Life on the farm with Ben Bates

Life on the farm with Ben Bates

An interview with one of our specialist ‘Browns Cattle Programme’ farmers.

From farm to fork, we oversee every stage of our beef supply chain to ensure only the best meat ends up on your plate.

This involves everything, including specially-selecting Red Tractor assured farms, using a consistent approach to rearing our cattle, and feeding them a known diet that uses locally-sourced grain. And if you haven’t heard of it before, we call it the Browns Brasserie Cattle Programme.

It also allows us to build strong relationships with our farmers, like 33-year-old Ben Bates. He’s one of the specialist farmers from our three farming schemes, where we rear our cattle on a mixture of grain and grass. So, we popped on our wellington boots and took a trip to Staffordshire to find out more about life on Oak Tree Farm with him, his lovely wife Rebecca and their three young daughters.

How did you find out about the Browns Brasserie Cattle Programme?

I first heard about the Browns Brasserie Cattle Programme in 2013, not long after I was told my application to lease Oak Tree Farm had been successful. I knew I wanted to rear quality beef cattle and was researching potential suppliers and customers when I read about the scheme. It wasn’t long after this before I met with the manager of the scheme and we took it from there.

Can you tell us what it was that attracted you to our programme?

The scheme itself sounded great because it offered a fixed price for our beef, meaning that budgeting is a lot easier than if we were selling cattle on the open markets where prices change daily. I also know where all the cattle are going, and I can do my part to ensure the beef tastes great.

It sounds like it’s been really beneficial; would you recommend the programme to other farmers?

I would definitely recommend the scheme to other farmers, and particularly to farmers that are just starting out in business.  

Amazing! So, what does a typical day on the farm look like for you?

No two days are the same, and of course we are working with the seasons so a lot depends on the time of year. The workload increases in the winter months when the cattle are inside the buildings as they need clean fresh straw to lie on daily, and all their food needs to be brought to them.

I prefer it when the cattle are outdoors so I try and make this as long as possible, usually from March to November. The cattle graze on fresh grass outside and it’s always a sight to behold when they’ve stuffed themselves with grass and the whole group are basking in the sun, contentedly chewing the cud!

For the cattle on the scheme I also have to regularly weigh them to monitor their performance and to make sure they are on the right diet at the right age and so I can plan when I need to book them in to leave the farm.

Do you have a favourite part about working as part of the programme?

My favourite part has to be when new calves arrive and I get to see all the animals that will be part of my life and business for the next 15 to 18 months!

It must be very exciting. How many cows live on your farm in total?

Currently we have around 150 cattle on the scheme, and around 250 other cattle.

That’s a lot of cows! What do you do to ensure the quality of the beef from the moment you receive the calves?

We have the reared calves at around 14 weeks old, and from that point until they leave, they spend as much time outside grazing as possible. When they switch to grain in their last 3 months on my farm, I make sure the grain is grown by a neighbouring farmer which I have to mill with a machine to ensure the animals can get as much goodness as possible from the feed. As well as this, we also have to make sure the animals get all their vitamins and minerals to maximise their performance.

Do you own any other animals on your farm?

Every spring I buy two baby lambs for the children to bottle feed. We named the last two lambs Cheeky and Daisy!

Adorable! Is farming something that’s always run in the family?

Yes, I grew up on a farm about 15 miles away from where we live now. Since University, I have always been involved with cattle and have worked on farms in New Zealand and Australia as well as in the UK!  

Farming on the other side of the world must have been an experience! What is it that you love the most about being a farmer?

I love being my own boss and seeing the fruits of my labour as the cattle on the farm grow. I like working outdoors (especially during the warmer months), and it’s fantastic not having a commute to work, or having to deal with any ‘workplace politics’!

Farming is an occupation where there is always ‘another job to be done’, so it’s important to try and have set working hours so I can get some family and social time. The challenge is to create a farming business where I get this balance right!

Why else do you do what you do?

There’s also the lack of dress code, and the freedom to keep my own hours (it’s funny how break times can coincide with major sporting occasions!). But overall, being a UK food producer makes me very proud. UK farmers have lots of regulations to ensure our food standards are among the best in the world, so it’s satisfying to play my part in producing top quality food to keep our nation and indeed our world from going hungry.  

Thank you, Ben. It’s been great chatting to you!

Discover more about our specialist cattle programme, and the benefits it brings to our customers and farmers.