After my visit to meet James and his Murray Greys last week, I spent the next few days going through all the photos that I had taken. James's Fenland herd are extremely photogenic, they didn't seem to mind my presence at all and were extremely docile. Having never come across the breed before, I am now really taken with them. I particularly love the varying tones of grey that they come in, they look very elegant and sleek with the back drop of the green grass.
There are so many different shades and tones within the coats of the Murray Greys, in some lights they almost look dappled. I really liked their delicate feminine features, as with my style of simple printing having distinctive features always works better for the final outcome.
This photo only shows a small example of the variations in colours and tones of the Murray Greys, I was finding it hard to decide which tone of grey to choose for my print. In the end I have decided to I like the light grey the best, especially on the cows it is very feminine and pretty.
My original pencil drawing of a Murray Grey cow.
My final hand stamped print of a Murray Grey cow.
I would like to say another BIG thank you to James for taking the time to introduce me to his Fenland herd of Murray Greys and for sharing his story! If you you would like to find out more about the Murray Grey breed please do take a look at their website > www.murray-grey.co.uk.
This week I took a trip to Lakenheath in Suffolk to meet James and his herd of Murray Grey cattle. Until last month, I have to admit that I had never come across the Murray Grey as a breed, however I was lucky enough to meet James at the Royal Norfolk Show. We were next to each other in the cattle lines and ended up competing against each other as well! James also kindly gave me one of the Murray Grey society booklets so that I could learn a little more about the breed before I did this blog. I was really excited to meet James's whole herd and find out a little bit more about his reasons for choosing the breed.
James's with his oldest cow, Emily.
What first attracted you to Murray Grey Cattle?
I first came across Murray Greys purely by accident. I was about 11 years old and had been plaguing my parents for ages to let me have a dog, when Dad finally relented and gave me the choice of either having a dog, or having a couple of cattle to graze a small paddock we had near the house.
Of course, I chose to have the cattle and a farmer friend of Dad’s went off to Bury St Edmunds cattle market and came back with two Murray Grey heifers. I hadn’t even heard of the breed at that time, but as soon as they arrived I fell in love with them and their lovely quiet nature. And that was how it all started – the rest is history. I’ve loved the breed ever since.
What is the history of the breed?
Murray Greys originated in Australia – in the Murray Valley around 1905. They were a cross between two British native breeds, an Aberdeen Angus crossed with a roan Shorthorn. So they are actually imported cattle of native British origin. The Australian Murray Grey Society was formed in the early 1960s, and the first cattle were imported into Britain in the early 1970s.
Murray Greys are not a rare breed but you don’t see many around, where are they most popular?
Sadly there aren’t as many herds in East Anglia as there used to be, most of the larger herds are in the west country and Wales. I’m confident with the focus now turning more towards grass-fed, low-cost beef production that the breed will increase in popularity once again.
They are still incredibly popular in Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada. In Australia, Murray Greys continually dominate beef taste test competitions and over the past decade, Murray Grey steers and carcases have won every major commercial competition in Australia.
The Murray Grey originated in Australia.
How long have you kept Murray Greys and how many do you have?
I got my first two Murrays back in 1986, but I started my current herd (Fenland Murray Greys) about 9 years ago when I bought a really nice two year old heifer from Lin Roberts who owned Troytown Murray Greys. Sadly Lin died last year, but half of my herd is from her breeding lines, so I’ll always be grateful to her. I’ve also had a lot of help and support over the years from a local friend and neighbour, Granger Harrison. I now have a herd of 19 cattle.
How large would you like to grow your herd?
I can’t really increase my herd much more than what I have now. I have about 14 acres of grass, so I do have to limit the number I can keep (especially if we get another dry summer like last year).
A few of James's 2019 calves, Murray Greys can vary in colour from a silver grey to a darker, dun grey.
The youngest calf of 2019.
Murray Greys make excellent mothers, they are milky cows and calve easily.
Have you always been involved with cattle and farming?
I’ve always had a keen interest in farming and livestock since childhood. My grandfather and father both farmed a small acreage, so I think it’s in my blood.
My herd is only a hobby though, I work full time for the Department for Education in Cambridge during the week, so the cattle are my evening and weekend job.
