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Mixed Scottish farm sales soar after selling direct

With a renewed interest in provenance, Andrew and Lauren Houstoun have made a name for themselves by selling produce from the farm. Katrina MacArthur finds out more.

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When Andrew and Lauren Houstoun kicked off their meat-producing business in 2019, little did they know just how busy they would be 18 months on and how far afield their products would reach. After launching their products during the Christmas of that year and relying upon a Facebook page, as well as a large network of family and friends to help spread the word, Glenkilrie Larder has seen a surge in demand for its products, particularly as people have turned to local producers to source food during the pandemic.

 

The young farming couple, who are parents to 18-month-old Alasdair and four-month-old Ellen, run the business from the family farm near Glenshee, in Highland Perthshire. The unit extends across 1,012 hectares (2,500 acres) of land to include mainly heather hill and 202ha (500) acres of rough grazing and improved pasture.

 

Glenkilrie Farm has been owned by the Houstoun family for 60 years and is home to a mixed livestock enterprise of 170 suckler cows, 1,100 breeding ewes and a herd of 54 red deer hinds. The family also contract farm for a neighbouring grouse moor where they manage a flock of 400 pure Blackface ewes across 4,047ha (10,000 acres) of heather hill.


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While the farm business is run in a partnership between Andrew and his parents, Glenkilrie Larder is a separately run firm, which has given Andrew and Lauren an opportunity to build up their own business from the farm, while marketing home-reared produce at the same time.

 

Lauren, who was brought up on a mixed farm in Aberdeenshire, says: “We are both really passionate about what is produced here at Glenkilrie and were keen to market the produce direct to the customer.

 

“I work as a nurse but have taken time out to have our family, so it made sense to establish the business while at home full-time. We weren’t able to receive any grants to start up, so we had to spend wisely and not go too over the top. “Our main purchases were the fridges, freezers and a large cool box which is used for doing hand-deliveries of fresh produce to Perthshire, Angus and Aberdeenshire on the first weekend of each month.

 

“Social media has been our only platform for advertising, with most of our orders placed through the Facebook page.

 

“We are in the process of setting up a website, but so far it’s the updates on Facebook and Instagram, along with a monthly newsletter, which have helped boost sales. “I try to keep the newsletters fun but informative and include what’s been happening on the farm, recipes, wildlife watch, QMS Farming Foodsteps and featuring other local companies.”

 

They buy the animals at market value from the farm, so everything sold through the larder is produced on the farm. Andrew says: “Initially, our kill per month was one cattle beast, four lambs and two stags, but with sales doubling in the first 12 months, we are now up to two cattle beasts, five lambs and six to eight stags per month.”

 

With animal welfare at the top of the list, the Houstouns are long established producers of Scotch assured beef and lamb and are one of the newest members of Quality Meat Scotland’s (QMS) Scotch beef club.

Glenkilrie is also an M&S Select Farm, producing lamb which meets the high-quality standards set out by Marks & Spencer.

The Aberdeen-Angus breed has become the forefront of the suckler herd over the past six years, with virtually all of the Limousin cross and Aberdeen-Angus cross cows bulled to Angus bulls which are bought privately off farm.

“We are aiming to produce a low maintenance female which is easier kept over the winter and isn’t too big or extreme for the hill ground, so the Angus is definitely ticking the boxes for us,” says Andrew.

“The fact it holds that brand name for superior eating quality is also an advantage when marketing our own beef through the larder.

“We keep our own replacements and calve them at two-years-old so its advantageous that the meat sold can be traced back through the generations.”

The herd transitioned into spring calving three years ago and takes place indoors from mid-March, with the first of the calves sold straight off their mothers in the first week of November through Lawrie and Symington’s Forfar Mart, and a second draw sold privately in the spring.

All cows are fed a silage and straw ration throughout the winter, with in-calf heifers outwintered on stubble turnips.

The sheep flock includes North Country Cheviot and Blackface ewes which run on the hill and are tupped to the Aberfield for lambing outdoors from mid-April onwards.

This crossing produces replacement females which lamb to Innovis tups during the same period.

Only the single bearing cross ewes lamb outside, with twins and triplets brought indoors, before being summered with their lambs on another unit.

The first of the lambs are finished off grass around late August/early September, with a continuous supply of lambs sold every few weeks until the end of March.

These lambs, with the exception of those for Glenkilrie Larder, are marketed through Scotbeef and are destined for Marks & Spencer shelves.

“By using different breeds of sheep and following different systems, we have found this helps give a variation on slaughter age which means we have fresh, home-produced lamb available almost every month of the year,” Andrew says.

“The last of our hoggs go away at the beginning of June and then we move on to frozen lamb until the new season lambs are available.

“The supply of beef takes a bit of planning as you’ve got to have 12 months of beef available from cattle which are produced over the same two months of the year. We do tend to fatten our heifers which have scanned emptied, so this helps with the supply.”

The cattle destined for the larder are slaughtered at ABP and are then butchered and vacuum packed at Downfield, Fife.

Although the fresh deliveries once per month are a huge hit with customers, Glenkilrie Larder has frozen meat available all year, which can be collected via appointment or can be sent via courier to anywhere in mainland UK.

A lot of these orders reach households as far south as London.

“We did particularly well at the beginning of the pandemic, which obviously occurred in our first few months of trading,” says Lauren.

“Our biggest weekend saw Andrew and I hand deliver 70 orders. so busy times like that certainly made up for us losing out on the hospitality sector when restrictions got tighter.

They also spent time researching prices, as they did not want their products to be overpriced.

“It’s better to have products priced within the working budget so customers can buy regularly, rather than as a one-off luxury,” Andrew says.

As the hospitality sector has opened up again, Glenkilrie Larder has attracted new custom, particularly with the venison cuts.

The business is now supplying meat to three local hotels, as well as four Innis and Gunn bars and pubs in Dundee, Leith, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The transition to deer farming at Glenkilrie was fairly simple for the family, although there was the cost of upgrading stock fences to deer fences and building suitable handling facilities.

“The first 42 deer hinds were bought in November 2018 with the intention of selling the meat through the larder and utilising poorer grazing on the north end of the farm,” says Andrew.

“They are very easily managed and work well alongside the beef and sheep enterprises.

“We have just turned out 32 yearlings and have bought an additional 30 hinds at the start of June so we can boost overall population and cull out some of the older hinds.”

The hinds calve from early June onwards and calves are left to run with their mums until September, when they are brought in for tagging and worming.

The calves are then weaned at Christmas time and spend their first winter indoors which helps greatly with
temperament.

Calves are then turned back out in the spring, with the first of them reaching slaughter weight in the
late summer.

Glenkilrie Larder has a range of products available throughout the year and there are often special offers available to suit the season.

Some of the most popular products include the flavoured burgers and sausages, such as venison and juniper burgers; herby sausages; venison, black pudding and bacon sausages and salt and pepper venison burgers.

Andrew and Lauren are also supporters of other local companies and now sell Jarvis Pickle pies using Glenkilrie meat, as well as frozen berries from a local farm.

“We have a good mixture of loyal customers, many of whom are from the town and want to make that connection of where their food comes from,” says Lauren.

“As farmers, we have to educate the public on our high welfare standards and encourage them to buy
local produce.

“Trust and traceability are great selling points and are targets we meet with every product here at Glenkilrie.”

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