Newmarket: La Hogue flock expands as lamb sales take off
- Credit: Archant
Farm shop entrepreneurs are planning to double the size of their sheep flock as their meat business expands through shop sales and a new online delivery service.
Husband and wife team Chris and Jo Reeks, who gave up professional careers in 2002 to start a farm shop in two redundant piggeries near Newmarket, started the flock in 2011.
La Hogue Farm Shop at Chippenham is now a £1.5million turnover business employing 45 staff, and attracting around 2,500 customers a week. The couple want to increase their 400-ewe sheep flock producing lamb for the shop to 700 to 800 ewes over the next three to five years by breeding their own replacements.
“The flock is based on Kent and New Zealand Romneys crossed with Texel, Beltex and Charollais,” said Chris.
The 600 lambs produced annually are nearly all sold through the shop and café/restaurant, together with a recently-launched online shop offering national delivery and Christmas boxes of meat. The flock was expanded by renting around 1,000 acres on the Euston Estate near Thetford, which is owned by the Duke and Duchess of Grafton. It is managed on a extensively grazed, high welfare system with all lambs finished on grass, clover or post-harvest sugar beet tops in the winter months.
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“This will allow us to sell more of the type of meat we want online. The Duke and Duchess, together with their estates director Andrew Blenkiron and his staff, have also been hugely supportive of the sheep enterprise. It’s a stunning estate and I very much hope to continue to help successfully manage the pastures and grassland in conjunction with Euston’s beautiful pedigree Red Poll herd of cattle.
“At the shop, we are planning a covered outdoor eating area attached to the café and further development of the online shop, which is doing particularly well, especially with orders for Christmas. And then there’s the potential for solar power for the site. Quite honestly, the possibilities are endless.”
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The couple funded the initial purchase and renovation of the premises from cashing in their assets, but after that, they had to keep investment coming in to grow. The initial farm shop development in 2002 cost £140,000, primarily funded by the sale of the Reeks’ house together with a 30% Defra Rural Development Grant.
In 2006, the butchery was expanded with the help of a £30,000 loan and another rural grant. The big expansion came in 2010 when Lloyds Bank Agriculture helped finance the £100,000 development of 70-seater café/restaurant and £40,000 refurbishment of the farm shop a year later. It helped finance the purchase and expansion of the La Hogue Flock with the initial capital of £20,000.
Chris said: “I’m apprehensive of borrowing money, but realise in order to grow a business some finance is necessary.
“However, we have taken it steady. Each development has built on the success of the previous ones so we’ve taken relatively low levels of finance on each step. And we’ve used help and guidance from the bank, in the first instance brainstorming the ideas then formulating an accurate business plan on the back of them.”
Paul Sullivan from Lloyds Bank’s Agriculture team said: “It’s often thought that businesses need most help in the early years but large expansion phases can be just as tricky. Many don’t realise that their bank should be able to help with planning. You should have confidence to work with them as partners in developing the business.”