by | Apr 26, 2023

Producing quality Scotch Beef to a high standard by utilising home-grown cattle is the name of the game for the Smith family from Laurencekirk, who’s Simmentals are tickling the tastebuds of consumers from across the UK.

Douglas Smith opened the shop in 2020

Passionate about producing sustainable & traceable beef products, while making extra income from the farm, Doug Smith of Drumsleed Farm with the help of his wife, Fiona & mum Morag, has opened his own honesty shop which is fully stocked by their own Drumsleed cattle – a herd comprising 240 suckler cows, which is an even split of 110 pedigree cattle & 130 commercials.

“Following Covid-19, we opened up our little beef shop which is situated on Drumsleed Farm. It’s an honesty shop so there’s no one there manning what is sold, it is just filled with freezers & fridges which are packed with our own beef products that are made available to customers at any time of the day,” explained Doug.

A snapshot of tasty products available from Drumsleed Meats

“Our main driving force behind the shop was to improve the traceability of our meat & cut out the middlemen in regards to supermarkets, as well as to interact more with our customers. There are not so many cattle in the area & people in our local villages love being able to see the cattle in fields, so we have always wondered if locally sourced beef would be of interest to them – which it has.

“My wife also runs an honesty shop – Farm to Table – selling her own vegetables & potatoes from her family farm, so I jumped on the back of that idea. We’re continually being encouraged to reduce food mileage & you can’t get anymore sustainable or locally sourced beef than this,” he added.

With the Drumsleed herd being well known within the breed for producing quality pedigree stock – annually selling bulls at United Auctions’ Stirling Bull Sales & Thainstone’s Spring Show – it is, however, the commercial heifers which are proving to be the ultimate when it comes to producing quality prime cuts of beef.

“Our commercial herd is made up of mostly pure Simmentals that don’t meet the pedigree standard we are looking for, with a small selection being Saler & Beef Shorthorn crosses. We prefer to rely on heifers for our meat business as we believe the beef is sweeter & more tender than bull beef, which can be tougher with a little bit more testosterone through it.

Typical Simmental Heifers destined for the Farm Shop

“At the moment we are putting away around one heifer every three to four weeks for the shop & we would like to increase this over the next few years on the basis that the demand for our beef continues to be there,” he said.

“We have no real checklist for picking our meat heifers, but they have to be quiet in regards to temperament & have a good shape & fat cover on them’” commented Doug.

In order to produce alternative cross cattle on the farm & reduce the herd from becoming too pure, a Saler bull is used over the younger Simmental heifers at two years old with a small selection being crossed to the Beef Shorthorn in order to provide some replacement females.

Heifers which are selected to be butchered for the shop are reared on a 90% grass-based diet having been grazed out on grass throughout the summer months, as well as fed a silage & straw mix when indoors, which is also mixed with homegrown cereals to improve fat cover on the cattle.

“We hold back between 12 & 15 heifers per year for the shop & aim to be killing out those heifers between 16- & 20-months old at around 700kgs, with any other surplus stock being sold store or for breeding females,” stated Doug.

“Our breeding females are sold privately to repeat customers at one year old & we aim to retain around 20 commercials & 20 pedigree females for replacement purposes too,” he added.

Within the shop itself, beef products on offer include burgers, sausages, all cuts of steak, roasting joints & beef olives – all of which are made by Allan Rennie of Rennies Butchers, based in Forfar.

“We have a good relationship with Allan Rennie having used him for private kills beforehand, so when it came to sourcing a butcher for the shop, there was no doubt he was our first pick. He is very flexible with us, which is a huge bonus as our customers have the option to phone in & pre-order specific cuts of meat, so Allan is always keen to help us meet the requests of our customers & keep them returning,” said Doug.

The heifer beef is hung for a minimum of three weeks before it is vacuum packed & returned to Drumsleed to be sold.

“Allan Rennie is an Aberdeen-Angus man but there’s nowhere within the area that is specifically dedicated to one breed. We have sold some of Allan’s Angus meat through the shop if we are in short supply & it’s great meat but it’s all down to how the meat is hung & if it is the right carcass’” explained Doug.

“We like a bit of fat cover on our meat which we believe brings flavour to it, & it helps that the heifer meat is really tender. Overall, we are receiving some really great feedback about our Simmental beef & our customers seem to love the marbling content through the cuts.”

As well as selling their own beef through the shop, Doug is also providing Simmental mince & steaks to a local restaurant – Gannets of Laurencekirk – who transform the meat into their own pies which are then sold on.

“We team up with Gannets of Laurencekirk to run a hot food stall at some of the farmers’ markets & local events, where we used our own supply of burgers & beef. We are aware that there are a lot of small & local businesses within our area & it’s important that we support on another as much as possible, so we hope to continue with this venture later in the year,” he said.

“Consumer demand for beef is always dependant on the time of year & you tend to find that through the summer, demand outstrips supply as it’s barbecue season, whereas it can be quieter over the winter months. However, we can’t fault the support of the local community who have been fantastic at keeping us in business & we really do appreciate them,” added Doug.

The Smith’s little farm shop is also gaining popularity with customers further afield, which has been aided with the help of social media.

“Social media has been the only form of advertisement we have relied on when it comes to promoting our products. One of our Valentine’s boxes was bought by a customer in Wales so that goes to show how far social media has promoted our little business, but we are aware that it costs a lot to deliver straight to the doorstep & we do want to try & keep costs as low as possible. However, the next step is to hopefully get a website set up & running in order to try & sell beef to customers online too,” he stated.

Looking to the future of their little shop, Doug has big plans for extending the meat options available for his customers.

“Ideally, we would like to add in lamb or pork to the meat line and preferably would like to do this ourselves and invest in fat lambs or pigs in the future, but this is a long-term goal and not something that will happen any time soon – so watch this space! I’m passionate about the low food miles aspect with our meat & I will continue to promote this aspect as I believe it’s a real driving force behind gaining the consumers attention.

“It’s really enjoyable to engage with the public & allow them to see what we do here at Drumsleed. When it comes to running an additional business like this, you really do need to dedicate time to do it properly, which is probably something I didn’t fully appreciate with ties to the farm & my family. However, my advice to anyone thinking about diversifying in some way would be to just do it! Don’t be scared to try it out & if it doesn’t work then try something else. From start to finish, it really has been one of the best decisions we have made & I’m looking forward to what the future holds for our wee shop.”

This article by Kathryn Dick, and use of the pictures by Rob Haining, is republished with the kind permission of The Scottish Farmer (TSF).  Our thanks are extended to both Drumsleed Simmentals and TSF.