Adam’s an­i­mals

Cat­tle of­fer far more than beef and dairy, ex­plains farmer and Coun­try­file pre­sen­ter Adam Hen­son; they also con­trib­ute to the con­ser­va­tion of some of Bri­tain’s most cher­ished land­scapes

Countryfile Magazine - - Month In The Country -

In the fight to re­store some of Bri­tain’s an­cient land­scapes and spe­cial wildlife habi­tats, a black and white army is on the munch. Herds of hun­gry cat­tle have been re­leased in some of our most pic­turesque and en­vi­ron­men­tally im­por­tant lo­ca­tions to sim­ply do what comes nat­u­rally: eat the grass. The black-and­white bovines are Belted Galloway cat­tle and they are bril­liant nat­u­ral lawn­mow­ers. These amaz­ing graz­ers have been suc­cess­ful all over the coun­try, from Tarn Hows in the Lakes to Hast­ings Coun­try Park in Sus­sex.

NA­TURE’S LAWN­MOW­ERS

When most of us think of cat­tle, we pic­ture two types of an­i­mal: spe­cial­ist dairy cows for milk and pure beef breeds for meat. But that’s a rel­a­tively re­cent view, with the de­vel­op­ment of high-yield­ing dairy breeds and prime meat mar­kets only be­com­ing a com­mer­cial ne­ces­sity im­me­di­ately af­ter the Sec­ond World War. In fact, if we go back 100 years or more, the role of farmed cat­tle was very dif­fer­ent. Many tra­di­tional breeds were du­alpur­pose; in other words, the fe­males were milked for the dairy and the males ma­tured and sent to the butcher for beef. But they ex­celled in nei­ther. It was also nor­mal for some bulls to be used as work­ing an­i­mals; ro­bust oxen were per­fect for car­ry­ing sup­plies or pulling ploughs and heavy wag­gons, earn­ing their ‘liv­ing trac­tor’ ep­i­thet.

Now in the 21st cen­tury, a com­pletely new role has been cre­ated for many old Bri­tish breeds: con­ser­va­tion graz­ing. By eat­ing the grass and keep­ing the sward down, the cat­tle al­low wild­flow­ers to thrive. The blooms then at­tract bees, but­ter­flies and other pol­li­na­tors, which in turn im­prove the di­ver­sity of wildlife in the area, give new plant species a chance to ger­mi­nate and im­prove the all-round qual­ity of the soil. An­other ben­e­fit is the grow­ing mar­ket for pas­ture-fed meat, which can pro­vide a use­ful in­come for farm­ers who con­ser­va­tion-graze their herds and don’t sup­ple­ment their diet with grain or con­cen­trate pel­lets. This beef sells at a tidy pre­mium.

HARDY HERDS

The her­itage of the mod­ern Belted Galloway is a bit of a mys­tery. There are no ac­cu­rate records of the breed’s ori­gins but the best guess is that shaggy-coated black Galloway cat­tle from south-west Scot­land were cross­bred with Dutch Belted Lak­en­velders in the 1600s.

A few years ago, I in­tro­duced a new Belted Galloway bull to my herd of na­tive breeds at my home in the Cotswolds, which in­cluded three Beltie cows and their calves. Just like some of my other live­stock who have be­come an­i­mal-celebri­ties af­ter ap­pear­ing on Coun­try­file, Cracker the bull en­joyed his fame and no­to­ri­ety. I think view­ers rel­ished see­ing him mis­be­have and the prob­lems he caused me by ru­in­ing fences.

I’d bought him from my old friend Neil He­sel­tine. His herd of Belted Gal­loways con­ser­va­tion graze in the York­shire Dales. I re­mem­ber once help­ing him move them to new pas­ture when we were caught in a sud­den bl­iz­zard. While Neil and I were bat­tered by the howl­ing wind and swirling snow, the cat­tle stood upright, fac­ing into the storm as if noth­ing was hap­pen­ing; the per­fect ex­am­ple of what a solid, hardy and re­li­able breed they are.

Ask Adam: What topic would you like to know more about? Email your sug­ges­tions to [email protected]­try­file.com

Bel­ties are a good-na­tured, sturdy breed

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