Tag Archives: domesticated

Not even a dairy heifer is that daft.

But anyway, Friday was a busy day, we sorted a lot of heifers out, moved them about, and had the vet check that those who’d been running with the bull were in calf.

So far so normal.

Then next morning I went round checking and feeding them, and put one back who had decided that a fence so low obviously wasn’t meant as a barrier. Again, so far, so normal.

Then on Sunday morning I found two different groups had tested the limits of their current boundaries and found them significantly more permeable than I had previously thought. Certainly the previous occupants of the fields hadn’t seen any opportunities.

Luckily we have domesticated cattle. One lot followed me back to their mates. The other lot (fourteen little ones of whom five had escaped) watched me feed those who hadn’t got out (the feed was placed in sight of the escapees but some distance away) and once I’d left the field they all came back through the gap to join their mates at the feed.

So Sunday morning was spent fixing fences. Where the fourteen were, I went further along the hedge and looked at another spot. I weighed it up and decided that not even a dairy heifer was going to be daft enough to try that. Climbing up a sheer slippery muddy bank with a decent fence of barbed wire and sheep netting at the top.  
Well I’ve been wrong before, and will doubtless be wrong again in the future, and I was wrong this time. Seven out of fourteen obviously decided this one was a challenge and went for it. When I fed their mates, again within visibility but a little way away, the bawling of the escapees was pathetic. Apparently they could jump the fence from below but when looked at from above it was some sort of terrifying obstacle.

So I had to flatten it down for them, and when they thought my back was turned (I’d gone home for more posts and wire) they all clambered down and joined their mates eating. So when I got back to fix it in the rain, they all innocently watched me, from the correct side of the fence.

But to be fair to dairy heifers, their understanding of the world is limited, and you have to expect them to cross the boundaries of common sense. On the other hand, I came across this.

What people in the UK may not realise is that there are teams of contractors who start the American harvest in the south, almost on the Mexican border, and as the year progresses they move steadily north, combining as they go. After all, the further north, the later the harvest. They finish somewhere in Canada playing chicken with winter.

Now some of these chaps work closely with the major machinery manufacturers. After all they might have several big combines and tractors and they will change them in every three years. Not surprisingly, because their machinery works hard. They can be combining, 24 hours a day, for days on end when harvest is ready. So some of these contractors will effectively have new machinery on standing order. It’s metaphorically got their name on it even as it proceeds along the production line.

One of these chaps was approached by a representative of the company he deals with. The company wanted him to go electric.

His response was simple. “How do I charge these combines when they are many miles from an electrical mains supply, in the middle of a cornfield, in the middle of nowhere?” “How do I run them 24 hours a day for 10 or 12 days straight when the harvest is ready, and the bad weather is coming in?” “How do I get a 50,000+ lb. combine that takes up the width of an entire road back to mains electricity 20 miles away when the battery goes dead?”

Apparently the answer is ‘we’re working on it’.

I’ve worked with silage contractors in this country where we filled the big self-propelled forage harvester direct from the fuel company’s tanker. We stopped for a full five minutes to achieve this and were back to work.

But back to the machinery company. How can somebody who is supposed to be working with farmers be so ignorant?
Of course there is a fetish that all vehicles have to go electric. Note that I use the term fetish in its traditional meaning. “An inanimate object worshipped for its supposed magical powers or because it is considered to be inhabited by a spirit.”

So why ban diesel vehicles?  Well apparently, and to quote the BBC, “A number of studies have shown that diesel cars, unlike petrol cars, spew out high levels of what are known as nitrogen oxides and dioxides, together called NOx. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is particularly nasty – recent studies have shown it can cause or exacerbate a number of health conditions, such as inflammation of the lungs, which can trigger asthma and bronchitis, and increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.”

Indeed, “In many European cities, NO2 levels are well above European Union legal limits – twice the limit in parts of London, Paris and Munich, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA).”
I tell you want, we’ll stop using combines and tractors in parts of London, Paris, and Munich.

Why are people wanting to stop the use of diesel in combines and tractors in the countryside? I’ve seen the figures for a local town near here, and it is already well below the level we are supposed to be trying to get down to.
So I would humbly venture to suggest that, in reality, the NO2 produced by agricultural machinery in rural areas is not a problem.
Indeed, great steps had been made in producing biodiesel from agricultural crops. Farms could produce their own diesel which would contain no fossil fuel, and might in point of fact have a lower carbon footprint than the electricity they want us to change to.
Now it may not seem a big deal but in reality all you’re doing is putting food prices up in an attempt to give prosperous middle class activists the feeling that they’re achieving something.
They are, they’re increasing the pain felt by the poor. Not even a dairy heifer is that daft.


There again, what do I know, speak to the expert!

As a reviewer commented, “A collection of anecdotes and observations about farming in England in the 21st century. Written by an actual farmer, this book is based on real experience and touches on a variety of subjects in a witty and engaging style. Cats, cattle, bureaucrats, workers, and the working dog all make an appearance, as do reminiscences about the old days and speculation on a possible future. This book is both entertaining and informative, a perfect diversion for the busy reader.”



