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Sustainable food chain from Murrays’ family butchers

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ONE of the longest estab-lished shops in Northern Ireland can be found in the picturesque village of Killyleagh, County Down.

This is the butcher shop owned by three generations of the Murray family – Alfie senior, Alfie junior and Ryan.

The shop was established over 56 years ago and has continued in the family until today. They are award-winning butchers selling top end beef, home farm produced lamb and turkeys as well as pork and chicken. They also offer a large range of deli foods, including cooked meats, ready meals, sau-sage rolls, etc.

They have recently found an additional niche to their business selling pre-packed products thr-ough corner shops and Spar groceries under their own Alfie Murray brand.

In this age of the buzzword of ‘sustainability,’ they have reached a natural situation which does deliver absolutely to that principle, one stop from the farm to the consumer with locally produced product with

virtually no travel miles and min-imum inputs.

A major part of the beef, lamb and turkeys are all raised on their own 50 acre farm in Ballygowan. They see this as a vital part of delivering the top quality product and taste for which their clients are looking, as well as value.

Their aim is grass-reared beef and lamb with minimum inputs and they do this to their own high quality welfare standards. They are particularly keen on the quality of their grassland and are using high sugar swards with added clover to deliver maximum production from grass with minimum use of fertilisers.

They have worked hard on their lamb production system to maximise the number of lambs born into their closed flock and are using a ewe produced from a Blue Faced Leicester ram on a Suffolk Cheviot ewe.

They had been using continental rams which had produced a good carcase but were unhappy with the length of time it took for lambs to finish. They needed lamb from their March lambing flock for the shop as quickly as possible in the season and had often been left buying in lamb in the early part of the season to cover that shortfall.

So they decided to think a little outside the box and looked for a type of ram that could improve the finishing time but also deliver the sort of carcase and quality of meat they really valued.

Their first trial in 2019 was a Hampshire cross ram and that worked so well they decided to go the full hog and invest in a pure-bred high index ram.

They bought this at a society online sale in June 2020 and now have the first crop of lambs on the ground and being sold through their shop.

They considered that the cred-ibility of recorded EBVs had im-

proved so much that it was important to use this information when making their selection and indeed the ram they bought was in the top five per cent.

Alfie Murray junior is exceptionally pleased with the lambs they are now producing.

He commented: “This spring was exceptionally challenging with the drought and we were amazed how well the Hampshire cross lambs held their condition and thrived with so little grass.

“Even with the drought the lambs were finishing much more quickly than previously and we had lambs to use from 12 weeks of age.

“We are also delighted with the quality of lamb meat we are now producing from this cross. This year’s lambs have killed out really well with a high proportion of red meat.

“The carcases are grading to, what for us, is our optimum grades of U3 and R3 and these are the grades that satisfy our customers best.

“We are finding also an excellent colour of meat and a very nice fat cover at our ideal target weight of 19kg.

“We are really surprised at the great skins on our lambs. We usually associate that with finer muscle fibre and more tender meat. Our customers have also been very complementary on the taste quality.

“We now intend taking this intro-duction of the Hampshire further into our breeding programme and have kept back some ewe lambs to run on as hogs to see if we can further improve the speed of finishing whilst maintaining the quality and taste of our lamb.”

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