Rhug Estate Organic Farm Story


I am very proud of what we do at Rhug. I have a great team, and I often wonder when I am abroad why our meat is being bought, by some of the most important and well known accounts in these far off places. They could be buying Welsh lamb, but they are buying Rhug lamb. The one thing I think which makes a big point of difference is the way we produce these animals. Using the highest animal welfare standards, enforced upon us by The Soil Association, our governing body, we cut out all stress, and by cutting out stress you end up with something, that is so much better. I am Robert Newborough, I am the 8th Baron Newborough. The family name is Wynn, and we have resided in Wales since the 9th century. Up until 1938 we owned a large proportion of North Wales. Glynllifon was the family home until 1948, and was by far the largest estate that the family owned. Rhug came into the family in 1637 by marriage. The previous house was burned down, and the house that exists at the moment was built in about 1810. The parkland goes back before that, and there are a lot of mature trees, which are now protected. We also have a burial mound. We have a Roman road, and in the distance you can see an iron age fort. So the area is rich in history. I was born and brought up by my father to farm, and then much to his disappointment, went off and did everything else other than farming. It was only in his twilight years that I came back to Rhug, and took over an interest in helping him out in the last four years of his life. I am Gareth Jones, the estate farm manager, and I have been here for 22 years. When I came here the farm was run conventionally by Lord Newborough’s father So I spent 5 years getting to know the farm basically, and then when the old Lord Newborough passed away in October 1998, We took the decision then to convert the whole farm to organic. It is a 2 year conversion process to convert the land. We became organic in October 2000. We set up our own retail shop on site in 2002, and Lord Newborough then was farming in Shropshire as well, so he converted the farm in Shropshire to organic in 2004. Then we set up the farm on the coast in 2006. Rhug is very different today from what it was when we began. When I took over from my father we employed 9 people on the farm. We now have turned into a farming, retailing, wholesaling and we do a lot of alternative energy. We are trying to sweat every asset that we have. The number of people employed has gone from 9 to 110. Employment in this part of North Wales is extremely important. Now I feel that we are contributing a great deal to the welfare of this area. We were only offering beef and lamb which is what we were producing off the farm conventionally. Then when we converted to organic, and started selling to the various restaurants, they were asking for different products, so we started producing chickens of our own, and on the farm in Shropshire we started producing pork. All of the chefs are looking for different products, and that point of difference. The way we manage the landscape and the farm, being organic coupled with the environment schemes we are involved within Wales. From the mountain you see behind us, We graze that with cattle and sheep to promote the best use of that grazing, and the landscape to enhance things like the grouse numbers up there. Like any sporting estate, it also has a wealth of country life. It has fishing, shooting and many other activities you would find on a landed estate of this kind. Through Rhug estate we have the river Dee, which is joined by the river Alwyn, and is also well know for its salmon fishing and sea trout fishing. My name is David Pooler, I am the head gamekeeper on Rhug estate. Gamekeeping has had a very bad press over the last 40-50 years. In gamekeeping nowadays we are more wildlife managers and conservation. The amount of conservation work we do is terrific as a general for the whole of Britain, It is a value of £250 million pounds is spent from shooting providers into habitat management and conservation. We plant wildlife corridors to link woodlands and watercourses up to habitats. But in those wildlife habitats, you have ground nesting bird areas, on there is a small number of black grouse and red grouse. The black grouse are a red listed bird, and the conservation with funding, is trying to restore the number of black grouse on the Berwyns. With that we will get the waders back on the Berwyns, the curlew, the lapwing, and many of the other species like merlin which is another red listed bird. But none of them will manage to expand in numbers without habitat management and predator control. One of the exciting things of farming organically is what the environment has to offer us, and to work with it. In the pastures clover is very important, we also have herbs like chicory which is a natural wormer. Which the sheep go and eat if they feel they have a worm burden. We also leave grass strips around the edges of our crops. So if we have an aphid attack into the crop, out of the grass strip come the ladybirds and they eat the aphid. I am John Dyke, I am a shepherd on the Rhug estate. I have been here for about 30 years now. I have seen quite a few changes since I have been here. But I think one of the biggest changes was when Lord Newborough took over from his father, and we became organic. That was a big step to take. That involved no use of nitrogen. That affected grass production to start with, but over time the ground seemed to lose the need for the drug shall we say, of nitrogen, and clovers came, and herbs. Clover produces nitrogen anyway naturally, and our grass production crept up again. Since organic I have lambed outside, because there is no interference. Everything is stress free, the sheep will select a corner, go off there, have the lambs. They will stay there maybe for a day, then gradually come out. There is no interference manually shall we say. Perfectly capable of having lambs themselves. All I do is go around, 3 or 4 times a day just checking them – is everything alright? So it is quite stress free. Although our main farming unit is at Rhug, we are now farming an increasing acreage over on the coast on the Glynllifon estate. On a farm called Ty Mawr. It is situated close to Caernarfon, south from Belan Fort. Ty Mawr is a very important part of Rhug. Ty Mawr consists of all types of ground, from good fertile ground, right through to rough grazing, right through to sand dunes as well. We finish around 