Farm of the Week: Farmer who gave up London career for Wagyu beef venture
But five years later, having worked for a gas business in London for a few years and having for once earned good money, away from agriculture, Jake Tue started with a few Wagyu cattle when he came back home on weekends, thanks to his mum and her partner housing them on their farm.
Twelve months ago Jake took on his own tenancy on the Wharncliffe Estate at Cote Green Farm. Jake now has over 300-head of Wagyu cattle, has other farmers growing for him, imports some Wagyu beef from Japan that goes to top end restaurants and this week he is launching his new Wortley Wagyu Farm Shop.
“I’ve now got my own name on the tenancy and I’ve got nearly 200 acres,” says Jake.
“It’s all grassland with herbal leys and permanent grass. I’ve had it since 1 October last year. The farm has been in the family for 20-odd years and I’ve lived here for eight years. I started with Wagyus, as a business, three years prior to taking on the farm. Back then I was using my mum Judith and her partner’s farm and other neighbouring farms, anyone who could help me out with cattle and renting buildings.
“I would never have been able to do any of this without having worked for one of my friends who had a gas company. I worked away down in London, got all my gas qualifications and was on really good money. Every day now I think how much easier life could have been if I’d just stuck with that, but I love farming and being my own boss. I always wanted to farm and working on the gas enabled me to do that. The money gave me the opportunity to chuck it into farming and not worry too much about it.
“I ended up getting some Wagyu while I was working away as I’d kept my hand in and had always kept some cattle at mum’s farm. I got into breeding the Wagyu albeit at that time just as a bit of a hobby, but I ended up with more and more until I thought, what am I going to do with them.
Jake says that the lockdowns brought about by the Covid epidemic helped him launch a quality meat product to a public that was crying out for eating well at home, as restaurants were closed.
“Four years ago I was all set to start providing gangs of gas lads in London but then Hayley, my wife, fell pregnant, so I jacked in 4 days a week down there to come back home and I worked on my dad’s farm, whilst still working on my Wagyu.
“It was never going to work out with me and my dad. Instead, I built myself a little butcher’s shop in a container and I was going to sell Wagyu online. I’d always wanted to open a farm shop and wanted to farm but I couldn’t make it work without doing something different and I saw the Wagyu as just that. I learned to butcher and had a few retired butchers ready to help me out and literally the first cow I sent to slaughter went just as Covid struck and shut everything down.
“Covid helped me because people weren’t going out and had spare money. They didn’t mind paying a bit extra for quality. That time helped us get established and build up a customer base under our brand Wortley Wagyu through our social media profile. When Covid measures went away and restaurants reopened they’d heard of us and chefs wanted to use us.
Jake has grown his farming business and the new farm shop around Wagyu beef.
“I now have a suckler herd of 80 Wagyu on the farm and have other farmers rearing Wagyu for me, all made up of pedigrees and pures. Some will take them all way through. Some will calve them and they will go into one of our rearers. Everything comes back to me at some time, but I’m not into chasing numbers. It’s about a quality product.
“We take stock through to around 28-29 months, grazing them for two summers, finishing on an ad-lib ration. We have some crossbreds as well. I also contract out my bulls to run with other people’s cattle. I do a contract scheme where they can have a bull on hire, or I give the bull free of charge but I’m guaranteed cattle back on contract price. I want to do things right and I know being big isn’t always beautiful. If you go that route all you sometimes become is a busy fool.
“You’ve got to be careful of getting the pedigrees fat too quick or they can be over fat and every animal is different with a Wagyu. If you get a crossbred to a Friesian you might be 30 months plus before you get any condition on it.
“There’s a lot about what you put in and how you finish them. With Wagyu, so long as you finish them right and take them to that age, that’s the crucial part of Wagyu. If you kill at 20 months, you’ll produce a version that won’t be marbled and you won’t have that fat in the meat and it won’t be any better than any other so you won’t get the premium for it. Age is the thing. The longer it matures the better. The beauty of Wagyu is the quality of carcase and consistency.
“Wagyu beef taken to the right age always eats well. We now get a lot of customers who don’t even look at the marbling, they just confident in what they are buying and what we are producing.
Jake says he also imports from Japan, particularly for high end restaurants.
“I get A5 Wagyu, the highest grade from Japan and it goes into Michelin star restaurants generally. It is a lot higher marbled, a lot richer. You can’t compare A5 to anything we produce. Don’t get me wrong, there are some very good producers in the UK and Australia now on very similar standards but I’ve yet to see anyone consistently producing A5 standard.
Jake’s latest venture is Wortley Wagyu Farm Shop.
“We’re not near a main road as such, but we are on the Transpennine Trail and we have a really good following on social media.
“We’ve set up Street Food from the Farm including our own burgers and steak boxes, sausages from our Managalitza pigs. We have a weekly special as well as our regular menu and we use Wagyu all the time plus maybe some lamb from a neighbouring farmer.
Jake is still only 28, now has a successful Wagyu enterprise, with a team of seven, and his young family of wife Hayley and their two little boys Harry (5) & Teddy (19 months).