For the last day of Great British Beef Week we asked Jim Speirs from Pepsal End Farm to teach us about the lifecycle of his incredible Hereford cows! Here’s what he had to say…
Welcome, from the Speirs Family! We farm at Pepsal End Farm, Pepperstock on the Herts/Beds border and have been here for five generations, specialising in producing top quality Hereford cattle and beef as well as growing cereals on our mixed farm. We provide locals with our beautiful Hereford beef which has been hung traditionally for 21 days, as well as supplying Dunbia for supermarkets, butchers and restaurants. Our beef is from Hereford cattle that have been born and raised on the farm to the highest health and Red Tractor welfare standards. We care about our cattle and they produce the most flavourful, tasty, sustainable, grass-fed beef.
The journey of our beef starts during winter when our cows are housed on barley straw through the winter and fed on the hay made from old English pastures. We have around 100 pedigree Hereford cows in the herd and calves are born indoors away from the elements. Often calving in an individual pen to allow for initial bonding between mother and calf, stopping any confusion over mothering allowing the calf to suckle and get the crucial colostrum it needs. Some heifers and bulls are kept for breeding and other males are castrated within 24 hours to be reared for beef.
Moving into Spring the cows and calves are turned out on to the grass. This is a highlight in the farming calendar, a real joy to watch the cattle skip about after a winter inside, they love it! With warm weather and sun on their backs, the calves really start to bloom. With our cattle being a native breed they thrive on grass. Calves are weaned at the end of summer when they are 9 months old and around 400kgs.
Through the winter the weaned calves are once again loose housed on barley straw and fed on a mix of protein blend, molasses and rolled barley produced from the arable side of the business. They are group reared as yearlings with indoor and outdoor space allowing for better health with constant access to silage made from our pastures.
At the age of around 15 months and around 550kg the cattle are turned out for a second summer. Grazing in groups and rotated around paddocks to allow grass to rest and recover. Mineral licks are provided as a supplement to keep cattle healthy and give them the trace elements they need. Once harvest and autumn drilling’s over we bring the cattle in. This is often a mad rush to clear the cattle sheds of grain and bring in the cattle before the winter weather sets in!
The cattle are generally finished in the sheds at around 22 to 24 months of age. They are fed higher energy silage made from short term grass leys which include ryegrass and clover. We aim for 750kg-800kg finished animal, giving up to a 400kg carcase. The majority of our finished Hereford cattle are sent to Dunbia to Bedford abattoir. Then around 12-15 cattle a year are selected to be sold on the farm through our beef boxes and beef days. These cattle are sent to Humphreys Butchers in Essex where they are hung for a minimum of 21 days and then butchered up ready for our customers to enjoy, whether it’s beef on the barbecue or the perfect Sunday roast!
We put a small butchery room on the farm during 2020 due to an increase in demand which is used for making burgers, biltong and preparing beef for boxes. It’s great was great to see so many people caring about traceability and buying British and buying local!
The farm is Red Tractor farm-assured and we are audited every year and the herd is part of a HiHealth plan, this means we have the highest welfare standards for our cattle and beef. Having our cattle grazing for a minimum of 6 months of the year in the fields and housed on soft barley straw through the winter and fed and finished on grass means they are at their happiest. And content, happy cattle make the best quality beef!