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Mick and Sophia Thurlby are reducing food miles at their Tallington farm that supplies pubs and hotel in Stamford





How many miles are there between your forkful of food and the farm it came from?

It’s a question few people ask themselves when tucking into dinner.

But farmer Mick Thurlby - known best for owning The Crown Hotel, Paten & Co and The Tobie Norris pub in Stamford - feels it’s well worth some thought.

Mick and Sophia Thurlby with Harriette Blanchard
Mick and Sophia Thurlby with Harriette Blanchard

He and his wife Sophia, along with fellow farmer Harriette Blanchard, rear cattle and sheep in Tallington, less than five miles from the hotel and pubs where the produce is served.

Their rare-breed Lincoln Red cattle graze on pesticide-free grass and buttercups, and aside from moving under cover for winter and for calving, most will travel only 30 miles to Boston in their lives, returning to the area as cuts of meat and mince via a Peterborough butcher.

The resulting food miles are less than 100. Compare that with New Zealand lamb, which has a journey of 11,000 miles.

Mick and Sophia's five-year-old son, Fred, asked for a flock of chickens for his birthday. He and his sister, Matilda, 9, share the eggs with families at school
Mick and Sophia's five-year-old son, Fred, asked for a flock of chickens for his birthday. He and his sister, Matilda, 9, share the eggs with families at school

“All the lamb on our menus is our own,” said Mick.

“We serve braised shoulder of lamb at the Tobie Norris, and leg of lamb at The Crown Hotel, and koftas at Paten’s and the Tobie.

“On a Sunday we might sell seven legs of lamb and six shoulders, which are cooked overnight at the Tobie Norris ovens to reduce the fat.”

Meanwhile, the Lincoln Red cattle are a rare breed that can be traced back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when it was selectively bred for both beef and milk production.

Mick said: “The Lincoln Red beef doesn’t look or taste the same as mass-produced beef. It’s a fatter animal and this is why it’s less popular with farmers who are trying to cater to people’s tastes these days. It would make life easier for us if we switched to a ‘normal’ breed.

“We put resources into removing fat as it’s butchered and cooked because we don’t want people sending food back to the kitchen because it doesn’t fit their expectations. But it’s down to the breed. It’s what people used to farm and eat in this area.”

To illustrate the point, Mick reveals a 100-year-old photo of his grandad, Sam Thurlby, milking a Lincoln Red in nearby Barholm.

Mick's grandfather, Sam Thurlby, milking a Lincoln Red
Mick's grandfather, Sam Thurlby, milking a Lincoln Red

The only noticeable difference between the animal in the photo and those in the Thurlbys’ fields today is horns. This trait has been bred out to make farming safer, although Harriette stresses that the Lincoln Reds are not generally dangerous, even when they have calves.

“They’re a placid breed,” Harriette explains as she bottle-feeds a youngster whose mum has only one working teat.

Another mother stares with a look that could be described as ‘dubious’ from a few paces away, but doesn’t come closer.

The oldest of the breeding cows, a 14-year-old, with her two-day old calf
The oldest of the breeding cows, a 14-year-old, with her two-day old calf

The oldest of their 30-odd breeding cows is 14 years, and she has just given birth to another calf.

When selecting which cattle to keep for breeding, hip-width is one criteria, as is general size and form. Lincoln Reds tend to have single offspring, and after a stint in the barn while the calves are really young, they’re turned out into the fields for summer, spend winter under cover eating silage produced from the farm’s plentiful grass, and then fatten up outside for another summer until they’re ready to become breeders or take their trip up to Boston.

When they do, one full-grown Lincoln Red can produce up to 1,000 burgers.

In a field on the other side of the Tallington crossing are some of the 400 sheep. A mixture of square-faced Texels, black-faced Suffolks, and hardy and often ‘freckle-faced’ mules, the flock is described as ‘closed’ - the farm avoids introducing animals from outside that can bring disease.

While the bulky-looking Texels are chosen because they produce more meat per animal, they only tend to reproduce at a rate of 1.5 per mum - twins are preferable. Mixing up the flock creates a natural balance between meaty animals and plentiful offspring.

The lambs are reared naturally on the Thurlbys’ farm, being weaned and then fattened on grass.

Those that aren’t destined for local plates are sold at Melton Mowbray livestock market.

Harriette Blanchard with a young calf whose mother cannot feed her properly
Harriette Blanchard with a young calf whose mother cannot feed her properly

Mick, like Harriette and many other local farmers, remains in the business of rearing animals because it’s what he knows, and because it’s what his family has done before him.

“We’re all diversifying, because you can work 60-hour weeks or more and have very little money to show for it as a farmer,” he said.

“We sell our produce in the pubs and the hotel.

Mick Thurlby with his Lincoln Red bull
Mick Thurlby with his Lincoln Red bull

“Harriette’s family - the Blanchards who are at Bowthorpe Park Farm near Witham-on-the-Hill - have a farm shop and open up to visitors for lambing and the like. Others offer Airbnb shepherd’s huts and converted dairies.

“But when everyone packs up rearing animals in this country and we import everything, a lot of knowledge and skills will be lost.”

Mick and Sophia don’t grow crops - the government’s Sustainable Farming Initiative gives farmers £80 to £100 per acre to reward ‘actions that support sustainable food production while protecting and enhancing nature’.

The cattle have a plentiful supply of grassland which remains free of pesticides and added nitrogen
The cattle have a plentiful supply of grassland which remains free of pesticides and added nitrogen

“For me, this means I grow nice grass for the Lincolnshire Red cattle,” said Mick, who has 250 acres at Tallington.

“Lapwings nest in the long grass and because it’s close to the River Welland, there are reeds coming up. It’s reverting to what would grow there naturally.

“With the cattle on there, it looks like it might have done two or three-hundred years ago, when villagers kept a cow for milk, and their food miles really were low.”



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