Halesworth butcher who diversified into beef farming – and a farm shop
- Credit: Archant
A family butcher who launched his own rare breed beef herd to complete his ‘field to fork’ story, then added a farm shop, says the popularity of his meat has risen with public demand for local provenance.
Jeremy Thickitt, who owns Emmerdale Farm Shop, at Darsham, near Yoxford, felt farming was the 'logical next step', so when Marsh View Farm Farm became available, he and wife Wendy snapped it up, and it became their home.
The Thickitt family's links to butchery and farming started in the mid 1960s, when his father, Revd Jack Thickitt, the local vicar, bought the village butcher's shop, J R Creasey's in Peasenhall.
MORE - How to add value to your farmJeremy and his brother, Michael, loved the family business and on leaving school trained to become butchers. In the 1980s, they acquired K W Clarke's in Bramfield, near Halesworth.
The 190 acre farm was mostly arable, but the quality of the grassland suited his heritage breed cattle, including Suffolk Red Polls, Aberdeen Angus, Hereford and other shorthorned types.
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"The herds were extra fortunate in that we could manage to access the lush marshland of the neighbouring Suffolk Wildlife Trust reserve next door, the bucolic idyll of marsh and fen dykes that is Darsham Marshes. The grazing and treading activity of our cattle do play a key role in helping to improve the fertile habitats for its rare flora, fauna and insect life," he says.
"I do believe we give a better life to our extensively-reared cattle, they arrive weaned off local suckler herds at about nine months, and then graze contentedly for at least a year out on the pasture, being fattened at just under two years into prime, matured beef.
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Farming his own cattle has filled in the gaps in the butchery supply chain, and means he has a ready source of traditional beef at best value cost, and can also grow his own feed and fodder, sow wheat and barley for milled grain as well as chopped straw, and baling hay on the marshes.
"The wholesomeness and low food miles of our home-reared beef story is key to the butchery businesses we have, none more so than our own Emmerdale Farm Shop right here at Marsh View Farm."
The farm shop holds the rights to call itself Emmerdale, after the country soap opera, as the original owner of the farm was a friend of the series' creator at Yorkshire TV back in the 1970s, and granted the farm lifetime permission to use its name.
Demand is such that the butchery counter at Emmerdale is bigger than many stand-alone butcher's.
"It became clear that we had a huge demand at Emmerdale for our pre-packaged meats that we would bring over daily from Clarke's in Bramfield," says Jeremy. "Many of those customers at the farm shop would drive over there or visit Creasey's in Peasenhall. We realised back in 2007 that it made sense to open a butchery counter in store on the farm."
Jeremy thrilled that children have joined the business
He is thrilled that his children, Richard and Charlotte, are both heavily involved in the business.
"Apart from the obvious hard work and long hours, which are a given in all farming, especially a relatively small scale, mixed farming model like ours, we probably had it easier, certainly financially.
"Back in the 1980s, European Union grants were very generous and we were able to get generous assistance with fencing our fields and piping in mains water supplies to the pasture troughs.
"It took time to deduce the obvious juggle of the right breeds with the optimal grazing and fattening regimes to perfect the best finishing, that is always a consideration even now, as every animal and each year's growing season are never the same."
Setting up the farm shop has made a 'huge difference' as customers spend more money on meat, and come from further.
Supply and demand
"With farm shops like all businesses it is about supply and demand. What is the potential trade out there for you to access with your planned business? You need to tap into either unserviced demand or effectively steal from your competitors.
"If you cannot be confident you will reach a viable level, not only will you fail but you also risk the established business in the next village.
"As a family we are very old school in how we run our trade and believe in the value and success of the whole communities around our shops and the area's butchery and farming scene so we need to pull together and work for the good of the customer, our fellow farmers and shop owners."
The businesses employ 20 staff. The main challenge to butchery businesses is red tape, says Jeremy.
"Due diligence and regulatory controls get ever more laborious but we do appreciate it is for public safety," he says.