Written for Cumbria Life.
As we hinted in our last article, calving was imminent and sure enough, the first three calves of 2021 have arrived. All are from our Whitebred Shorthorn cows.
Did you know Cumbria has a distinct regional cattle breed, the Cumberland White? We also once had a Cumberland pig but sadly they became extinct in nineteen sixty due to the drive for leaner meat and standardisation. The Cumberland cattle have faired slightly better, now called the Whitebred Shorthorn, they are primarily used to cross with our neighbouring cows the Galloway to produce a very hardy hybrid cow the Blue Grey. Their distinct pure white colour make them easy to spot out on the hillside and many farms would have at least a couple of white cows in the herd for this reason. Black, Red and Grey cows are difficult to spot from distance on a Lakeland hillside so a pure white cows is very handy. Much like the Cumberland pig, they started falling out of favour due to the introduction of the faster growing leaner continental breeds. But their extremely docile nature and thriftiness means they could play a more prominent role as farmers move to a more environmentally focussed way of farming. With ten cows, ours Whitebred Shorthorn herd is one of the larger pedigree herds in the country and there are quite a few small herds dotted about around Cumbria and the Borders. In the coming years I do hope that they will become as common place as our iconic Herdwick sheep, that everyone loves so much. It would be great to see the profile raised of this undervalued local breed. It’s currently in the ‘vulnerable’ category of the RBST Watchlist, but with a few new herds in Cumbria recently I hope it’s future is brighter.
Next month: we will have started lambing so not much sleep for the next couple of months.
After the plodding pace of the beginning of the year, life is beginning to pick up. I feel like I’m waking up from a particularly long hibernation so it has taken a while to put my books down and get my boots on. My fancy booted bantams, Lemon Millefleur Sablepoots, have started laying which is very exciting. I bought a little group of them last summer on a late night internet shopping spree. I deeply regretted it the next morning but didn’t want to let the seller down.
“What do you want bantams for?” said John.
“They looked cute in the pictures,” I moaned, which was no good reason for a hundred mile round trip to collect them.
However, now they’re here, and realising they ‘spark joy’ as Marie Kondo would say, I’m delighted with them. They eat a lot less and don’t make as much mess as our regular size hens and their eggs are not that much smaller so they are a great addition to our menagerie. And even John loves them.
It’s still a bit early to switch on the incubator and I know that once I do, my hatching addiction will kick in, so I’m holding back. Once we have chicks and poults, I need a safe warm place for them to grow but because we’re just about to start building works, there’s nowhere for them away from inquisitive cat paws and jaws. The turkeys haven’t started laying yet and I already have pre-orders for hatching eggs.
We’ve recently had Peter Wright (The Yorkshire Vet) on the farm. He was filming a segment about our ‘cash cow’ Honeysuckle for the Channel 5 programme This Week on The Farm. Honeysuckle, my Jersey cow, had a calf born blind in December, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to ask for his advice on Bramble, the blind calf. Peter had a look at this very sweet natured little calf, who is perfect in every way, but she just can’t see. He told us it wasn’t a hereditary condition, it was just one of those rare occasions when cells don’t develop as they should. Peter suggested that once she’s weaned, we find a home for her on a care farm or somewhere where she’s not in a big herd where she might be bullied. I would love that for her. Peter then wanted to know about my soap business and how I use Honeysuckle’s milk as one of the ingredients. He said that it was a shame that farms have to diversify to make farming viable. From my point of view, however, I don’t consider what I do as any kind of hardship. It means I get to work on the farm as opposed to a job off the farm as many farmers or the partners of farmers have to do. My side of the business has doubled our turnover so the overall business is in a much healthier and robust position which means we can breathe a bit easier. I get to be creative and it gives me a great feeling of pride to add value to what the farm produces. A traditional family farm would always have relied on diverse income streams to keep their business resilient. Plus I find complexity far more interesting to work in than simplicity.
Next month: we will be preparing for the new arrivals in the lambing shed and visitors to our accommodation sites.