True family farm diversification
Words by Ian Harvey, for Farm Week
The latest diversification at Finnebrogue Woods, Downpatrick, is the sales promotion of home-grown Dexter beef on this 200+ acre lakeside farm owned and run by the Lindsay family. A combination of family talents and skills developing a unique approach to the sustainability of the farm, woodland and lake, was revealed when I paid a visit to this unusual enterprise.
There was something quite magical about the lake and natural woodland as I walked through a field of meadow grasses, with my host Nicholas Lindsay, who has farmed Finnebrogue Woods and land for years. With late autumn yellows, browns and shades of green still adorning the leaves of most of the hardwood trees surrounding this unusual ancient lake, with sluice gate overflow to Strangford Lough, there is an undeniable atmosphere of tranquil beauty about the place.
“That’s a common knapweed,” said Nick, plucking a purple-headed long-stemmed meadow grass from the sward below our feet.
“You can’t easily identify many of the meadow grasses at this time of year but in the mixture I introduced here there are varieties like oxeye daisy, fescues and many other types ideal for hay cropping and grazing our herd of Dexters,” he added.
We’d already been on a tour of the herd, still grazing outdoors on permanent leys, but due to be brought in to allotted woodland with open-sided shelter available and hard-standing feed areas covered with wood chip from forest off-cuts.
The pedigree herd of Dexters at Finnebrogue Woods has grown from just five to a herd of over 100 cows, calves and finished beef.
“Dexters are the smallest breed of cattle in the British Isles, which means they’re very easy on the land not to mention manageable and versatile,” he went on to explain.
“You’ve seen how calm and easy they are to handle as we walked through them in the fields Ian, despite common perceptions.
“They’re great foragers and graze for nine months of the year on well managed pasture with access to the woods for shelter if they wish; even in the three months or so of woodland wintering they’re fed on a diet of haylage and where possible hay.
“As far as I’m concerned it’s that overall natural grass-fed diet without reliance on concentrate feed which results in excellent quality flavoursome meat with good marbling.
“It’s a sustainable, low cost system which works extremely well with the combination of our grass and woodland.
”With Nick’s emphasis on a high standard of animal welfare and selective breeding it seems that the Finnebrogue Woods
Dexter herd is fast becoming one of the best pedigree herds of its type in the country.
It was an hour or so earlier that I called at the combined offices of Magnakata Tipi hire (Nordic tent marquees), Blue Moon Wedding & Event Design and Finnebrogue Woods Dexter Beef, on the outskirts of Downpatrick. I’d featured Magnakata in this series a few years after the enterprise began to offer its unique selection of traditional Nordic large conical-shaped tents for hire. Over the past 10 years it has set up over 1,000 tipis, the length and breadth of this island, for weddings, parties and corporate events. Owned and run by Nick’s son, Edward, the tents are stored at Finnebrogue Woods farmyard, the natural base for a farm diversified enterprise. Blue Moon is Ed’s wife Rachel’s wedding and event design business which has merged with Magnakata over the past 10 years to provide creative decorative interiors for tipis events, beyond her wider event business interests.
As I walked through the office door, Ed’s sister, Laura Bayley, who is in charge of the development of the meat sales of Finnebrogue Woods Dexter Beef, was busy on the phone, so I was greeted by Donna Bates, the marketing and public relations executive for a newly combined family farm business. Finnebrogue Woods, which was launched earlier this year, is the umbrella brand name for four strands which includes farming, firewood, fishing and tipis, under the overall directorship of Ed Lind-say. As I sipped a cup of coffee offered by Donna, Laura joined me having finished her phone call and Donna manned her desk as the office phones continued to ring.
“Apologies Ian, it seems to have been particularly busy and both Ed and Rachel are out of the office on business this morning,” explained Laura, pulling up a chair to outline the background to Finnebrogue Woods Dexter Beef, which was the main reason for my visit.
“It may sound a little complex but really the idea of combining the resources and skills of the family was considered to be the best way of making sustainable use of all that is already available at Finnebrogue Woods.
“Cutting, drying, bagging and selling bulk batches of firewood has been a sustainable and successful aspect of Finnebrogue Woods and likewise, the lake has been a popular angling venue for years.
“It was the realisation that the extensive deciduous woods, 30 acre lake and our Dexter cattle would be the perfect backdrop for our weddings and corporate events, which for the past 10 years have been popular throughout this island.
“The next move was to create a permanent site lakeside, to set up tipis for weddings and events, which has been done to great effect.
“For years we had simply made use of all the Dexter meat produced and didn’t sell any, but dad’s pedigree herd had expanded so much and with the establishment of the lakeside site there was yet another possibility for the sales of Dexter beef.
“In July this year we officially launched our Dexter beef sales drive with a website which incorporates all aspects of the Finnebrogue Woods businesses with a ‘farm to fork’ means of ordering beef cuts on line.
“This is followed up by a phone call and arrangements to collect the booked meat cuts at the farmyard, which will include a recipe card suggestion I’ve designed specifically for each cut.“A recipe, for example like slow-cooked pulled Dexter beef chilli wraps, is a way of helping to explain how the less well known cuts can produce the most delicious results.
“Butchered for us by Mawhinneys of Newtownards, cuts like flatiron (a flank steak), onglet (a hanger steak), brisket, cheek meat and oxtail are just as succulent to eat and help make use of more of the animal than simply the hindquarter steaks, burgers and sausages.
“Our Dexter beef sales policy is ‘nose to tail’, making use of the whole animal.
“Buying our mouth-watering Dexter beef cuts, directly from the producer, is really good value for money.
“With the success and feedback from the first events held lakeside we were encouraged to launch a special event to highlight Finnebrogue Woods Dexter Beef, which we’ve called ‘A Taste of Finnebrogue Woods’.
“It’s being held in two large Nordic tipis on Saturday, 4th November, from 11am to 3pm and quite apart from tasting our delicious Dexter meat, we’ve a great line-up of supporting attractions.
“It’s open to the public and to those who have pre-ordered cuts of our beef.”
Donna added: “Already we’ve had interest in the event from well over 500 people and rising.
”Laura remarked: “There’s lots to keep everyone entertained, we’ve music from ‘Broken String’ a local Blue Grass band. To complement our Dexter beef we have Farmageddon craft beer from Comber and Ristretto coffee from Tribe cafe, Saintfield which will be served from the back of a horse box!”
Laura then offered to take me out to see the Dexter cattle and meet her dad, so we set off for the few minute’s drive it took to get to the farmyard.
On the way, Laura explained that both she and Donna are busy mothers and only work part-time in the office, but as the newly combined business develops they hope to become even more involved. Apparently the next plan is to move the office (currently based off-farm), to a permanent building in Finnebrogue Woods farmyard, which will naturally lower overhead costs and centralise all the business interests including Dexter beef sales. Laura, who has been doing office work for Magnakata for years, was keen to encourage readers to sign up to their Finnebrogue Woods newsletter to receive regular updates, blogs and stories from The Woods and the very latest from the farm.
If this isn’t true family farm diversification, I don’t know what is!
Find out more about how to purchase our Dexter Beef here