On the farm with Quality Meat Scotland: Upper Nisbet Farm, supplier of Scotch Beef

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 25th October 2013

In association with

        As part of our partnership with Quality Meat Scotland, The Staff Canteen decided to check out Upper Nisbet Farm, a family-run business producing the finest quality farm-assured Scotch Beef. Situated in the south east of Scotland near the border with England, Upper Nisbet Farm is home to husband and wife, Robert and Jacqueline Neill and their two sons Andrew and Harry. The 1280 acre farm is also home to 300 Limousin-cross cows and 650 acres of arable crops producing cereals on which the cows are fed. Upper Nisbet is a self-contained enterprise with everything from breeding through to finishing done ‘in-house’, making it quite unique in Scotland.  The Neills have 10 Limousin bulls that they breed with milk cows from Robert’s brother’s dairy farm nearby to produce a Friesian-Limousin cross which is then bred again to produce a three-quarter Limousin cross. They are hoping to expand their herd from 300 to 400 cattle but this will take time as Robert explains: “Beef farming is not like poultry or pig farming where you can turn on the tap in the breeding cycle; from when a cow gets mated you have 30-36 months before that progeny is ready to eat.” The farm is also self-sufficient in terms of feed, with cows fed on local grass and finished on arable crops from the farm’s own arable acreage.  After finishing, the cattle are sold at St Boswells livestock market predominantly to local butchers in the Scottish Borders. This means that from conception right through to pre-slaughter, the process is all in the Neills’ hands. It also means that Robert has to be a jack of all trades. As he says: “I drive the combine; I spray; I work with the cattle; I’m an engineer, a mechanic, an electrician, a plumber, a joiner, a vet; you name it.” As a farm-assured product bearing the Scotch Beef label, Upper Nisbet is subject to rigorous testing and controls from birth right through to slaughter and all the processes in between. “Once a year an inspector from Quality Meat Scotland visits the farm,” says Robert. “He’ll look at livestock, feed stores, the type of feeds we are using and where it comes from; he’ll check handling systems; he’ll then come into the office and check movement records and  he’ll also look at all the vet and medical applications for every animal; all these things have to be recorded.” It’s clear that farm-assured status is very important to Robert, not just in terms of the welfare of the animals but also to the health of the industry as a whole. Buying non-farm assured beef, he says, can lead to meat that contains traces of drugs from cows slaughtered before the drug’s withdrawal period is over. And of course there was a little thing called the horse meat scandal, although, as Robert says, the effect of this wasn’t all negative. “The horse meat scandal had a positive effect on us,” he says. “It lifted demand and it lifted the price. Now all the supermarkets want to source their beef only from the UK but there’s not enough beef out there to do it. It’s good news for us because we can expand but it takes time; we can’t just turn on the tap, as the supermarkets seem to think.” Upper Nisbet not only enjoys farm assured status but also won the Scotch Beef Farm of the Year Award in 2012.  The prize was awarded for clear commitment to producing high-quality animals, a high standard of technical and financial performance and the uptake of new ideas to improve efficiency and profitability. Upper Nisbet has shown real commitment to all of these goals, especially the latter, with its adoption of electronic identification and a new automated handling system for the cattle. Robert and Jacqueline took over the tenancy of Upper Nisbet relatively recently in May 2000 but 45-year-old Robert is a third generation farmer who has worked in the business all his life. Farming, it seems, really is in the Neill blood. Robert’s brother, Tom, runs the dairy farm that supplies his breeding heifers just 18 miles away over the border in Northumberland. And next door to that another brother, David, runs a sheep farm. All three farms share arable acreage which makes them self-sufficient. But the family involvement doesn’t stop there; Robert and Jacqueline’s sons, Andrew, 14 and Harry, 11, feel the family calling too. “They are both dead keen to farm,” says Robert. “They’ll both go to college or university and probably travel a bit; maybe work abroad for a year or so which will be good, then come home and hopefully carry on the family business into the fourth generation.”

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 25th October 2013

On the farm with Quality Meat Scotland: Upper Nisbet Farm, supplier of Scotch Beef