“Let the animals eat what they want to eat and do what they want to do. Be there when they need you but leave them alone. And be patient.”
-Roland & Miranda, Co-Founders.
I hope you will feel happy to ask me any questions at all about our sourcing, our processing and our products. I don’t presume that you will blindly trust us to source your meat for you, you should feel totally happy to ask us questions. I’ll ask a few here, things I’d want to ask us myself:
Why do you know about meat?
We started on my husband’s parents’ farm (pics above), where we had probably one of the simplest beef supply chains in the country – we were there for the calving, weaning, rearing of the herd; we learned about the feeds, the value of the grass-feeding (to both the health of the cow and the quality and nutrition of the beef); then we bought a cow from Roland’s father, took it to the abattoir, collected the carcass 2-3 days later, butchered the meat, cut the steaks, and produced the burgers and ready meals. Then we went to farmers’ markets and food shows (350 in our first 18 months) to sell our stock. Then we took the money we made, bought another cow, made more products, went to the markets… and round it went again.
This is a wonderfully simple form of business and, incidentally, our respect for (and enjoyment) of this uncomplicated commerce is one of the many reasons why we respectfully turned down Tesco and other large retailers, where I believe that many many levels of management, logistics, politics and negotiations are a detriment to a lot of our country’s food products. However, at the same time, our first two years were neither a largely commercial nor an efficient business structure if one has the ambition that we have always had to be a ‘bigger’ company.
So, once we were buying more cows than Roland’s father had to sell us, we asked him to help us design a blueprint to go and source from other farms. We were worried about doing this but we learnt that there are a lot of incredible farmers in this country and the transition wasn’t nearly as difficult as we had imagined.
We also, of course, needed to start learning a lot about pork, lamb and poultry too, to add to our beef experience. We know our farmers, some of them we’ve known for years and are our friends. So, question two:
Where is your meat from?
I have a network of 16 British farms from which I source. I use just four abattoirs so that we know them just as well. Our pork, for example, is from Suffolk; our chickens from Staffordshire and Yorkshire; a lamb farm in Oxfordshire, two in Dorset; and a group of beef farms in Somerset.
What do Muddy Boots do with the meat?
Everything but the slaughter and first stage of cutting. We receive ‘quarters’ and ‘primals’. We have room, for example, for quarter pigs, half lambs, and whole primals of beef. We then butcher all the steaks, joints and cuts and we use the rest of the meat for dicing or mincing for our range of recipe meats (burgers, sausages, meatballs, meatloaf, etc).
I have a factory in East London (Leyton), which Roland and I own and run, and the team there are employed by us and trained by us. Read more about Our Factory.
This calibre of meat goes into everything we do – even the cured meats like our salami and bacons, and the beef in our little steak and ale pies and pasties.
Why not organic?
There have been many studies in Organic, I’ll try to explain why we haven’t committed to the certificate in our shops.
For us, the question is simply and entirely about the farming and welfare of the animal whilst it is alive. A commitment to getting this right is also the best taste and nutritional content for the consumer; a win-win. There should be no tricks nor shortcuts and any medical science needs to be proven and genuinely beneficial to the animal. So far, just the same as the Soil Association.
I know that if one is not an expert in science, medicine, farming, slaughter, butchery, etc, one needs to trust people who are. This is what a certificate or a regulatory body like Organic does and it’s to be admired. It’s also exactly what we did when we started the company: we went to the scientists, the farmers, the vets, the abattoirs and we asked all the questions we could, even quite stupid ones. They explained their processes, their reasoning, their businesses and their experiences to us so that we could understand them and be confident enough to go and source from farms ourselves.
Roland and I trust the farms and abattoirs implicitly. If they ever let us down, we will be completely accountable; that’s our liability in this, just like a certificate. And what we found was that a lot of the farms were too small to be able to afford the additional overheads of subscribing to a certifying body like Organic. We remind people that it is a subscription that you choose/pay for, it’s not a nationwide audit where you pass or fail.
It is an additional certificate and certainly doesn’t mean that the practices of unsubscribed farms are not organic (with a small ‘o’) or farm to the same (or better) standards than Red Tractor, LEAF and other certifying bodies. Where the Organic certificate has been immensely successful is for the larger meat supplies to supermarkets. It’s been a brilliant way of assuring supermarket shoppers that this is the ‘good meat’ when it’s on a shelf with up to four other price brackets.
And that’s just what we’re doing by putting our name on our packaging too, we’re accountable.
An anecdotal example is one of our beef farms. For some winter feed, John buys some dried barley from the arable farm next door. John pops round in the pick up and buys some bales for £50 (or swaps it for some meat!) and drives back to his field next door to lay it. If John were to subscribe to the Organic certificate, he couldn’t buy from Geoff because he’s not subscribed (though he similarly doesn’t use pesticides or science farming for his crops). John would have to order from a big farm, who subscribes as well, and it would come on a lorry down the motorway, on a pallet, with barcoding and packaging and logistics – all of which need to be paid for on top of the cost of the barley.
It’s a wonderful certificate but it doesn’t cap the size of a farm. You can have an Organic farm supplying a supermarket with 10,000 cows on it, going through an abattoir forcing a rate three times as many per day as ours do and it would still be ‘Organic’. We would rather work with the smaller farms.
I also hope to have the kind of shops where customers feel they can ask us about our sourcing, so we can give you more information than we can fit on our packaging.
So what are the things we need to know about the farms from which you buy?
Natural-rearing – the calves/lambs/piglets are weaned from the mother when they would naturally wean.
Natural feeds – no science food. Just what comes out of the ground, what the animal chooses to eat. I don’t like my own food to come via the lab so why should the animals?
Grass-feeding – I am very committed to pasture-feeding for our beef and lamb (natural feed for pigs, as they don’t graze, and a pasture and maize mix for our chickens). The feed for the beef and lamb is almost entirely grass as they are outdoors unless they are birthing, needing vetinary attention, the ground is snow covered, or they have just arrived or they are leaving. ‘Pasture’ includes Winter feeds such as silage and dried peas forage. For the finishing (the final 3-4 weeks before slaughter), the lambs continue as normal on grass. For the beef, my trust is entirely with the farmer and his/her judgement. If the animal is underweight, it will be graded low and the yield (or price) is low. There is a target of an R4L (to read more about grading, click here), which I feel is the best grading for me to receive for beef and the most commercially viable return for the farmer to make on that animal. If the cow is below weight, I leave it at the farmer’s experienced discretion to use a quantity of, for example, barley forage, oats or rye in their pasture-feed. It doesn’t happen often but it’s an example of the trust I’m privileged to have in the farms from which I source, and their decisions best made for their business as well as mine.
Minimal mileage – we’re a tiny country in comparison to many but we must still work hard to limit travel as much as we can. Transporting livestock together is vital – a lone animal travelling on its own will be stressed. Transporting a minimum of two has an immediate calming effect. Also limiting the mileage in their lifetime (moving them between farms and land) and the distance to take them to slaughter makes for an infinitely less stressed animal. Incidentally, stress-induced adrenalin rushes through the blood and muscle and makes for tough meat – it’s in our commercial interest as well as the welfare interest to control this, the perfect viable balance between farming and retailing meat.
Price – I will always offer the fairest possible price I can to the customer. Roland and I want to be a successful business one day, and to even reach that point, we have to afford our costs to continue to exist. We need to make a margin on every product we sell so that we can afford to keep running the company in order to make more. It’s a long goal though, we want to be part of your shopping routine and there’s just no point in being too expensive for this to happen. We price match the good meat lines in Waitrose, Ocado, M&S and Sainsbury’s. If we are more expensive, my customers, won’t shop here as often and my company doesn’t survive. Incidentally, the way I can price match the supermarkets with much better meat is because we own the production factory, the chiller van transport, and the shops; we haven’t got anyone in between needing to make their margin as well. We shouldn’t be twice the price of supermarkets because, though we have far smaller volumes, we have far fewer overheads; we don’t have head offices, corporate cars, shareholder welcome packs, lorries on motorways, accounts departments, etc…!
Medical treatment – in our rather simple approach, we look at it like this: if a member of our family is ill, we want to make them better and then have the choice to protect the rest of our family against getting ill as well. However, we would only take medicine prescribed by a qualified doctor and which has passed the regulatory tests. Same for the farming – only medically approved antibiotics for the treatment of ills and each animal treated individually, rather than mass herd treatment for commercial gain.
Slaughter – (please only read this if you would like to learn more. I believe in openly discussing this, but I understand if you don’t and you don’t wish to read about it.)
5. Generally across all meats, we encourage layerage overnight to calm them. It’s not always possible but usually they’re there the day before and they’re calm after transportation. Plus they don’t travel more than 50 miles. In fact, I think the furthest farm is 35 miles from their abattoir.
Something I haven’t covered here? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org