Farm of the Week: Butcher returns to farming in hunt for best cuts

THE KNIVES were out for David Parkin very early on and they have remained so ever since.

Butcher and farmer David Parkin from Crowle with his daughter Olivia and one of their prized cattle. Pic: Scott Merrylees SM1008/89b

Butcher’s shops in Crowle and Epworth run by him and his wife Diane are thriving and in the past four years the couple have also made the move into farming at Bridge House Farm, Eastoft that was once half in Yorkshire and half in Lincolnshire on the Isle of Axholme.

Farming isn’t exactly foreign territory to David though.

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“When we were kids my brother Phil and I didn’t necessarily always get your traditional children’s Christmas presents like toys. One time we were given a set of knives which just told us to crack on with butchering. We duly joined our dad Roy in the family butcher’s shop in Howden. It was all I ever wanted to do and we now run separate enterprises with Phil in Howden and me over here.

“I came to run the Crowle shop and Diane and I opened the Epworth shop about six years ago that she now manages. We then got chance to buy this place at Eastoft where we have 15 acres of our own and rent another 100 acres at Ousefleet in the East Riding and Garthorpe in Lincolnshire. It’s all grassland.

“When I was a boy I used to rear cattle and my father had a herd of dairy goats. Philip and I would go to York livestock market and come back with several calves that may not have looked the best and we got them very cheaply as a result. The remedy was dad’s goats’ milk. We fed them on it and they rallied instantly. We’d rear them, fatten them and then sell them to our father for the shop. I’d always liked working with cattle, but when I moved to Crowle in 1994 we had no facility to keep livestock as we lived at the shop, so I’d been without livestock for 17 years.”

Although many urban-based high street butchers have closed due to supermarket competition David says farm shops have been more of a threat.

“There’s definitely a move back towards the local butcher, particularly with the amount of food scares there’s been in the UK since we started at Crowle. Customers are more aware of checking the provenance of their food and enjoy knowing which farm their beef or lamb comes from. That’s given farm shops a real advantage and I honestly feel that well-run farm shops have posed more of a threat to our livelihood than supermarkets ever have. That’s all the more reason why we have chosen to rear our own livestock.”

David has specific breeds that he knows offer something different to the rest and sell well in the shops.

“We have 20 suckler cows that are predominantly Limousin X Blues but we now have our own bull called Elvis who is a pure Bazadaise and we are moving towards a predominantly Bazadaise X herd in the future. I always thought that if I ever started with cattle again that I’d have some of them. They originate from South West France and have a really fine boned carcase that produces great meat to bone ratio. That means less waste and is ideal for our shops. It’s also probably the best eating continental beef you can get and eats as well as any native breed and does it all off grass.

“We’ve done exceptionally well this year with 17 heifer calves out of the 19 calves. The vast majority of those will be kept in the herd as we’re looking to get to a 100-120 strong suckler herd. The plan was to reach that figure in ten years and we’re three years in so we’re heading in the right direction. I’d also like to get to the stage where we will run a Bazadaise pedigree herd alongside the commercial herd.

“Once we’ve got to the number we’re looking for we should be producing enough throughout the year to be reasonably self sufficient in the shops. We currently sell what amounts to around three cattle a week through Crowle and Epworth.”

The Parkins have a flock of 70 breeding ewes. The Hampshire is the more unique influence here.

“We have found that when the Hampshire ewe is put to the Beltex tup it produces really good lambs with a bit of cover. They fatten far quicker too and with far less corn than a pure Beltex, Texel or Charollais. We do have other crosses but it’s the Hampshire X Beltex that’s working better than the rest.”

David and Diane have three offspring. Sarah, 27, and Matthew, 26, aren’t involved with the farm but Olivia, 17, holds the official title of farm manager working alongside her dad. She’s currently studying agriculture at Bishop Burton College and has the bug for showing the cattle. Next Sunday she and her dad will be competing at Crowle Show where David is vice president.

“I’ve been involved with the show for about eight years. I was approached to run the cattle classes and in the first year we had 30 entries. This year we have cattle expert Peter Lount coming over from Holderness in a break from having a butcher as a judge.

“Our commercial cattle classes are very strong, but we also have a native breed section that has only had Aberdeen Angus entered for the past four years. This year we will also have Beef Shorthorns.

“We’ve done well so far this year. Last week at Howden Show we had a first and a second in the heifer class, plus a very good third in the home bred class.

“We aim to get to a number of local shows and those held on Sundays are easier for us to get to but next year we have bigger plans and we’re looking towards entering at Lincolnshire and the Great Yorkshire.”

This year’s Crowle Show takes place on Sunday, July 19 and David has another quite different challenge at the show.

“We started the first ever Crowle Show Tug o’ War tournament last year and there were 12 teams. Parkin Butchers had two teams and we were first and second. There was a team of wrestlers from Doncaster who took part but couldn’t have pulled the skin off a rice pudding! So here’s a challenge. Bring your best team and meet us in the main ring at 4 o’clock. See if you can beat the butchers!”