The Belted Galloway is one of our traditional native breeds (although it was only formally established as a separate breed in 1921.) They’re tough cattle, and can live on poor quality pasture and can cope with unpleasant weather conditions. When I was a child, one of the farms in the village nearest to us had to do everything differently. While every other farm in the parish milked Friesian cattle and used the Hereford bull to serve those cows they didn’t want dairy heifers off, he milked Ayrshires and used a Belted Galloway bull instead of the Hereford. His livestock were no better behaved and no worse behaved than anybody else’s.
Yet our Vet was based north of us and covered a lot of the South-West of the Lake District, and had to deal with a lot of farms where they ran suckler herds. Fifty years ago, one of these herds ran Belted Galloways. Orders came down from the Ministry than this herd had to be blood tested for brucellosis (there was an eradication scheme running at the time) so all the animals had to be brought in to blood test.

Apparently it was mayhem. This herd was barely domesticated. Whereas a dairy herd will come into close contact with humanity at least twice a day, a suckler herd is a far more ‘natural’ construct. They’ll be gathered for worming, and for weaning calves and suchlike, but they can go weeks with no more human contact than somebody passing through them as they graze the open fell.
In spite of everybody’s efforts, when they were gathered in the yard to test, the young heifers cornered the dog and killed it, and the bull broke loose and was finally tested when it charged the tractor and knocked itself out. So you can see the two extremes.

In the early 1980s I went to Iceland. The Icelanders imported Belted Galloway stock (from memory before the Second World War, but I could be wrong), and they were held on a quarantine island. They developed ringworm. Iceland didn’t have ringworm and they were determined not to get it. So all the cattle were slaughtered, but one pregnant cow had her calf delivered by caesarean first. That calf was kept from all other cattle and fortunately it didn’t catch the ringworm that the others had. Thanks to Artificial Insemination, that bull calf was at one time the father of all the Beltie cattle on Iceland.

When I was there, I was shown a Belted Galloway suckler herd. Shown is the right word. They were on one hill and we were on the other, and we were told we were lucky to get so close. Seriously, they were more nervous than deer. Yet I went to farms where they had calves born to a Belted Galloway sire. These calves had been taken off their milk cow mother at a day old, were bucket reared and they were so friendly they came across to get their ears scratched. Indeed in one pen there were three calves curled up snoozing happily, with the dog making a fourth.

So it’s not that this is a breed that is destined by nature to be feral. If handled and domesticated, they’re fine. It’s just that I saw the sad story of woman trampled to death by cattle at Linchmere Common. The cattle were belties. They are managed and owned by the Lynchmere Community Grazing CIC. Now here I speak from a position of complete ignorance, I know nothing about this august body save what they say on their website. There they have photos of Belties and a comment, “Lynchmere Community Grazing CIC (Community Interest Company) is a not-for-profit, member-led organisation that manages a herd of Belted Galloway cattle on the beautiful lowland heath landscape of the Lynchmere Commons in the South Downs National Park. We are reliant on our membership to keep these amazing and useful animals safe and happy.”



Now there is a very strong conservation argument for using cattle for conservation grazing. I agree with this entirely. There is also an argument that in these places it would be nice to use native breeds, if only to help preserve them. Here to, I’m in total agreement with this argument.

But the questions I have to ask myself are, “Does the Lynchmere Community Grazing CIC ‘farm’ these animals?” “Are they handled regularly?” “Do they make an effort to ensure they remain domesticated and are friendly towards people?”

On farms we do get dangerous animals. My father was hospitalised by a cow that knocked him down as she attacked the dog. I’ve been attacked by a bull but survived because I half expected it and was ready for it. But because we know the risks, we make the effort. In the modern world, because we’re the people who have to handle any dangerous cattle, we do our best to make sure we haven’t got any dangerous cattle. Somebody complained to me that a bull I had in a field might be dangerous and attack him. I merely pointed out that he was contemplating entering that field once. I went in every day, and had to move the group, including the bull, from one field to another as they needed more grazing.

If I had anything to do with environmental grazing on an area with a lot of public access, I suspect I’d handle things differently. If the conditions were reasonably soft, I’d be tempted to buy some elderly dairy cows who had come to the end of their working life and were not in calf. I’d summer them on the area. They’re used to people and are very unlikely to cause a problem.

If whoever was laying down the law over grazing wanted native breeds then I’d probably chose something like Herefords. They’re far more placid. Not only that but I’d have somewhere on the common where there was a loading pen and I could feed them every morning. It doesn’t take a lot of feed to ensure that they think of you as ‘the nice guy’ and one of life’s positive experiences. And when I was feeding them I’d just wander through them (useful for making sure everybody is OK) and just scratch a few ears.

Of course, the problem then would be they weren’t particularly bothered by people and would probably wander up and terrify people by scratching their heads on a person’s leg, or trying to get their nose into the bag the person was carrying to see if there was anything in it worth eating. But between ourselves, I’m happy enough to be asked to educate and domesticate cattle. Somebody else can do the far more difficult job of educating and domesticating people.


There again, what do I know? Check with the experts!

As a reviewer commented, “This is a selection of anecdotes about life as a farmer in Cumbria. The writer grew up on his farm, and generations of his family before him farmed the land. You develop a real feeling for the land you are hefted to and this comes across in these stories. We hear of the cattle, the sheep, his succession of working dogs, the weather and the neighbours, in an amusing and chatty style as the snippets of Jim Webster’s countryman’s wisdom fall gently. I love this collection.”