Monday, 17 March 2014

17th March: Brackenside Cows on Holy Island

We have another 'guest' writer for the blog: John, the farmer of Brackenside Farm, a few miles from Lindisfarne NNR and the farm which is home to the cattle we borrow each winter, has written a great post about this partnership and offers a unique insight into looking after the herd whilst they are on the Reserve:

So farmers are always moaning


If you keep your eyes open at Lindisfarne NNR, in the duneland of Holy Island in the late autumn you might just catch a glimpse of a pair of happy ones when they are checking their cows among the dunes, slacks, quarries and old kilns. Now it could be that you hit a bad day, maybe their beasts are hard to find, possibly one or two missing, a sick cow that must be taken off the island for treatment or maybe they’ve skipped down onto the beach, feasted on sea rocket, had a wander round by the Snook, even paid a visit to the school yard. Then you will get the real thing - moaning farmers. Mostly, though, the release from the daily routine of feeding and bedding, the change from seeing a few old hens scratching round in the yard to godwits and red shanks prising out their living on the shoreline will put a smile on the farmers’ faces. Savour the moment.

The cows are a diverse bunch. The little red with white and roans are all bred on the edge of the Solway by putting a Hereford bull with dairy shorthorn cows. The black with the white heads are out of Friesian cows, again with a Hereford bull. There are also few Simmental crosses. They are there to do a job to improve the biodiversity by grazing off the rough grasses, bovine lawnmowers shortening and opening the sward to let the stunning variety of orchids find enough space and light to thrive in the new growing season. They love their work – a return to their genetic roots roaming the savanna - a bovine overseas adventure holiday.

But it can’t last for ever. Come the new year, their job done the cows return back home to be housed at Brackenside Farm a few miles inland. The farmers go back to being grumbly old men feeding, bedding and mucking out. Calving starts in the middle of March and once the youngsters are on their feet, spring is in the air and the scent of fresh grass fills the pastures then the cows can enjoy the outdoor life once more. Happy cows, happy farmers once more.

WARNING – We are talking about North Northumberland here. Concepts such as spring being in the air, grass filling pastures and smiling farmers are not to be relied upon.
John Barber

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