Simon Burnett was just four years old when his parents bought their first Dexter cattle. Fourteen years later, he plays a key role in managing a 135-strong herd and running Lower Burrow Dexters, selling locally-reared, grass fed beef.
Based in the village of Kingsbury Episcopi on the Somerset Levels, the Burnetts are better known for their main business, Steve’s Windscreens. Now in its third decade, the windscreen repair business is still the ‘day job’ for Stephen, Tracey and Simon, who describe Lower Burrow Dexters as a ‘hobby’.
Eighteen-year-old Simon, who recently graduated from Kingston Maurward Agricultural College, checks on the animals before spending the day working with his dad, replacing windscreens on cars, tractors and lorries. They return to the farm in the evenings, feeding the cattle and working on their collection of tractors.
Neither Tracey nor Stephen came from farming backgrounds. They bought the first four Dexters to help Stephen’s father, who was fed up with mowing the lawn, to keep down the grass in his orchard at the other end of the village. Since then, the family has bought and rented more land to accommodate the growing herd, which still includes two of the original cattle, Crystal and Curious who are now pets.
The family now runs an integrated herd of predominantly pedigree Dexters, including two bulls, and chose the breed, which was originally from Ireland and introduced to England in 1882, primarily because, being smaller, it make less mess than other breeds. When they made the decision to grow the herd size and start rearing cattle for beef, they learned that the breed is also renowned for extremely high quality meat. Despite its advantages over many larger cattle breeds, the family agrees that Dexters can be challenging to manage.
Tracey says: “They all have their own personalities. Funnily enough, the red Dexters live up to their reputation and can be a bit fiery. They are known for being a hardy breed, but ours are quite spoilt. They’re out in the field and we think we give them a lovely quality of life here.”
“Dexters are characterful,” Simon says. “They have an attitude and you can’t herd them, you need to manipulate a Dexter to do what you want it to do.”
“They stick together as a herd,” he adds. “It’s interesting that they take it in turns to look after the young, so when the others are off eating, one will stay with the calves sat around her.”
The cows are purely fed on grass and grass silage and are bedded down on straw. With the bulls living among the herd, the cattle calve all year round.
“They’re essentially a wild herd,” Tracey says. “It’s easier for us as it means a happy herd and bulls that are easier to manage.”
The family supplies to the local butchers, a pub and an Italian restaurant, as well as selling direct to a loyal band of customers.
“Our regulars come back time and time again and comment on the quality of the meat. They also like the fact they’re raised here on the levels,” says Tracey.
The family recently took the decision to increase the herd from around 60 to 135 cows and are about to open a new shop right next to the house to prepare for the increase in supply. As well as selling the cuts of meat, such as steaks and shin, which are already popular with their loyal customers, they are preparing to launch a range of Dexter burgers and sausages. Simon is focusing on marketing the beef through a Facebook page.
As they have developed the farm, the family has sought the advice of their insurer, Cornish Mutual. The South West insurer covers both Steve’s Windscreens, now also an approved repairer for Cornish Mutual, and Lower Burrow Dexters.
Tracey says: “We are continually improving and developing what we do, so our insurance needs have changed over the years. Cornish Mutual meets our needs.
“We really appreciate the service Cornish Mutual gives us, so we recommend them to a number of our windscreen customers.
“With Cornish Mutual, you get the personal touch. We know them and they understand what we’re about. If we ever have any problems, we call them and they’re always helpful. When we pick up the phone we know we won’t be stuck in a queue to get through to a call centre. It’s always nice to have someone at the end of the phone who knows us and understands what we need.”
Phil Wilson of Cornish Mutual said: “It is testament to their hard work that the Burnetts manage to run two very successful and very different businesses. It is great to see Simon playing such a major role in growing and running the farm, at such a young age.
“The family is very well respected in the local community and over the years I have seen Lower Burrow Dexters growing, developing and establishing a reputation for high quality, locally reared meat. While the farm is a hobby, there is potential for it to develop further with the launch of the new shop.
“As a customer myself, I can vouch for the quality of their produce. Their success is well deserved.”
With so much growth in recent years, the family is focusing on selling more of the farm produce through the new shop. However, they have no plans to expand the herd size in the near future and says the farm will remain a hobby, running alongside the windscreen repair business.
Tracey says: “For us, the hobby is having the cows and the meat is just a by-product of that.
“We’ve expanded the farm because Simon loves the cows and loves farming. When he was little, he used to come out to the field and cuddle up with the cows. He’s grown up with them.”
Simon says: “Growing up with animals is wonderful because it’s an escape. I’m out in the fields and I spend weekends out in the tractors. It’s much more enjoyable in my view than staying home or playing football.
“I love the animals and I’ve got a passion for tractors. After work in the evenings, when I’m looking after the animals and tinkering around with old tractors in the workshop, I escape to a different place.”