Sheep & Cows

The clutch of texel tups on our field were taken off in May. They’d been scratching vigorously and moulting freely of late. Some I thought looking more dead than alive in repose. Note to self; must gather droppings and fleece pieces to add to the store building in our new wood planked open top compost boxes. they look great and fitted together neatly. Standing near the new greenhouse all looks right with our little gardening world…Reality bites back as I set to clearing apple mint from in the bed by the pond. Never realised its roots were so pervasive or its progress so rapid. Uncovered lost grasses Kim had put in last year, alongside lily of the valley and hostas. Hard at work on hands and knees I slowly become aware of grunts and rustling in the greenery. Look up to see a cow chewing the young willow that grows by the field fence. We’ve not had cattle quartered before and such edible niceties were always out of the reach of sheep.

Stabiliser is a souless name for such good looking and well conformed beasts. They are an artificial commercial construct, bred in America, blending the ideal characteristics of a handful of breeds and franchised out to farmers in this country. Morrisons supermarkets have a contract with the Stabiliser farmers which meets market demand for smaller leaner steaks. Our neighbours have invested, built new housing and got a bull last year to service their heifers. Now the herd is divided in two with the older cattle in with the lambs and ewes in the big pasture across the road while the suckler cows and recent calves are on this side with us. Our four acre field has a trickle of water at its lower end, sufficient to supply a small cohort. A wetter than average May/ June has secured the larger spring that supplies our two properties as well as meeting the demands of the beasts, and cows are thirsty creatures. Bovines chew the sward differently than ovines which evens out the grazing and keeps the land in better heart. Different offer on the dung as well of course…Increasing the chance of mushrooms next year with any luck. I’ve noticed that most evenings each herd converges in adjacent corners of their respective ranges to stare companionably – communicate? – across the width of lane that separates them.

Cows are certainly curious and that can sometimes be intimidating, occasionally dangerous, especially when calves are at heel or a dog is involved, on or off the lead. The other day I met a German hiker at the gate who said she’d had a run in with a suckler herd back along the Pennine Way which had left her very concerned about crossing the field with the herd clustered on the path. I sympathised. A recent walk in Devon had seen us making a wide detour from the field path for the same reason. I walked her through our garden and pasture to the point where she could rejoin the long distance trail, out of any potential harm’s way. She was relieved and I was happy to help her on her way.

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