Beef farmer wins national recognition
Kate Chapman hears how endeavours to create a sustainable farming system that supports the local community, offers employment and provides world class standards for beef production have won Lincolnshire farmer Andrew Laughton national recognition.
The fourth generation farmer from Louth has been named Farmers Weekly’s Beef Farmer of the Year 2018 after being chosen by a panel of judges who acknowledged how his exceptional animal health and cost control has helped him grow his output fifteen-fold.
Andrew (55) has worked with AHDB and Nottingham University on research and with AHDB and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) looking into welfare on larger farms and firmly believes that air quality, fresh bedding and quality feed drive cattle well-being and he has built a system around these principles on his own farm.
“It’s wonderful that both I and the farm have been recognised with an award in this way,” said Andrew, also the National Beef Association Midlands chairman. “If it wasn’t for the fantastic team I have here, none of this would have happened.”
“Farming is hard work, but this is a great business and one that is changing and developing daily. I love welcoming people to the farm, showing them how we look after and care for the cattle, and constantly looking at new ways to harness changing technology to make the job easier and more cost-efficient.”
The Farmers Weekly awards, now in their fourteenth year, acknowledge the nation’s best farmers in fifteen different categories, recognising and rewarding them for innovation, commitment to the industry and hard work.
Andrew was nominated by one of his suppliers and after making the shortlist was visited by a group of judges who spent several hours scrutinising all aspects of his business. He was presented with his award during a ceremony at Grosvenor House, A JW Marriott Hotel on London’s Park Lane (in October).
The Laughton family has farmed in Louth for many years and is currently based across two smallholdings at Southfield Farm and Manby Airfield, covering around 125 acres between them. It is here that they rear 6,000 beef cattle outdoors each year, with a maximum of 3,000 animals split between the two sites at any one time. They also grow around 100 acres of wheat and barley.
It is Andrew’s goal to provide a thriving environment that implements best practice at every stage of production. All his cattle live comfortably outdoors with minimal stress and receive first-class nutrition.
“With the beef enterprise we buy in animals at approximately 18 months, and finish them over a three-to-six-month time period, slaughtering at about 24 months,” he explains.
“We have a number of different breeds and sell our beef cattle to a range of local and national buyers, all of whom demand strict health and welfare standards for all our animals, and we have regular inspections to ensure we’re meeting these requirements.
“We also work alongside many neighbouring farms to provide organic, nutrient rich fertiliser for crop production. We strive for a sustainable farming system that supports our community, offers local employment and provides world class standards for beef production.”
Andrew’s parents Rodger and Valerie started the current livestock enterprise, with Rodger still active on the farm today. Andrew joined after starting an agricultural science (crops) degree course at Leeds University.
He recalls that it was while on his way to examine some trees for a study he was working on that he passed Pannal Cattle Market and instantly knew where his heart lay.
“I suppose there are some times in life when you have to go off and do other things to realise that you’re actually meant to be doing something else entirely,” he says. “Passing that cattle market made me realise where I needed to be, so I ended up coming back home and just getting on with the job, working hard and pushing the business on.
“I’m a Lincolnshire Yellowbelly through and through, and have been helping out on the farm since I was little – helping with the animals and riddling potatoes when Mum and Dad used to grow a few. We farm right on the edge of the Wolds and there isn’t anywhere else in the world I would rather be.”
Andrew and his team face many challenges working with livestock, including feed efficiencies, data control, keeping up with innovations, the current political situation in light of Brexit as well as vegan activists campaigning against the industry.
“There’s quite a bit of misinformation out there unfortunately, and of course everyone has their own view, but a certain amount of red meat in the diet is good for you.
“After all we are omnivores and red meat provides amino acids, iron and other nutrients essential to a balanced diet,” he says.
“It can help tackle anaemia and later in life it can go a long way towards helping with osteoporosis too. We feed our cattle a mixture of co-products and bi-products including a mix called Trafford Gold, carrots, silage and sandwich crusts and it’s sustainable.
“I like to think that the bread feeds the cattle so they can provide the beef for the next sandwich, while the manure goes back to the soil to grow the wheat to make the flour which in turn makes the bread! It’s all part of the cycle of life.”
As for the future, Andrew is hoping his own son William (17) will one day follow in his footsteps and become the fifth farming generation.
“I want him to take over because he wants to do it,” adds Andrew. “Until then I’ll keep pushing forwards, we’re working on trials and always looking at different ways of doing what we are doing. Our antibiotic use is very low, our animal mortality rates are very low and it all comes down to the fresh air. We use our geographical features to our advantage and aim to work closely with the environment ensuring soil health is improved for future generations to enjoy.
“Farming isn’t just a job – it’s a way of life. Some people are passionate about football, others fishing and for me it’s cattle, I don’t know why, it just is.”
For more information about Laughtons of Louth visit www.laughtonsoflouth.co.uk