IF TIMING is everything then Martin and Lindsey McIntyre would most certainly not have made the huge investment they undertook in 2000 when they started McIntyre Meats at East Borwins near Bainbridge in Wensleydale.
They had committed themselves to £1.2m of building work for their new abattoir at Lindsey’s father Tony Routh’s farm when Foot and Mouth Disease ravaged the countryside in 2001 and have been through tough times. But having recently won the title of Small Processing Business of the Year awarded by a trade journal, and having launched other new ventures, they are in a far better position than 15 years ago.
“Before Foot and Mouth devastated farming around here this seemed a good idea,” says Martin. “I’d had a background in butchery having worked for Harris Bacon at Leeming Bar; North Riding Lamb at Busby Stoop; and a big slaughterhouse in Malton. I had come out here to work on a farm and had then worked for butcher John Cockett in Hawes. Farmers found out that I had experience of killing out lambs and work began to snowball resulting in setting up a small abattoir here at East Borwins.”
Buoyed by strong trade, Martin and Lindsey decided to build bigger premises.
“The government and Defra were promising all sorts of grants and I’m sure farmers around here thought we had loads of money thrown at us. The reality was that consultants took the grant money and the rest was all down to us. The amount we had to find, plus the situation, put us on the back foot.”
But coming out of a period of animal movement restrictions set the ball rolling in Martin and Lindsey’s favour and Martin has found he has a different view of supermarkets to many farmers. “Straight after restrictions were lifted it seemed all farmers were trying farmers’ markets, organic and farm shops and they all needed services like ours. Today our business runs to a completely different matrix. We have a contract with Randall Parker Foods who supply Sainsbury’s and it makes up a large proportion of our throughput averaging at around 750-800 lambs per week. We’ve been supplying them for eight years and I know farmers tend to slate supermarkets but both Randall Parker and Sainsbury’s are great for us.
“When we’re in full season we will process 2,000 lambs a week. That may sound a lot to some but we’re still a relatively small player. We have other contracts and supply local butchers in both Bainbridge and Hawes. I buy lamb from livestock markets, but I will always make sure as best I can that I’m at Hawes every week. This week we bought about 25 per cent of their throughput. We process cattle as well but this is primarily a sheep area.”
To supplement their income further Lindsey started with a catering van six years ago and attends Moorcock, Wensleydale and Reeth agricultural shows as well as further afield at Tockwith, between York and Wetherby; and the Richmond Motor Club annual event.
“We originally started it as a burger van but we now cater for everything from burgers to sausages; and pork, lamb and beef sandwiches. I also run the main tea tent at Reeth and last year I was asked to put on lunches for local shoots. The catering side now takes up at least three days of my week.”
Lindsey has started selling sheepskin rugs. Skins are sent to the tannery where they are cured and returned ready to sell either online or at a show.
More recently Martin started another online business, The Wensleydale Butcher.
“It’s only been up and running with the new website for about six weeks selling boxed lamb and beef, but we’re already getting orders. It’s working well because there’s no middle man involved.”
Lindsey was working in an old people’s home in Bainbridge when they started the McIntyre Meats business.
“We’ve been to hell and back a few times and yes if we had a crystal ball we wouldn’t have done it but we’re here and it’s working. It was a sharp learning curve but we’ve managed it together.”