On a Drizzly Thursday afternoon in October, I had the pleasure of meeting the Rangeley family, James, Suzanne and son Jack, the current custodians of Meadow View Farm in Highburton, Huddersfield. I met them in what must be quite the smartest farmhouse kitchen I have seen! – more of that later.
Jack is the fourth generation. Jack’s great grandad Ernest Rangeley started running the farm in the 1940’s during the war. Initially he had pigs and a small dairy herd. When Ernest died in the early 1970’s, James’ Father Melvin took over and came out of the then current milk scheme, moving initially into beef. Up until the mid-70’s there was nothing but green fields all around Meadow View.
However, the march of progress was soon upon them and a local firm of housebuilders, purchased and built on a large piece of land across from the farm. Not long after the new estate was complete, the shrewd Melvin came up with a cracking idea, why not set up a farm shop to serve the local people and more so the brand-new housing estate opposite. Back then this was ground-breaking stuff. The farm shop opened in the early 80’s after they had converted the cowshed and byre to accommodate it.
James’s mother Christine ran the shop, which proved to be a great success at the time, selling home grown and local produce to the local community. The shop was always very busy on a Friday and Saturday. If they had any over production, they sold that on at market. But as we know, progress never stops and times change, so with the advent of the supermarkets getting bigger and bigger, the shop became less and less busy. Eventually Christine had had enough, and they closed the shop.
Melvin and Christine continued to live in Kirkburton, not too far from Meadow View. With Melvin all but retired, James decided that he needed another income in addition to what his small herd of beef cattle brought in, so he decided to trade as a dry stone waller. This, as we know, is a very skilful trade and very physical. James established a very good reputation and was in constant demand, so I was not surprised to hear he did this for some twenty years! Whilst still doing the walling, he had met wife Suzanne on a blind date arranged by her sister. When they got married it was decided they would like to make a fresh start away from James’ bachelor pad and convert the old farm shop/milking shed into the farmhouse. The renovation of the old farm shop/milking parlour was a task and a half to say the least. There was not a single straight wall anywhere; foundations were also a challenge as they only went to a depth of just 8 inches! owing to the fact they were built on old mining seams. However, the traditional thick walls had stood for 100 years plus. Sitting in the kitchen today and having a quick look round the ground floor, the farmhouse could have been recently built. Lots of straight walls and all beautifully appointed and kept.
In 2002, young Jack was born; he has grown up on the farm with a love for farming, studied at Shelley college and left to do a two-year extended diploma in agriculture course at Askham Bryan College, which he has just completed. His main motivation for the course, was an eagerness to learn new ideas and the latest technologies. Jack already has his own herd of 13 Herefords that he bought as calves and brought them up whilst at college, he thinks he might cross them with Angus’s at some point. James’ father Melvin still helps on the farm. Unfortunately, he fell quite ill with COVID earlier in the year but is thankfully now back to full health.
James built the herd up slowly, with a mixture of beef and sucklers. The herd now stands at 125 all-in with the sucklers. All the cows and calves go out in the fields in April time each year. They have plenty of room to graze in the fields on Moor Lane in Highburton and up in the fields on Riley Lane in Kirkburton. Their diet is luscious grass which James has spent time nurturing. Winter feed is silage all from the farm. There is usually quite enough for the cattle to exist on home grown without the need to buy in extra.
The cows tend to calve around Christmas and March time before they go out to grass. This means a closer and quicker eye can be kept on them to give them a helping hand should the need arise. Suzanne is only too happy to jump in to help if James is more than 15 minutes late. Although Suzanne works part time in the mornings at a children’s hospice, she is becoming increasingly more involved. The majority of the mothers are farm bred and any female calves that are born are kept to join the herd.
This year they have introduced a new breed to the farm – Dexters. The breed is renowned for its fantastic flavour largely due to its marbling, which also aids better cooking, without the need for extra oil etc. The Dexters came about when James arranged a birthday trip away for Suzanne, little did she know there was an ulterior motive to this treat as James had arranged not just one, but two farm visits to see 2 herds of Dexter cattle. At the second farm visit, the farm had opened its doors to the public and they were amazed at the number of people buying Dexter beef boxes – light bulb moment – “Can we do that?” They now currently have six Dexters and calves, bought from the first farm they visited, which run alongside the commercial herd.
Isn’t it funny how history can repeat itself? As we know despite COVID, the economic climate has been changing for farmers in general. These days, many farms are realising that to survive and protect income, diversification is becoming more and more popular across all sectors. It was this and the birthday treat that made James and Suzanne decide to change; rather than sell the grass-fed cattle at auction where prices cannot be guaranteed they are going to sell it locally, using local abattoirs and butchers, drastically reducing both the carbon footprint and field to fork journey and yes, you guessed it, they are also selling direct from the farmhouse door again. You can order from their Facebook page as well as the website. There is a range of beef in boxes of selected cuts, or you can choose separately the cuts you want at the weights you want, depending on what is in stock.
The other great beauty of the service is that you can pick up your meat fresh or frozen from the door. Contactless delivery is also available in the Huddersfield area as well.
So, despite lockdown and the challenges this year has thrown up, the Rangeley family have really forged ahead with the business change, launching their brand Burton Beef, complete with website, themed packaging, and their own monogrammed workwear! The first cow went to slaughter in September, they are now on their third. The range is already growing with the introduction of Tomahawk Steaks, Steak Sausages, Flat Iron Steaks, Fajita/Stir Fry Steak and 2 Rib Roasts. They are proud to already have been awarded a five-star food rating.
Even whilst I was there chatting in the kitchen, customers were turning up to collect. They currently have two large chest freezers, with more on the way to accommodate the demand as it increases.
James was telling me that the local community as they were many years ago have been very supportive. People really like to see the well cared for animals in the field, it gives people much more confidence in what they are buying and eating.
I asked about plans for the future. “Well,” James said, “we want to see how it goes, but the main idea is to future-proof the business and provide a good wage for Jack as well. We have some lambs to sell in the Spring, alongside some Dexter beef and we are considering pork as well, but one step at a time.”
Well, all I can say is the Rangeleys do not do anything by halves, everything is well thought out, organised and professional. Burton Beef is all set to be another champion of farm diversification and we wish them all the best.