Just 12 months after completing a £360k investment programme, Downfield Farm has launched its own product range, secured orders from Italy, and is now set to process goat for the first time.
Operated by Robert and Jane Prentice, who have been helped by Business Gateway Fife, the Cupar-based farm and abattoir has processed over 143 tonnes of venison since opening its new butchery and game handling facilities in autumn last year.
The expansion of Scotland’s first venison abattoir not only created three full-time jobs, it allowed the husband and wife team to launch Stagison, Quality Scottish Venison, in March. Its products are now supplied to restaurants and hotels via Braehead Foods and directly to consumers from Minick of St Andrews.
Now the company is gearing up to process its second season of wild deer that will see over 70 tonnes of wild Scottish venison destined for the shelves of Sainsbury supermarkets and two tonnes shipped to Italy.
Jane estimates that increasing demand for the company’s services and products will see turnover increase to over £200k by next March.
She said: “The new cutting room and packing facility has improved both traceability and the speed at which animals can be taken from field to fork and that has resulted in more people wanting to use our services. Although venison will always be our main focus, we believe there is enough demand to start processing goat as more and more people become interested in trying the meat.
“Launching our own label and securing the deal with Braehead Foods has helped us promote Scottish venison as a healthy meat that can be consumed throughout the year, not just during the autumn and winter months. Our next aim is to further expand our market share down south and look at the potential to increase our exports following the interest from Italy.”
She added: “Because the business has grown a lot quicker than we initially expected, the help we have had from Business Gateway Fife has been lifesaving. I’m an accountant to trade, and when you work in a big office you have access to a wide range of support and knowledge. When you run your own business you don’t. That’s where Business Gateway has made a huge difference, as our adviser has the knowledge and connections we need to help us continue to move the business forward.”
Charles Doeg-Smith, Adviser, Business Gateway Fife, said: “Robert and Jane have always had a vision of supporting other farmers to create breeding centres that would provide a regular supply of deer which would then be slaughtered and processed at their plant. The recent investment has helped them get closer to that goal. With our help, we have connected them to Scottish Enterprise and provided specialist support that has given them access to funding for training, business development, branding, as well as professional help to obtain BRC accreditation. They have also attended workshops on employee pensions and we are now looking at ways to support their exporting ambitions.”
Originally operating a mixed farming business that included beef, sheep and arable production, Robert and Jane began investigating more sustainable sources of income in 2012 and shortly after moved into deer farming. Very quickly the couple spotted a gap in the market to establish Scotland’s first purpose-built venison abattoir so that deer didn’t have to travel over five hours to be slaughtered in Yorkshire.
The couple then changed the use of an existing agricultural shed into a micro abattoir on the farm, which was completed in late 2014. Butchery and storage facilities were then added two years later.
Jane said: “We were both born into traditional farming families. Robert is an experienced farmer, his grandfather ran an abattoir, and two of his uncles were butchers so we understood right from the start how important animal welfare was. We knew that the long drive to Yorkshire could put a lot of stress on deer. Now that we can slaughter, cut and package the meat here in Scotland there is no need to put the animals through that journey.”
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