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Ones to watch: Ben and Tori Stanley - Nuffield scholar making the most of opprtunities

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A keen focus on the market has enabled the Stanley family to maximise margins and expand their business. Chloe Palmer visits Park Farm to find out more.
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Ben, Tori and Herbert Stanley
Ben, Tori and Herbert Stanley
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"I was once advised you should never give up land once you have it" - Catch up with Ben and Tori Stanley in our #OneToWatch series.

Catch up with Ben Stanley - @NuffieldFarming scholar with a passion to build his farm and business with his family. #OneToWatch

Ben Stanley’s parents founded one of the most famous herds of Longhorn cattle in the world, but Ben and his wife Tori have built their own pedigree herd and a successful farm business almost from scratch.

 

A Nuffield Scholarship gave Ben the confidence he needed to start farming in his own right.

 

Ben says: “I met other Nuffield Scholars who had taken on a tenancy and made their own way and it made me realise I could do it too.

 

"So we secured our first tenancy at Woodhouse Farm, Diseworth, Derby, in 2010 with just 40 acres, a house and buildings and it has grown from there.”

 

Until just a year ago, Tori worked full-time as area marketing manager for BMW, providing a secure income so they could continue farming.

Assets

Assets

“The whole time we were investing in cows and sheep while also looking for the next tenancy.

 

"I believe in investing in appreciating assets, rather than depreciating ones; I have never bought big shiny kit,” says Ben.

 

He decided growing sheep numbers would be the best route to consolidating his position, even though his passion lay in his Longhorn herd.

 

“Sheep were the answer to allow us to build our livelihood in farming.

 

"They come with minimal costs and neighbours allowed us to graze their land.”

 

Sheep enabled Ben to prove he needed a tenancy to prospective landlords, even though it took almost 20 tenancy proposals before they were finally successful.

 

Their luck changed when an unlikely opportunity arose.

Portland sheep

 

“I first met Lady Ralph Kerr [owner of the Melbourne Estate] when I was asked to look after her flock of Portland sheep.

 

"It turned out the flock was related to Portland sheep I owned when I was 12 years old,” he explains.

 

Lord and Lady Ralph Kerr’s Park Farm, Melbourne, Derby, became vacant about the same time as Ben was renegotiating the tenancy on Woodhead Farm. He and Tori heard they had secured both tenancies on the same day.

 

“I was once advised you should never give up land once you have it and we decided to sign both tenancy agreements.

 

"Although Park Farm came with 400 acres, there were no facilities, so holding onto Woodhouse Farm meant we could continue to make use of the infrastructure there,” says Ben.

 

High health system

 

Maintaining both farms also allowed Ben to implement a high health system by moving to a closed breeding herd at Park Farm, using Woodhouse Farm for finishing his cattle and bought-in stores.

 

Ben chooses to buy-in mainly Longhorn stores from producers he knows to supplement the production of home-bred animals.

 

He has opted to cross some of his own Longhorn cows to a Limousin bull to increase turnover.

 

“We chose to cross-breed some of our Longhorns because we find this gives us a 30 per cent increase in liveweight gain.

 

“Consequently, the meat is perhaps a little more tender but it does not have the marbling of pure Longhorn meat.”

"Longhorn beef is sublime; it matures more slowly, it has a looser grain and unique marbling.”

Ben Stanley

Increasing the size of the pedigree Longhorn herd is top of Ben’s agenda, but he will not sacrifice quality for quantity.

 

“We are only now getting our own heifers which we think are good enough to breed from.

 

"Every time we have some spare money we use it to invest in the breeding herd. Next year we hope to put 60 cows to the bull.”

Longhorns

Longhorns are central to Ben and Tori’s brand, which has developed since they began selling their own meat at farmers’ markets five years ago.

 

“We started with farmers’ markets to enable us to sell our product with the highest margin.

 

We sold at three markets in London every week and we still do these, plus two or three others.

 

We are selling on quality. I want our customers to trust us and our product.

 

"Longhorn beef is sublime; it matures more slowly, it has a looser grain and unique marbling.”

 

The tenancy at Park Farm provided another opportunity when Lord and Lady Ralph Kerr agreed to the Stanley family taking on the lease of a small retail unit in the village of Melbourne.

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The tenancy at Park Farm provided another opportunity when Lord and Lady Ralph Kerr agreed to the Stanley family taking on the lease of a small retail unit in the village of Melbourne.

 

Tori says: “The shop opened a year ago and this gave us the opportunity to take the butchery away from the farm and put it in a retail setting.

 

"We have not had to risk taking on a high street rent and it ties in well with the values of Melbourne Estate.”

