A Lake District farming and meat business is struggling to meet
consumer demand in the north west for its traditional native breeds
of beef and pork.
Michelle and Shaun Partington
with Middle White piglets
The business at Savin Hill Farm in the Lyth Valley near Kendal
had small beginnings 12 years ago when Shaun Partington, made redundant
from his job milking cows, bought three pedigree British White
maiden heifers to run on his four acres.
Shaun liked the breed because it was traditional and British and
as the farm expanded – a further seven acres was bought seven
years ago – Middle White pigs were added to the farm’s
A further 50 rented acres now enables 55 head of cattle and 160
pigs to be run, supplying the quality meat business which sells
direct to the public and the restaurant trade.
Shaun was joined in the business be his sister Michelle two years
ago. A teacher with a degree in furniture design, Michelle has
played a big role in its continuing development and handles the
“Shaun bought the British White cattle because they were
a traditional breed and he felt there would be a market for them.
Also, at the time he was running the farm on his own and the cattle
are naturally-polled and are easily handled.
“At the time the breed was classified rare but now the Rare
Breeds’ Survival Trust has them on the minority list with
around 1,500 breeding females in the country.
“The Middle White pigs are an endangered breed and the Saddlebacks
which came last year are classified as at Risk by the Rare breeds
British White cattle at
All Cattle born at Savin Hill are finished on the farm at between
24 to 30 months old and such has been the demand for the meat that
the Partingtons have developed good relationships with other British
White breeders around the country who now supply them with finished
animals to the same standards as their own.
“We were unable to cope with the demand for beef with our
own cattle and by taking them off other breeders this has encouraged
people either to expand their herds or to go into the breed.
“Our over-riding philosophy with the business is about pure
traditional native breeds and sustainably farming in this country
which is something that a lot of people are struggling to do in
the current climate of change.
“By us creating a market for a quality product, consumers
can support these breeds and hopefully encourage sufficient numbers
of the animals and make it viable to farm them in this country.”
With the cattle taking at least three years to produce (from conception
to the final cuts of quality meat), the small acreage at Savin
Hill has not been able to cope with the demand, but the faster
turn-around time for the pigs has enabled them to develop this
side of the meat business. “We have won several awards for
our Middle White home-produced pork which is all born, bred and
reared on our farm”.
Pigs are eight to 10 months old at finishing with the Middle Whites
weighing 65-80kg and the Saddlebacks will be 85kg-plus.
Meat has always been sold direct to get the best price through
farmers’ markets and fine food fairs in Lancashire and the
Manchester area and now there is an increasing demand for wholesale
meat direct to restaurants which Michelle plans to develop.
On average, one head of Savin Hill's cattle is put through the
system each month but this can rise to up to 10 during November
and December when other breeders help meet the demand.
A further six pigs on average are used each week.
Michelle’s partner Paul Etherington, who has 20 years’ experience
as a butcher, cuts the meat in the on-farm premises to include
shin, skirt, loins, legs and belly.
Quality ready-prepared meats are also sold such as loin of pork
stuffed with basil and fresh sage, pork fillets wrapped in pancetta,
stuffed belly pork with apricot and ginger.
The Saddlebacks are used for bacon and their trim is used in the
sausages which have around a 90 per cent meat content. They are
made without preservatives or artificial flavourings and colourings.
Meat from the Middle Whites, a traditional pork pig, will continue
to be used for the fresh pork cuts and the trim will go into speciality
pies including Pork and Lyth Valley Damson.
“We all love to eat good food – it’s an important
thing for us. My mum’s side of the family were in farming.
Her grand-parents used to sell eggs and milk on Blackburn market.
“We have been brought up to think that quality food is important.
These days there are too many flavour enhancers, artificial preservatives
and colourings being used in foods,” says Michelle, who enjoys
being able to talk to her customers about what is in their products
and how the meats are naturally-reared.
Great Support for the Northwest Stabiliser Project
The Stabiliser: the modern functional suckler cow
Rare Breed Meats Direct From Herding Hill Farm