Murray Grey’s are beef cattle; do you sell your beef locally?
I have sold a few steers to Anglia Quality Meats, but I’ve kept all of the females which have gone into the herd, and I’ve also sold a few bulls locally as stock bulls.
We met at the Norfolk Show this year competing against each other, why is it important to you to show your cattle?
I usually do about three shows a year - the Royal Three Counties in Malvern (which is the Murray Grey National Show); the Royal Berkshire in Newbury; and the Royal Norfolk. I think it’s important to get the breed seen in the show rings and to remind people how good the breed has become. It’s also great fun to show and can get quite addictive – not to mention the social side of the shows.
The Murray Grey produce high quality beef, which is well marbled and can be finished off grass.
Do you have any advice for someone interested in getting into Murray Grey’s?
I would say go for it! The Murrays are a real pleasure to keep. They have a lovely docile temperament, they are easy calving, they finish well on grass and do well on rough grazing, they’re naturally polled, and produce some great well- marbled beef. Whether you have a smallholding or a large farm, I think the breed has a lot to offer.
The British Murray Grey Society website is: www.murray-grey.co.uk
These two cows are called are called, Cola and Candy, they are 'best friends' and I really enjoyed watching them and just observing their interactions between each other!
I would like to say a BIG thank you to James who kindly took the time to introduce me to his Fenland herd of Murray Greys. I know how busy James is working full time and looking after his cattle, so I was very appreciative of his time. I have been really taken by the Murray Greys having not heard of them until a few weeks ago! As well as being large fleshy cattle with a lot of presence, they also have fantastic temperaments and were completely unfazed by me in their field. I have really enjoyed learning about a completely new breed and if you would like to learn more please take a look at the Murray Grey website >>> www.murray-grey.co.uk.
After such a brilliant and inspirational visit to 'The Calf at Foot Dairy' I began going through all the photos that I had taken. (I took over 400 photos, it was a lot to work through!) I couldn't help but just continue to take photos of these gentle and serene cows. They have to be some of the easiest animals I have photographed, I think partly as they are so well handled they did not feel threatened by my presence in the yard or feel that I was invading their personal space. They didn't run away or fret when I was kneeling down or approaching them as they nursed their calves, sometimes it felt as though they were posing for me!
Jersey cows are so pretty and 'dainty', they have such an elegant and graceful presence which you just sense when you are around them. With their delicate features and distinctive facial markings they have such a strong sense of character. Not one cow looks the same, every cow has its own individual and unique characteristics and markings.
As you can see from these three pictures the colours and marking can vary so much from cow to cow.
This is my pencil sketch of one of the Jersey cows.
This is the hand stamped print I created, using the shapes within my pencil drawings to create the stamps and then referring back to my photographs for the colours. I am really pleased with the print, as I feel it translates the personality and character of the Jersey cow. I think her eyes show the kindness of this docile breed, and the soft textural nature of the print suits their gentle nature.
I would like to say another HUGE thank you to Fiona, Zoe, Amy and their wonderful volunteers who made me feel so welcome and for sharing their story with me. If you want to find out more about The Calf at Foot Dairy please take a look at their website www.the-calf-at-foot-dairy.co.uk or follow them on Instagram @thecalfatfootdairy. They give fantastic daily updates on the day to day running of the farm!
Last week I had a fantastic trip over to Somerleyton in Suffolk to visit the extraordinary 'Calf at Foot Dairy'. I have been following this idyllic micro dairy on Instagram for a while now and I was so excited when the owner, Fiona Provan, said I could pop over and write a blog. The ethos behind the 'Calf at Foot Dairy' is based upon the well-being of the cows, being calf-friendly and cow-kind which is summed up by their strap line; 'You can taste the kindness'. I was absolutely fascinated to see their day in action as they do everything from start to finish here, from milking the cows in the morning to bottling up the raw milk ready for customers in the afternoon!
'Calf at Foot Dairy' was started in 2012 by the very passionate and inspiring Fiona Proven, who now has her 'Dairy Angels', Zoe and Amy running day to day life on the farm. As well as her 'Dairy Angels' Fiona has a constant string of volunteers and work experience students who share the same passion for cow welfare, the environment and for raw milk!
