Gwyneth Wright visits Charlie Goodland for Smallholder magazine.

Charlie Goodland owns and runs C & S Meats near Sherborne in Dorset and while he so obviously enjoys his work he, equally obviously, loves and respects animals too.

Having been born into a farming family Charlie learnt to shoot as soon as he was old enough to handle a gun safely. He also learnt to skin the animals he shot and deal with the carcasses appropriately. When he left school he started work on the family farm but as soon as a job came up in a Yetminster butchers he jumped at the chance.

"At the butchers they slaughtered on two days a week" says Charlie "the killer there was an awkward, feisty old character named Maurice 'Mitch' Mitchell but we got on like a house on fire. Mind you we must have looked an odd pair - him this little old man and me a 6'2" hairy bearded yob. But he was great. He taught me everything he knew and then some, but it didn't stop him nagging me mind and being on my back the whole time making sure I was doing things right. Like him, I'm now always on the back of my lads making sure they don't let their professional standards slip. On the whole they're great & work their hearts out for me. Going back to Mitch though, I was very upset when he died, he was like a second father to me."

After the butchers Charlie went on to work as the killer in a large slaughterhouse gaining even more experience before finally setting up his own slaughterhouse in buildings on the family farm in 1996. This worked well until Charlie's father died and the farm was split up into a share for Charlie, a share for his sister and a share for death duties. At this stage Charlie decided to have a brand new, purpose built slaughterhouse on his own land and to his own specifications, which was finished in February 2004. Now employing seven men, including his son Mark, (although they do have others to call on if needed) this state of the art premises includes various pieces of gear designed by Charlie himself drawing on his many years of experience. In fact the premises has hosted visits from many vets and other professionals interested in animal welfare including a team of top vets from Poland.

The building itself looks like many another farm building from the outside but once inside (and no it doesn't smell - well only about the same as a good old fashioned butchers shop) it becomes obvious it has a definite purpose.

The animals arrive at the rear of the building and concrete ramps take them into pens. "We like the animals to arrive the day before slaughtering if at all possible" says Charlie "as it means they have plenty of time to settle down."

The next day the animals are ushered, usually one at a time, into one of the 'knocking pens' where a device similar to a cow crush (for larger animals) or a cradle (for smaller ones) may be used to hold the animal still for the actual slaughtering. For the larger animals the side of the pen then tilts from the top allowing the carcass to slide out aided by a small ramp. The legs are then fixed to shackles and the carcass transferred (by means of an electric hoist and a scaffolding bar track) to the skinning area before being gutted. One of Charlie's ingenious devices is a cradle to allow easier skinning of sheep and lambs, which saves a lot of time and effort. I was also fascinated by how the scaffolding track had clever breaks and joins to allow each different type of animal to progress smoothly on its journey. Such as pigs being diverted to the scalding tank, sheep to the skinning device etc but at the end of the day, all animals end up in one of the large cold rooms.

Charlie tends to specialise in smallholders and small farmers rather than large contracts, which means he is able to offer a more personal service to each customer. This might include special butchery requirements or just one animal coming in from a smallholder - if Charlie can help, he will. On the other hand it might mean slaughtering wild boar or water buffalo. In fact Charlie and the slaughterhouse are licenced for Bison, Water Buffalo, Cattle, Farmed Deer, Goats, Pigs, Sheep and Wild Boar. Charlie himself is also licenced for horses but this is something he tries to avoid if at all possible. "I just don't particularly like horses" he says "even though my daughter, Jemma, has qualified for and ridden at Olympia for the last three years. Obviously with the horses I will help someone out if they're really stuck but I would prefer not to do them. I also try and avoid casualty work, which I hate. Its OK when its in the slaughterhouse and everything is there for a purpose and we have a good efficient system but I hate seeing casualty animals being dragged in although, again, I will help someone out if they're stuck".

Because of the range of animals that come into C & S Meats Charlie has to have a great depth of knowledge in how to treat them when living as well as when skinning, etc. Wild boar are animals which Charlie loves "They are such cool, slick characters" he laughs " and I have the greatest of respect for them, you have to really watch out when they're about".

But what of Charlie the farmer? With only 92 acres of his own after splitting up the farm Charlie has a suckler herd of around 40 cows. One heifer, Lucky, was hand reared and still very much enjoys saying hello to Charlie as you can see in the picture. Behind Charlie and Lucky you can also see a day old calf which he was due to ear tag that afternoon.

In addition to the suckler herd Charlie and his son, Mark, run a shoot for a syndicate of friends. "We really enjoy our shoot, with me looking after the very young birds and Mark doing the keepering." says Charlie "We've got five pens and when any bigger maintenance work needs doing the syndicate all muck in together - its good fun. We've got about 17 acres of game crops including a field of millet I grew from birdseed. I'm not going to harvest it this year as it ripens so late but I might think about it in the future. I usually pick a few heads each day for my own birds to enjoy fresh though."

Charlie also has a number of ponds he has made on his land and these attract a number of bird species to the farm, which he very much enjoys. Not that Charlie is lacking in birds around the place as the list of both animals and birds that Charlie and his wife Shirley share their lives with is staggering. To start with they have a breeding pair of Eagle Owls and another of African Grey Parrots. Charlie also breeds Gouldian Finches, taking great pleasure in raising the tiny chicks to maturity. They also have quail, chicken, a peacock, ducks and geese that visit from next door. On the animal side there are the chipmunks, the rabbits (housed in Buck-ingham Palace), the guinea pigs, seven Cocker spaniels plus four Cocker spaniel puppies and one Labrador on a semi-permanent holiday.

Back to business though, and Charlie tells me how the bottom has dropped out of the skin market, which forms an important side to the slaughter business. "A year or so ago we were getting as much as £8 for a lamb skin, now it can be as little as 10p" he says "while cattle have gone down from about £30 to £12 or £13. People don't realise that we won't be able to subsidise this for much longer as this helped keep the cost of slaughtering down. If the market continues to fall we might end up paying the skin man to take them away which will have to be added to the cost of slaughter. We already have to factor in the huge amounts we pay to the people who dispose of the blood and offal."

So, what's in the future for C & S Meats. "More of the same I suppose" grins Charlie "although it would be nice if we didn't have a slump in business each spring. I suppose this is the downside to specialising in the smaller producer as, understandably, people want to get their freezer's stocked up for Christmas. Unfortunately for us though this means we can be working until all hours in the autumn and early winter especially if there are a lot of joints to be vac-packed which takes an absolute age and costs a lot more. Then, just a few weeks later, we'll be twiddling our thumbs. But I wouldn't change my life for the world" Charlie admits "We're good at what we do and I love it".

If you are interested in using the services of C & S meats they can be contacted on 01963 210764.