By Karen Carruth

They maybe didn’t realise it, as they went about their respective careers, but the pull back to farming in some form was strong for Anna and Gavin Brown of Springfield Game and Country Meats, near Penicuik.

They have both taken an unexpected turn in their successful careers in order to run a meat and game company from their home, Springfield Farm.

Springfield Game and Country Meats produce and supply a range of meat and game products to the general public via farmers markets and through the connections they have made with local restaurants. They are also finalists in the Rural Farming Awards 2019 in the Artisan Food section.

Anna says: “We bought the farm in 2010, our train of thought initially was to build the livery yard to ensure a regular income and then start farming with traditional breeds that could cope outdoors on poor farmland, as we had no sheds to house farm animals. During our first year we purchased a small number of sheep to get us going and in due course that expanded to Highland cattle and once we built a shed, we purchased Simmental cattle and Texel sheep which we now show.”

At this point Anna was working in a senior position in a bank and Gavin was, and still is, running his successful business SportsMasters UK Ltd, which builds natural and artificial sports surfaces, and takes up a lot of his time.  What was obvious to them both was that it takes time to build up a profitable livestock business and they needed something that would have a quicker turnover.

Having both been brought up in farming families, Gavin thought he would treat his lovely wife to a special gift for Christmas a couple of years ago. Two Saddleback pigs, which were pregnant! Anna, quite rightly, didn’t speak to him for two days. In no time at all the piglets were born - all 22 of them, which meant that they now had quite a lot more than two to deal with. There was method in his madness as they did need something on the farm that could produce income in the short term.

First off, they tried to find a market for the new additions and it became clear that selling the weaners was making them little more than pennies.  The idea was then floated of trying to make a brand of their own and selling their produce to farmers markets. That’s exactly what they did, and it has been a great success. Selling to the public direct has meant conforming to the council’s various rules and regulations which hasn’t always been easy, however, they realised that working with the council rather than against them was the way forward.

They are taking home grown, outdoor reared traditional breeds, which are allowed to mature at their own rate, to the market, and customers can’t get enough of it.

Farmers markets might not be what they once were, but thankfully the various markets that Anna attends can see them sell 80 packs of sausages within a couple of hours.

Initially, they took lots of different cuts of meat to the market, but it seems that customers really just want sausages and burgers. Anna feels that in the main, customers are happier with the convenience and quickness of the sausages and burgers. Cuts of meat e.g. rolled shoulders, legs etc are considered to be more of a 'special occasion' purchase, so with a 'smell what sells' approach, they have stuck with sausages and burgers.

They made a conscious decision to use all the meat from the carcase in their sausages and burgers and it has made a huge difference to the taste and succulence of the product. So much so, that when customers taste the produce that they cook on the stand, they always have a sale. 

Initially they worried about whether customers would mind that they sold their sausages and burgers frozen, but it hasn’t been a problem at all. Regular customers come along now with their cool bags to pick up their monthly shop.

Anna continues: “The pork meat is available all year round giving customers a steady supply of their staple shopping and this is then boosted with seasonal lamb, game and beef.  When we go to the markets people just love the story of the farm and that we can basically tell them exactly which part of the farm the pigs are being reared on. People like to know that they have had a nice life.”

Their best seller is the pork and black pudding sausage that is currently sizzling in front of me in the couple’s kitchen. It is delicious. A pork link with black pudding running through the middle of it.

They also sell the traditional pork sausage and a pork and leek combination, also the venison sausages are popular. Their burger range has lamb & mint burgers, venison burgers, pork & apple and sweet chilli pork burgers. Other cuts are available on request.

The flavours and different products have been created in collaboration with Neil from the local butchers, Martin Baird of Melrose. He has been an amazing source of information for them as they started up the business.

Their range of wild venison is sourced from local estates, shot by a member of the Scottish Deer Society. The other game that they sell is also sourced locally, that being duck, pheasant and partridges, all sold oven ready.

They are both genuinely surprised about how quickly the brand has taken off and how popular the meat has been. They have already managed to create links with local restaurants who are happy to promote local food producers. You will see their sausages on the menu at the Leadburn Inn, Penicuik; Horseshoe at Eddleston; Stable Bar, Mortonhall; and Penicuik House. 

Anyone who knows Gavin will know that he is an ideas man, as we chat he throws ideas around about what a terrific location they have, and how it would be an idea to open a farm shop and possibly a café as well. Anna, the practical element of this relationship, just nods along as he gives us a list of different scenarios that would work for them here at Springfield.

Ideally, Gavin would love to be able to spend more time on the farm side of the business rather than SportMasters, but he feels he is still needed at the moment, so is juggling having to work on both.

Anna is working hard on the meat business which is growing beyond their expectations, it has been hard work, building a business up from scratch with no outside help or grants to speak of. The nomination for best Artisan Food producer at the Scottish Rural Awards has been a welcome jolt of recognition.

As it is, it is time for another batch of sausages and burgers to be packed up and taken to the local farmers markets ready for the weekend’s customers to come along and buy their sausage fix.

See Springfield Game and Country Meats at Penicuik Farmers Market, West Linton Farmers Market and Musselburgh Farmers Market.