Derbyshire herds creating the highest quality beef
I must admit, nothing beats a good walk around Derbyshire’s glorious Chatsworth estate, especially during the balmy autumn that we’ve recently been enjoying.
Earlier this month I was lucky enough to find myself walking around the fields of Bubnell Cliff Farm, one of the Chatsworth tenant farms within the estate, and home to one of the rarest breeds of cattle in the UK - the English Longhorn.
Tom Mills, who lives on the farm, established his pedigree herd back in 2011 and I went to meet him and his remarkable herd to find out more about what it takes to breed these magnificent, beautiful cattle that produce the highest quality beef.
So what’s so different about the English Longhorns? Well, they are the oldest pedigree breed in England originating from the northern counties.
They were used as draught animals, and their milk used for butter and cheese. Despite their rather intimidating long horns, they are actually one of the most docile breeds around.
Even this herd’s spectacular bull - Ruben, remained relaxed and completely unfazed by my encroachment onto his territory.
Tom informs me that the English Longhorn’s quiet and gentle nature leads to the production of ‘relaxed’ meat.
They are grass fed cattle and their hardiness converts the grass into meat and their strong physique produces beautiful marbling that the meat is renowned for.
The coat of the English Longhorns can be any one of a variety of brindle colours - but they all share the characteristic white line or "finching" along the back and down the tail.
Tom also pointed out to me that, although their coats are all different patterns and colours, they all have what looks like a white ‘paint splat’ on their upper left hind quarter (admittedly, this was my description, not Tom’s).
Tom is so passionate about English Longhorns that he is now Chairman of the Longhorn Cattle Society that was set up ‘to encourage, promote and improve the breeding of Longhorn Cattle and to maintain the purity’.
His herd and its welfare is extremely important to Tom.
As I wandered around the fields with him, I discovered that all the cattle are known by names given to them when they were born. (I was fortunate enough to meet Gerry, Jamelia and Madonna as well as the aforementioned Ruben…)
It’s clear to see that these cattle enjoy a good quality of life and this is reflected in both the flavour and texture of the meat.
The cattle are allowed to develop slowly which in turn helps produce fuller flavoured meat which is higher in vitamins and minerals too.
The meat is a firm favourite with many high profile chefs including Heston Blumenthal, holder of six Michelin stars, who used the English Longhorn beef to create his ‘perfect steak’.
Along with the welfare of his animals, Tom is keen to promote and engage in sustainable farming using the principles of ‘herbal ley’ farming (which offers a range of benefits that includes creating natural free fertiliser for his pastures, natural mineral rich feeds for the cattle, natural drought resistance and capturing carbon - to name but a few).
He refuses to buy in additional cattle for his farm; all of his cattle are born and raised on Bubnell Cliff Farm itself.
The farm really is as far removed from intensive farming as it can be. I can imagine the farm mantra to be ‘what’s the hurry’.
I left the farm appreciating the integrity of the way in which Tom farms his cattle and the land.
As the farm is non-intensive, produce is only available at limited times throughout the year.
There’s no farm shop. Each order is delivered directly to your door - probably by Tom himself!
The orders are usually via the farm’s Facebook page