Tag Archives: free range

Swillington Farm – free range and organic

Following on from our blog post about  Farmer Copley’s in Featherstone, we finally managed to visit Swillington Farm on the outskirts of Leeds. As briefly explained in the earlier post, both farms are of equal distance from our house. Farmer Copley has an excellent reputation for breeding his own cows free range and sourcing other meat locally which have also been reared to a high standard to maintain welfare of the animals.

Swillington is a 100% free range and organic farm. To be honest, we understood what free range meant, but we didn’t totally understand what organic means in relation to rearing animals. However, the website is beautifully presented and full of information about their values and produce.

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We had greatly anticipated our visit. Having said that, it was a polar opposite shopping experience to the one we had at Farmer Copley’s. The shop is down a long dirt track and consisted of a wooden shed. Inside, there was a small dresser on the left with a selection of jams, chutney and vinegar on it. To the right there were two chest freezer units with meat in. Directly ahead was a small refrigerated counter which contained the meat for sale. It wasn’t easy to identify what all of the meat was, as most of it was “vac-packed”. To be honest, this did put us off. I don’t particularly like “vac-packed” meat as I’ve found that it can make the meat sweat. However, I can understand that this would preserve the meat for longer and ensure that more was sold with less waste. We decided that we would perform a little experiment by comparing two products from both farm shops to see if we could taste the difference. These were pork sausages and topside of beef.

Unfortunately, they didn’t have any plain pork sausages so we bought the last pack we could, which were pork and apple. These were also pre-packed and therefore we couldn’t ask for a specific weight or amount as we could at Copley’s. We bought a piece of “vac-packed” topside, again there was limited choice on size as they were pre-packaged and we had been able to have the beef specifically cut to size at Copley’s.

The Taste Test

Disappointingly, we couldn’t eat the sausages, literally, they were inedible. They were very bitter and had a sandy/gritty texture. We even wondered if they had gone bad and we had a feeling that they may have previously been frozen (taken from the chest freezer full of meat inside the shed). I was very disappointed and wondered if we had a one-off bad batch because they are highly acclaimed for their pork. Swillington do offer a full money back guarantee or exchange to all customers who are unhappy with any goods, which we have not taken them up on.

Their beef was good. The topside was tender, full flavoured and well marbled. However, this is probably the most expensive topside I’ve ever bought at £13.50/kg and I feel, that if I’m paying that kind of money, I don’t want it “vac-packed”.

I’m aware that Swillington is a working farm but I think that the “Sales” side is just as important as rearing the meat itself (I’m aware that people would argue against that) and it would’ve been nice to have had some communication with the person selling. We were served by a rather shy young man who only spoke to us to respond to a question that we asked and to tell me the amount that I needed to pay. The butcher at Copley’s was extremely friendly, impeccably dressed, professional and they always offer advice on the best way to cook the meat. Perhaps Swillington would be better concentrating on being a producer rather than a retailer and allow a local butcher to sell the meat for them (to continue to minimise food miles).

Our overall impression was that this is a premium luxury product, therefore we had certain expectations of how the meat would be packaged and sold. The whole experience did not reflect the perception of the product. It seemed amateur in comparison to Copley’s.  This was compounded as we visited on an open day when lots of new customers would be expected. We’ll not be rushing back!


Farmer Copley “Know what you’re eating?”

Mark and I had both lived in Leeds for the majority of our lives, that was until we got married. House prices were too expensive in our area so we looked a little further afield. After much searching, we found the perfect little house in Castleford. Now, it’s not the most affluent area due to the collapse of the mining industry but, being part of the five towns (Castleford, Pontefract, Knottingley, Normanton and Featherstone) we’re surrounded by agricultural farm land.

One of the farm shops local to us is Farmer Copley’s in Featherstone, which has an impressive array of awards including “Best Farm shop in Great Britain 2009/2010”

As you can see, it is quite an impressive building. It has been extended since we started visiting three and a half years ago. With the extension, they have a children’s play area with small plastic ride-on tractors, a new cafe called “Moo” which sells hot drinks, cakes, hot and cold sandwiches etc. I’ve  had lunch there and the food is excellent.

The shop sells a variety of local produce (local to Yorkshire) including beer from Copper Dragon, wine from Leventhorpe, cheese, chutney, jams, and vinegar from Wormersley etc and is beautifully presented.

Cheese counter

Meat counter

condiments etc

The main ethos of the shop is that it prides itself on the quality of its produce and that all of the meat is locally sourced. The beef is reared free range by Rob Copley. His website explains that he’s chosen specific breeds to ensure that the meat is of the highest standard. This shows in the price. It really is significantly higher than the supermarket. I bought some top side beef which was just under £12.00/kg with the local supermarket being £8.00/kg. The big difference is, I know exactly where the meat came from, that it’s free range and has been hung for 21 days. I think that we’re used to eating cheap meat in this country. I spoke to my mum about it, she said that she didn’t have nearly as much meat in her diet when she was young because of the cost, but it changed when supermarkets became popular and people stopped buying from the local butcher.

Also people are buying “expensive cuts” of meat on a regular basis and not using their imagination with cooking to purchase cheaper cuts of meat from an animal that has been well cared for. I suppose we live for convenience. I think if we want that, then we really need to consider the practices of intensively farmed animals. I’m a realist, I’m guilty of buying two chickens for £7 but I would never dream of not buying free range eggs! It’s difficult with country coming out of recession, being on maternity leave but, it does feel good when you’re eating meat that has been well cared for. Is it better, that we all do a little bit to work towards improving animal welfare, or that a few do everything? It might just be hypocrisy, but it makes me feel better if I do a bit when I can.

The only question I had, was about the way they label the standard of the animal eg free range, freedom food etc. Their website says that some of the chickens “are locally produced and well looked after” I asked what it meant. They said it was higher than RSPCA Freedom Food standard but not free range. I thinks it’s misleading to the consumer if you’re selling free range and none free range together and it’s  not clearly explained what “well looked after” means. I think there might be the misconception that it’s all free range. I also expect that if I’m buying a small chicken for £6 that it’s free range further fuelling the misconception. I also think for a company that prides itself on locally sourcing meat, it should be labelled which farm the meat came from.

Despite that, the beef was delicious, you could taste the quality. We also bought sausages, at the moment they’re my favourite, high meat content and perfectly seasoned. However, I will soon be visiting Swillington farm which is the equal distance from me as Farmer Copley’s and specialises in free range organic meat. I’ve checked their prices which are marginally higher. But I imagine that’s expected with organic meat. I just wonder if some of the prices of Farmer Copley’s are driven by overheads rather than the welfare of the animals. I’m looking forward to see if I can taste the difference (pun not intended!)