.

When Alan gave up milk production in 2000 to concentrate on finishing beef cattle he set his stall at the highest possible welfare standards.

Cattle are housed in a light and airy modern building and bedded on the farm’s own barley straw.

“We really wanted the cattle to be as comfortable as possible with good, dry bedding and good ventilation in the building.

“I believe that if a beast has somewhere warm and dry to lie then it’s as good as giving them an extra feed. The building makes it very easy to handle the cattle which also improves welfare,” says Alan.

The Browns farm a total of 300 acres, 230 of which are owner-occupied. The steading was moved out of the farm’s central village location and a new building was erected for the finishing cattle as well as a silage clamp, making management easy with everything on one site.

Vacating the buildings has generated another income in the storage of caravans and the former milking parlour building has enabled their son Paul to set up his own successful computer building, repair and website business at home.

All the cattle are suckled calves sourced from two Pennine hill farms, one of which runs up to 1,200ft above sea level, and they are mostly Limousin cross with some British Blues.

In contrast, Alan and Sara’s feeding farm runs from just 10ft above sea level near the estuary to 90ft.

“We know the type of stock we buy from these two farms. We know they will perform and we have a good idea how they will finish,” said Alan.

The calves, both steers and heifers, are between eight and 15 months old and the aim is to finish them within 12 months. Usually calves are fed initially in the field and then are brought inside for finishing on ad-lib home grown barley fed with a balancer.

Between 200 and 250 cattle are finished each year at 22 to 29 months old, all year round, selling to Pioneer as well as local butchers.

Alan is a supporter of live primestock auctions and the majority of cattle are sold through the ring at Borderway by auctioneer David Holliday – who is also the Browns’ next door neighbour in Kirkbampton.

Pioneer also markets lamb and pork under more recent but increasingly successful complementary ventures, Lakeland Lamb and Lakeland Pork.

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