Paul Langthorne of Crawford Grange, Brompton, had followed his father Bert and generations before in milking cows, but the animals he chose to replace them have taken his farm enterprise almost to another world.
Paul now has one of the largest water buffalo herds in the country and is about to extend his farm shop by three times its size. Paul said starting with the buffalo meat trade has brought about a huge shift for him and his family over the past two decades.
“Our son Andrew is really the farmer now. He’s responsible for our herd of 300 water buffalo, our deer and the overall farm acreage of around 330 acres mainly down to grass for grazing and additional rented grass of 70 acres.
“We had set off milking just two buffalo to get a drop of milk for Andrew when he was very young. We’d had a herd of 200 dairy cows but over a period the cows then decreased as we increased our buffalos.
“I never missed milking the dairy cows once we’d stopped. Life moves on and you change. We started selling buffalo meat at farmers markets, which I also enjoyed and the business has grown from there.
“We milked the buffalo for quite a while, but when we started selling the meat that side of the business just took over. Buffalo tastes very similar to beef, particularly by the time it is made into burgers. We now have 100 breeding buffalo and we’ve recently bought another herd.”
What Paul had been unaware of when he’d started with buffalo was the demand he would uncover amongst the Asian community and initially more specifically with Gurkhas serving in the armed forces.
“Our customers from India, Nepal and Fiji in the South Pacific eat a lot of buffalo and goat. We sell a lot of buffalo through the shop but we also deliver to the Nepalese shops in London every Tuesday and shops in Aldershot and Swindon, where the troops are, on a Thursday. Our London trade makes up around 50 per cent of our meat trade.”
Paul said he built his on-farm abattoir, which now serves many other farmers’ stock, in order to process his buffalo.
“I don’t think other abattoirs really wanted to handle them, but as it was our own livestock it made sense for us to do it. At the moment we are processing five buffalo a week.
“We’re buying in more buffalo all the time because we can’t keep up with demand purely from our own herd. We also process 50 goats a week as well as other stock of beef and lamb, which I buy at local livestock markets in York, Thirsk and Northallerton.
“We only keep a few goats ourselves, but we always need more of them to fulfil demand. If 100 per week were available I would definitely buy them but availability is a problem. Our customers want older goats for the flavour.
“They want goat meat that’s not going to fall apart in the curry, it’s not like a traditional Sunday roast where the demand is for something soft and tender. Our customers want something they can chew on and get the flavour from. It’s a completely different culture.”
Paul said it is an environment he really enjoys and that his trade in the shop is predominantly Asian or British Asian.
“I think it’s brilliant. It’s great talking to them about their countries, traditions, their culture, religion and their ways of life. It has been a bit different this past year of course and over the last few months the Indian and Nepalese have been quite panicky about what’s happening in their countries, but they like coming here for their food and getting out into the countryside.”
The butchery counter at Crawford Grange is full of meats of all kinds, but his dry goods shelving is packed with authentic Asian foodstuffs. Paul said that has been in direct response to his customers.
“We don’t sell many English brands of dry goods as our customers want authentic Asian brands, which we source from London. We now deal with the big importers and we look after our customers by buying even more of what they want.
“We buy tonnes of mackerel and chicken every week for a customer who is making dog food.
“If Andrew hadn’t been allergic to cow’s milk we wouldn’t have done this and I’d probably still be dairying.”
Paul’s farm business is now about world food at Crawford Grange. Andrew’s allergy inadvertently set the course for the farm’s future. Paul said it is still shaping the way they farm today.
“We are no longer in that land of just having to take a price given for producing milk. We are able to make appropriate margins and we are able to invest in the farm again. We have recently dug our own bore hole and we are also putting in solar panels to help reduce our electricity bills.
“The new shop and butchery counter will be built shortly and we have a lady who is coming to rent what was the shop and run it as a tearoom.”