When the beef price hit rock bottom nine years ago Rachael and David Robinson took the decision to control their own destiny. Nearly a decade later the leap of faith it took has proved successful and Robinson’s Farm Shop at Wall Close Farm, Northowram near Halifax is now both a popular local amenity and attraction.
“The price we were getting was worth nothing and we knew that our meat wasn’t worthless so we took it into our own hands,” says Rachael. “Helped by an initial grant we received from the funding organisation Growing Routes we opened a cutting room and sold our beef direct to the public in freezer packs. We then progressed to opening the shop.
“We’ve had good years and slumps but any extra we have made has always been reinvested in the business. We now have a bakery and have won some prestigious awards with our pork pies.”
Rachael and David own a small acreage and rent further land that brings their farm to around 65 acres were they run a herd of around 100 cattle. They have 40 sucklers and all of their stock is either Aberdeen Angus or Angus X Hereford. They have a six-year old pure Angus bull Ringstone Attribute, bought when he was two-years-old.
“We don’t rear our own replacements and our cows last a long time. The maternal instincts of both Aberdeen Angus and Herefords make them excellent mothers and they provide quality milk for their calves. David loves his animals and pays so much attention to them. It’s a very difficult decision time for him when he has to move some of the ladies on but eventually the older ladies go and new ladies appear. We tend to buy locally from farmers who know what we’re looking for.
“Beef is the biggest seller in the shop and all our stock goes through it. It is matured on-site for 21 days. We’re doing between one, to one and a half, Angus a week and we’d like to get to two a week. Occasionally there are gaps during the year when we don’t have anything ready but we have other local farmers who produce Angus and Angus X the way we do and we buy from them.”
Rachael says their beef has a great taste due to the additional fruit and vegetables in their diet.
“David goes to Bradford Market for our fruit and vegetable for the shop and he also brings back some of their waste pallets of bananas, pineapples, melons, tomatoes, cucumbers and anything else available. The cattle go barmy for the melons. When they’re out in the fields he will throw the melons in and you can see them running down the hill chasing them as they roll.”
Wall Close Farm was a dairy farm in the 70s and early 80s but David’s Uncle Bob, who he came to live with when he was seven, gave up dairying when milk quotas made the farm unviable.
“That’s when the beef herd started. Since David took on the running of the farm he’s gradually built up the herd over the past 20 years. He’s always wanted to farm full-time and hopefully as the farm shop grows and with the other plans we have he might be able to do that in the future. He’s always had his own business as his Aunt Dot and Uncle Bob told him right from the start that they couldn’t afford to pay him a wage. At the moment he’s running a groundworks business.
“Farming’s in our blood and we both live and breathe it. I’m a farmer’s daughter. My mum and dad had a pig farm in Queensbury and my granddad had a dairy farm in Northowram.
“I’ve known David since we were children. My mum and dad used to have a milk round and bought milk from his aunt and uncle. As many say, it’s not a job it’s a way of life and David tends the animals before he goes to work, getting up at 5am. He usually get back for around 3pm, gets straight back to the cattle until 6pm and works with them all weekend.
“We’d like more land but the hardest thing around here is getting land and keeping it. People with horses come in to the area and are able to pay more rent than we can afford.”
Robinson’s Farm Shop opened in 2008 and what had been stables and a cart shed were converted. The running of the shop falls squarely on Rachael’s shoulders and was a completely different experience for her.
“It was something I’d never done before and it has been a massive learning curve. When I left school I worked on a dairy farm and I still like working on our farm here, but I now like the shop as well. It’s all about getting the right balance.
“Managing people and having the right team has definitely been my biggest challenge and has not been easy at times, but our team is now really very good. We have five full timers, including our eldest daughter Jane who is the head baker. It’s a two-way street really. I’ve had to learn to be more understanding while at the same time finding the right team that will think of what we have here as not just a job but a business that we’re all involved in. It’s that mentality of ‘if the business does well then we all do well’ and that’s where we are now. At the end of the day David and I know it’s down to us overall and we work really hard but I really feel that everyone here with us today has a similar attitude and that’s just great.”
Christmas is coming and that signals the shop’s busiest time of the year. While beef and the pork pies still sell well Rachael tells of their turkey supplier and how she always envisaged the shop when they started.
“What I always wanted was for customers to be able to get everything they needed for their meal and they can here with our fresh meat, fruit, vegetables and sauces.
“We have a great turkey supplier Heap’s from Huddersfield and our customers just love their produce. Beef also does very well at Christmas as does the locally sourced pork and lamb that we buy from MC Meats in Crossgates in Leeds. I particularly like sirloin or brisket, it’s a very underrated cut.”