If you like your food to come with provenance, look no further than Somerset’s Bagnell Farm –they do it all – from rearing and showing to butchery and sales. And visitors to the Royal Bath & West Show can get a taste of everything the farm has to offer.
Based near Norton-Sub-Hamdon, the farm is managed by Mark Parsons along with help from his wife Lisa and children Charlotte; 16, Jacob; 15, Luke; 11 and Archie; 4. It’s a real family affair with Mark’s brother, Nick, and their Grandad heading up the on-site butchery. The children even help every day on the farm before school. “They love nothing more than getting their hands dirty, even Archie does his bit,” says Mrs Parsons.
On the farm they have 160 Red Ruby Devon cattle, 50 Jacob breeding ewes and 50 Iron Age pigs, which are all sold for meat either online, at farmers’ markets or shows. “We go to London, Wells and Street farmers’ markets every week, then our first show of the year will be North Somerset,” she explains.
The idea to set up their own mobile catering unit came from an experience at a show, which many families will be familiar with. “We went to a show and it cost us £40 just to feed our family with a burger each, it wasn’t even very good – the burger was like cardboard,” says Mrs Parsons. “We thought, we’ve got to do something about this. We started off with just burgers and they went down well, so now we do all sorts of gourmet meats and different flavours.”
From BBQ pork belly ribs to lamb burgers, they are sure to have something to suit every taste. “Nick is a Michelin starred chef and he likes to experiment with different flavours, to break the norm,” she says. “Whereas Grandad is much more traditional – he likes his faggots, liver and kidney. They make a great team.”
The family chose the Red Ruby Devon breed because they are a native breed and full of flavour. “Certain breeds are flavourless, but the Devon beef is fantastic,” says Mrs Parsons. “The steaks have great marbling and the mince has a much more traditional taste than mince you would buy in the shops. People are picking up on the quality of what we do, traceability really matters to us and we’re really proud of what we do as a family.”
They were worried that sales might take a hit in Veganuary but it had the opposite effect. “We thought sales would dive but we did better than we have ever done before. I think it’s because people are becoming more aware of where their meat is coming from and our meat comes with a story.”
And their popularity certainly keeps the butchers busy as they butcher a good number of lambs weekly. “We put the Jacobs to a Dorset Down ram because the Jacobs are stocky and sturdy but they aren’t commercial; crossed with the Dorset Down it gives the lambs a great flavour.”
And they chose their Iron Age pigs for a similar reason. “Because of the slight bit of wild boar in them there’s more flavour and a strong red colour – the crackling goes so well,” says Mrs Parsons. “The pigs graze in their natural environment – a woodland where they can eat acorns and hazelnuts – and they’re good for uprooting brambles too.”
Shop bought pork tends to be pale and dry which is caused by stress before the pigs are butchered, she explains. “Because we do it all ourselves it’s a stress-free environment.”
Their pork patty is a bit of a showstopper, too. “The patty is basically just a flat sausage, without the casing around it – people are a bit unsure at first but once they’ve tried it they’re hooked. It has a really lovely taste.”
Mrs Parsons has been showing cattle since 2012 but her husband started around 12 years ago and the kids are actively involved, too. “They love it, they’ve chosen their showing cattle for this year – they have to help out if they want to show,” she says. “Charlotte loves getting involved and it’s really helped with her confidence as she suffers with dyslexia. She won Red Ruby Devon of the year in 2017 at the Bath & West.”
The Bath & West is the family’s favourite show; they look forward to the next year as soon as it’s over. “It’s a lovely family show – especially the cattle showing side, it’s like one big family – it’s close knit and everyone looks after one another,” explains Mrs Parsons. “Last year was a good year there as we won the Bill Roberts trophy in the native breed pairs and reserve champion with a group of three and a group of four.”
Preparation starts at Christmas with selection for the coming show year. “Mark and I have very different tastes when it comes to selection but Mark shows for the farm so we can both have our way.”
The cattle are washed and dried weekly in the run up to showing. “This is just to get them used to everything, but they’re still an animal so you’ll never be able to completely control them. They’re much more loyal than my horses though,” she laughs.
The Parsons are keen to get their farming story out to the general public, and regularly promote their family life on Facebook. “We’re trying to show the people behind the farm, we want to make people realise that farmers aren’t ogres. We try to show that all our animals have had a lovely life and that matters to people.”
And they’re spreading the love around their showing peers, with a special discount at the Bagnell Farm stand just for stockmen. There will also be burgers on sale all day served with salad or chips.