Catherina Cunnane, That’s Farming editor, in conversation with Beef Bros in this week’s Farmer Focus segment. The organic beef farmers explain why they opt for Dexter and Irish Moiled cattle and their six-month business journey, selling directly from their farm.
“Our company is named Beef Bros, and it is run by three brothers, Jack, Tom, and James Gilheany.
Jack, the eldest, currently works as a trainee accountant and tax advisor at KPMG, while Tom, is studying biomedical science at NUIG and James is a transition year student.
We are in Fenagh, Co. Leitrim. Our father runs the farm during the week seeing as we are all away from home.
Farming has been in our family for several generations. Our grandfather had a dairy farm before switching to sucklers due to the long hours involved in dairy farming.
Our whole family generally work inside a classroom or office during the week, so it is very refreshing to get outside in the fresh country air during our weekends at home.
We began Beef Bros six months ago in summer 2021. We used to slaughter our own animals for our own use at home and loved the taste of the beef.
So, we said that there would probably be a market for this.
Additionally, with the onset of the pandemic, more and more customers are looking for more local produce with shorter supply chains, so that was another factor.
We have 20 suckler cows used for breeding across our 50-acre enterprise. We only keep Dexter and Irish Moiled cattle.
Dexter and Moiled cattle are very suitable for adapting to and thriving on poor-quality forage and wet land, given the rough Leitrim land.
They tend to be easier looked after and do not consume as much feed as other larger breeds.
To that end, it made sense for us to go with these two breeds of cattle.
We purchased a few Dexter heifers and rented a bull from a local farmer. From there, the herd started to grow steadily.
Both breeds are renowned for producing premium, well-marbled beef. Their physical attributes also suit the Leitrim land, so it seemed like the obvious choice, to be honest.
Organic farming requires more effort, as you must adhere to strict policies.
However, once you get a system in place, it is very much worth it, given the environmental benefits of farming organically.
We want to supply premium, organic beef to the market. Good quality beef is easily found in Ireland. However, selling organic beef online is a niche market.
Given that most consumers live busy lives, this is something that plays in our favour.
We use pedigree, organic animals. The beef is very popular for its well-marbled, tender flavour.
The cuts of beef also tend to be smaller than other animals, which adds to the flavour when cooking.
Price range and process
The beef is very popular with high-end restaurants and artisan shops.
Given that we have a premium product, we try and target the higher end of the market.
Our prices per kg range from €15 – €18. We sell our beef directly from our website. We have a wide range of beef boxes on our website that our customers can choose from.
To note, we have a butcher that slaughters the animal and cuts the beef for us. We package the beef ourselves and market it all online.
We feed all our cattle a 100% grass-fed diet and usually slaughter them between 18 – 24 months.
In line with organic principles, we do not supplement their diet. They are left to mature in the abattoir for 28 days.
In our six months of business thus far, we have sold eight animals. Next year, we hope to sell 20 animals in 12 months.
Unique selling points
We use two rare cattle breeds, the Dexter and the Irish Moiled.
As well as that, all of our beef is organic, and organic beef only accounts for roughly 2% of the beef sold nationwide.
We had been planning for around four months before we launched, and then we have been in operation for a further six months.
Even still, we are still making improvements and tweaks all the time.
We hope to move into some artisan grocers and shops while maintaining our online presence.
Cut lead time
We do not plan on targeting hotels just yet. We feel we would need to be working full-time with the business to supply hotels and restaurants on a full-time basis.
We have been breeding for several years now, so we have adequate stock ready to match our demand for this coming year.
For our business, we would like to cut our lead time between when a customer orders and when they receive their beef.
That means we need to slaughter more animals more regularly, so we must look to increase demand.
Beef farming in Ireland
Beef farmers need to adopt more environmentally friendly practices, especially given the pressure mounting from climate change activists.
In saying that, we feel beef farmers get unfair treatment in this regard.
We were very unsure how our business would go when we started off. However, we are delighted to say that thus far it is surpassed our expectations significantly.
We have learned so much up to this point, and we are still continuously learning every day.
It has been a steep learning curve, but one that all of us have really enjoyed, and we cannot wait to see where this will take us.”
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** All imagery provided by interviewees **