 

They now sell 150 beef carcases through the shop, farmers’ markets and other local farm shops.

 

Pedigree Longhorn cattle kill out at 330kg deadweight at either a R4L or R4H. About 300 lambs are finished and sold direct to customers each year through their outlets.

Jacobs

Ben is delighted with the move because it means he now employs two full-time butchers and can focus on the farming business.

 

With pedigree and commercial sheep flocks, plus an arable enterprise and a new pig ‘bed and breakfast’ venture, this would seem to be an essential move.

 

Sheep are still a significant feature on the farm and the Blackbrook pedigree flock, founded by Tori, clearly shows Jacobs as the family’s favoured breed.

 

Showing

Ben says: “Our customers love to see the Jacobs and they fit in well with our brand; they are classy sheep.”

 

Tori has shown her Jacob sheep successfully and the flock won the overall points championship at this year’s England breed show and sale in Worcester, achieving an average price of 400gns for gimmer shearlings.

 

Tori says: “Showing is a big part of our lives and we see it as a great opportunity to promote what we do here.

 

“When our Jacob, Blackbrook Frankel, won the interbreed championship at Hope Show, in the heart of sheep country, we were thrilled. It is about being the best we can be.”

From Texel to North Country Mules

 

Ben has decided to switch from a mainly three-quarterbred Texel for the commercial flock to a flock containing predominantly North Country Mules.

 

Ben says: “Texel lambs produce a fantastic U grade carcase, but we found the growth was not there and ewes are not as prolific or milky.

 

Mules achieve a lambing percentage of 185-200 per cent and they are no trouble.”

 

Producing the right animal for the retail outlet is key to the Stanley family’s success and Ben believes this has ‘sharpened up’ his eye and influenced how he finishes cattle and sheep.

 

“Everything we rear we see on a hook. Trough-reared lambs do not set up like grass-fed lambs so we finish as many as we can from pasture,” he says.

 

Cattle are also kept at grass for as long as possible, not least because ‘Longhorns are a nightmare to house’, according to Ben, for obvious reasons.

“These practical considerations mean we think hard about how we can extend our grazing period.

 

"Once housed, we feed a mixed ration of grass silage, home-grown rolled barley, a 34 per cent protein blend with straw added for scratch factor.”

 

Nutrition

Nutrition is something Ben has paid closer attention to since he was selected as one of the pilot farms for a Sainsbury’s research initiative assessing the eating quality of superior Aberdeen-Angus genetics.

 

“We are excited about this project because it is consistent with our focus on eating quality of meat.

 

“The support from Sainsbury’s will make us better farmers. We have access to advice from nutritionists, vets and grassland specialists and we have made significant changes as a result,” Ben says.

 

The tenancy at Park Farm includes 121 hectares (300 acres) of arable and, although this is not where Ben’s expertise lies, he views it as another opportunity.

 

“We have found people who will work with us and they have listened to what we want to do.

 

"Their support has enabled us to fund the growing crop in the first year,” Ben says.

Farm shop
Park Farm
Meat
Butchers

Future

Ben views arable as working hand-in-hand with livestock and the enterprises complement each other.

 

“I am a passionate believer in working a mixed farming system and this is partly behind our decision to go into pigs.

 

"Pig manure will help us increase organic matter levels and the phosphate and potash status of the soils, which are very low.”

 

Planning for the long-term is evidently driving all the decisions made at Park Farm.

 

The arrival of Ben and Tori’s first child, Herbert, in summer has added to the incentive to build solid foundations for the future.

 

Ben says: “We are farmers first and foremost and this is our mindset behind everything we do here.

 

“Lord and Lady Ralph Kerr had the vision to give us a long tenancy and we hope we can demonstrate how the farm is improving the land so they will look favourably on the next generation.”

Pigs at Park Farm

Pigs at Park Farm
  • Currently 300 weaners are reared on a bed-andbreakfast basis at Park Farm, on contract to Packington Pork, to be sold on to Marks and Spencer 
  • Pigs arrive at 30kg and leave for slaughter about 12 weeks later at 90kg liveweight 
  • The arrangement sees the farm provide home-grown straw, borehole water, labour and housing while Packington Pork provides the pigs and the ration 
  • Ben and Tori are upgrading existing farm buildings and hope to expand the pig enterprise to a capacity of 1,000 weaners

Ben and Tori's business tips

Ben and Tori's business tips
  • Persistence: If you want it, don’t give up and keep trying 
  • Passion: You have to believe in what you are doing 
  • Profit: Ensure you have a liquid business generating cash flow but you are in business for the right reasons to make a profit 
  • Planning: Develop a good relationship with your bank based around financial forecasting and planning of structured projects
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