3000 lambs at Ty Mawr every year, and produce around 160-180 store cattle. Ty Mawr is quite special because it grows special grasses, like samphire, sea lavender coarse grasses. Our flock of sheep there eat these grasses and it gives a wonderful delicate sweet flavour to the meat. A lot of chefs will give their right arm to be able to have salt marsh lamb on their menus. We also house our Aberdeen Angus breeding herd over there simply because, it is light sandy land, it is dry in the winter. They can be housed outside. Which is more healthy for the animal, and they calve outside. The cows rear the calves until they are 10 months of age, and then they are brought over to Rhug where they are finished, aged about 24 months. We have had personal contact with all of our customers, and we can now produce for them or supply them with anything they want. They want a large lamb? Fine. They can have it. I can go into a field, and I could have orders for 15 lambs 18 kilos, another customer than needs smaller lambs this week. I can select for each individual customer. A week later, we will have feedback. Were they right, were they wrong? So that is great, and that I think from my perspective is a big bonus. Because I am getting more pride in what I do. My name is Gary Jones, I am the production manager here at Rhug organic farm. We are a fully qualified EEC approved cutting plant. We are SALSA approved, Soil Association approved, and Halal approved. Which means to say we have to meet all the high standards of all those bodies for us to produce products for our customers. We produce organic chickens. Just to give you a bit of background, our chickens are between 12 and 14 weeks of age before they go off to the abattoir. They have grown, they have had a life, they have been naturally fed on organic products. Which makes the meat much more tender, and much more flavoursome. Because they have had a long slow growth. We also produce salt marsh lamb at our farm near Caernarfon. We also have standard lambs at Rhug organic farm in Corwen. What we do with our Aberdeen Angus beef is we have a distinct under 24 months before they go to slaughter. Then they are put in our dry-ageing chamber which we have. Its quite unique in that it is a 28 day dry age product. We have a separate room built which has been approved by the London Halal authority. They come around and inspect us once a month, for all of our products to make sure they are kept separate. We have to identify to anyone coming into the factory that they are using different colour overalls, different tools, different knives, different areas. So if you wear a blue overall you are doing Halal, if you are wearing a white overall you are doing non-Halal. We have just invested heavily into a new packing machine, which will give us a skin pack. It allows our customers to have a longer shelf life. So all of our delicatessens that we serve in London can have two weekends. So they have an extra shelf life for their products. Our target export customers tend to be places where everything is imported from some part of the world. We supply in Hong Kong, the Mandarin Oriental. In Singapore, the SuperNature organic stores. In Dubai, the Burj Al Arab, a 7 star hotel. In Abu Dhabi, the Ritz. These are really high prestigious accounts. Rhug is unique in a way because it is one of the last remaining true field to plate operations in the country. Not only do we produce the meat at Rhug, but we also sell it here. I am Elliot from the Rhug estate bistro, I am one of a team of chefs. I would say the food that we produce here is simple, but cooked really well. With a slight twist here and there to keep it interesting. We try to use local produce wherever we can, we grow our own herbs in the herb garden, and quite a lot of vegetables here. It is a real pleasure to be able to work with a field to fork experience. Meat is reared here on the farm, it is butchered down in the cutting plant, and then is comes up to us and we finish it off here. So we see out the whole process here at Rhug. The demand for bison meat has surpassed the supply. We now have a herd of 70 bison. Bison meat has special qualities. It is lower in fat, It is higher in essential vitamins, and higher in omega 3, than fish or chicken. So if one is worried about what you eat, this is about as healthy as you can get. The local sheep-shearing competition is held here every year. It happens at the end of the Royal Welsh Show week. So the shearers have a circuit if you like, and it is an international competition. So they go to various places like Lampeter, and then onto the Royal Welsh Show and then they come here, to what is known as Corwen Shears, and it is quite a big event, it is getting bigger. Next year we will be hosting a Royal Welsh Grassland event, which will be a quite a big event. At Rhug wherever we can, we embrace alternative energy sources. And now at Rhug, we have, Geo-Thermal. Solar. Hydro. Over on the coast, wind turbines. Last year we were producing from Rhug enough electricity to service 700 homes. By the end of this financial year we will be supplying enough electricity for over 7000 homes. This is our contribution to the environment. I have had the privilege of working here for 28 years, and seen us change from a traditional family farm, to an organic thriving business, and it is very nice to be part of that. We try to listen to our customers as much as we can, through the comment cards and Trip Advisor, and take on board what people are saying, and evolve with that. You have to be very passionate to work for Rhug, and I have a very passionate team which I lead. I am very proud to be in a position where I am able to say that my products are eaten by all people in all the top restaurants throughout the world. Something Lord Newborough is very good at is not letting the grass grow under his feet if you like, and looking for new ideas, new ventures, diversification. He is particularly good at opening new markets, especially abroad. So it is getting our name, and the brand out there not only in Wales and the UK, but throughout the world. My vision for the future is to continue to grow the Rhug brand, and to supply a secure future for the next generation. Not only one that is environmentally secure but, also financially secure. Rhug will continue to supply important employment in this part of North Wales. I hope that Rhug will be an important part of North Wales for many years to come.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *