Direct approach puts farm couple in control

Rob Ruddock with his flock at Blue Coat Farm in Beckwithshaw, Harrogate.
Rob Ruddock with his flock at Blue Coat Farm in Beckwithshaw, Harrogate.
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Selling beef and lamb direct from the farm to the paying public doesn’t always have to be undertaken by opening a farm shop.

Rob Ruddock and his partner Jo Olner run Blue Coat Farm Beef & Lamb from their twin farms of Blue Coat Farm and Beckwith Cottage Farm between Beckwithshaw and Harrogate, where their heavy clay farmland runs down into Crimple Valley. They started selling direct and delivering to their customers as far afield as Hull, Teesside and Leeds in 2007.

“By going direct we hear the comments from people who are eating our beef and lamb and that has been great news. We often get people saying it’s the best steak they’ve ever had or that it’s how they remember beef tasting years ago.”

Rob and Jo have gone for native cattle breeds and Rob is in no doubt this has made all the difference to their business.

“We have a mix of Hereford and Aberdeen Angus cows, plus a couple of White Park X cows. Everything is put to the Hereford bull. We are rearing slower maturing stock that will go to slaughter at between 24-30 months but in my opinion what we are rearing is also providing greater eating quality beef. The Hereford has always been seen as the king of beef cattle and its marbling provides that quality.

“Everything we do revolves around local people. Our beef and lamb goes to John Penny’s abattoir in Rawdon and Andrew Seed of Highwood Farm in Summerbridge cuts and packs for us.”

Native breeds also have their part to play in Rob and Jo’s sheep flock that includes Texel X ewes, mostly from Mules. The native influence is reinforced by the use of a Shropshire tup; a traditional old English Down breed.

“We’ve found that the Shropshire produces the lamb the way we like it and the way our customers prefer lamb to taste.

“The major benefits we have seen since marketing our beef and lamb the way we do have been the sense of control it gives us. We’ve cut out as many middle men as we can and we pretty much know how much an animal is going to be worth even before it has been born. I’m also able to spend more time with the stock in order to raise everything properly. Finding the right cattle for the future growth of the herd can prove tricky but we recently picked up some pedigree Aberdeen Angus cows with calves at foot and they look to have been a good investment.

“Everything we sell is delivered. We have a customer base that we contact every time we have our meat available and it all goes out in 10kg boxes that contain a mix of cuts including mince, braising steak, stewing steak, diced steak, sirloin, fillet, rump and roasting joints vac-packed and ready to go. If we have distances further than a 100-mile radius we will courier the package.”

Blue Coat Farm has had a Ruddock in charge for around 400 years. The origin of the name stems from the land once owned by York Grammar School.

“The name Blue Coat relates to the boys’ uniform and the girls wore grey coats, but although there are a few Blue Coat farms around there are no Grey Coat farms as far as I know. My grandfather Edward bought the farm in the mid-60s. It was a dairy farm and had a milk round, he subsequently came out of milk and started a beef suckler herd.

“My father Dennis worked for ICI in Bilingham. I was born in Middlesbrough and lived in Redcar until I was 13. My dad came back here to help after my grandfather passed away in 1979 as my grandmother Nancy had kept the farm on.

“Dad had an accident that left him in hospital for 18 months and since I was too young at the time to do anything around the farm the herd was dispersed and the land was let out until I came back in 2005.”

Rob nearly didn’t come back to Yorkshire at all. He studied for his degree in Agriculture & Environmental Management at Harper Adams before spending time in South Africa and Australia. At one time he looked to emigrate and work as a field guide on a game reserve where he’d walked among elephants, lions and rhinos. He also learned to fly but couldn’t get a visa to make Africa his home.

Next stop was Australia where he worked on a farm on the south coast of Western Australia before buying a battered old 1973 Land Rover Series 3 and making his way right around the coast up the west side, right across Northern Territory, down through Queensland and New South Wales before finishing on the south coast in Adelaide.

“I just about crippled myself driving it and when I first arrived in Australia it was just as the foot and mouth crisis had started here in 2001. I had a few questions asked of me when they saw my home address on my passport was a farm.”

When Rob returned to Yorkshire he started work in Harrogate making bespoke hi-fi furniture with Ian Edwards. It was around this time that he and Jo got together.

“We’d been neighbours when we were growing up as I lived with my mum, Sally, at Beckwith Cottage Farm, where we live now with our two sons George (eight) and William (five),” says Jo.

“My mum passed away four years ago but always had sheep on the farm and Rob used to come and help out. I’d been away to college in London where I’d studied graphic design and had worked there for a while as well as Leicester. We ended up hanging out together once we’d both come back and Bob’s your uncle, here we are now!”

Rob’s mum and dad Pauline and Dennis still live at Blue Coat Farm. Rob took the 35-acre farm back in hand in 2005. Jo and her brother Jonathan own the 24 acres of Beckwith Cottage Farm. Jonathan also helps with selling the meat and deliveries.

Rob is pleased with the progress of Blue Coat Beef & Lamb.

“We’re just getting to the point where we are looking to expand our herd, the flock and our customer base, but at least we know that we’re in control of all of it.”