As the 'label' says 'Calf at Foot Dairy', this micro dairy is unlike the stereo typical 'mega dairy' as all the cows get to keep their calves, with Zoe and Amy only taking half of the cows milk once a day, in the morning, leaving the rest of the milk for the calf. Watching the milking was so interesting for me, seeing each cow jump up to their name. They are milked one by one to make sure extreme cleanliness is kept at all times. Then they are let straight back out into the yard and reunited with their calves, they have no anxiety about leaving their calves as they know they will be there waiting for them. Having beef cattle myself, we always keep our calves on our cows so I understand the strong bond a cow builds with her calf. It really was so special to see the attention they give their calves on their return and then one by one all the calves take their turn for breakfast off their Mum.
A cow grooming her calf after being milked in the micro parlour.
The cows relaxing in the sun after being milked, in the afternoon they are then walked down to graze on the marshes.
One cow sheltering from the morning sun.
When did you first come up with the idea of the ‘Calf at Foot Dairy’?
It was something I’ve always wanted to do, but The Calf at Foot Dairy seed germinated in 2009
What breed of cow do you use for your milk production, and what made you choose this particular breed?
The herd is mostly made up of Jersey cows, but we have crossed a few Red Polls in for robustness, helping to cut down on inputs. I chose the Jersey breed because my father recommended them when I bought my first house cow for my young family. The reason being, Jersey cows are quiet and small but with a big personality. They are easy to handle, very affectionate, easy calving and they weren’t so high yielding then and the milk is delicious and very creamy.
How many milking cows do you have?
We have around 18 milking cows but are only milking 14 a day due to some cows nursing their calves exclusively. We do not take milk if the calf needs it.
As well as pure Jersey cows, Fiona also has a hand full of Jersey x Red Poll cows to just 'beef' them out a little bit.
What does the average day consist of on your farm?
In the warmer months we gather the cows from the marsh at sunrise (too flipping early), then it’s up the lane ready for milking. The cows are milked just once a day and one at a time, coming into the parlour when their name is called. After milking, the parlour is washed down and the milking machine is cleansed by mid-morning. All the milk is bottled and cooled, the washing up is done and the bottling shed is cleaned down. We muck out all the sheds and yards/lounging areas and straw/bed up with pitch forks and barrow. At around lunchtime we pack up the milk into delivery boxes ready for the collection driver/courier in the afternoon. Sometime in the afternoon/ when the cows decide they are ready, we walk them back down to their grazing marshes for the night. We return to the yard to finish off any mucking out, filling feeders, checking water troughs etc for the morning. The self-service customer fridges are restocked. Office work has to be squeezed in and around the farming chores taking up about 4hrs per day.
During the winter months the cows stay on the yard and the extra work is more mucking out and more feeders need filling (hay/haylage)
The idea behind your whole business is the health, happiness and welfare of the cows; how does your milk yields compare to ‘normal’ dairy farming?
Yield is not a priority to us so we don’t compare (but much less if we did, we probably get a third of the milk in comparison)
Each cow is milked one by one in the micro parlour, with each cow being thoroughly cleaned and the surrounding area to make sure that everything is as clean as possible which is extremely important when you are supplying raw milk! This is Zoe one of the 'Dairy Angels' in action.
Why do you feel it is so important for the cows to keep their calves until weaning?
To make a cow have a calf to produce milk exclusively for us is going against nature and is one of the most extreme forms of animal exploitation. This is the whole essence of why I started the dairy; if you look on the website you will see the reasons.
A cow feeding and grooming her calf after being milked in the micro dairy.
You sell your raw milk directly from the farm, which is the lowest food miles possible! Do you have any other outlets for your raw milk?
Yes, as well as our 24/7 self-service farm gate shop, we also have an online national delivery service. So we can send milk all over the UK for next day delivery!
Here is Amy, one of the 'Dairy Angels' seperating the mornings fresh milk, making milk and cream.
Once seperated the milk and cream is bottled up, left to cool and then sold from the farm or sent off by a next day courier all over the UK.
There aren't many shops you can go to where you can see the product being created, customers are in fact encouraged to come and buy straight from the farm. I witnessed one customer purchasing milk early in the morning whilst Zoe was milking. You don't get a better shopping experience than that!
What obstacles have you come up along the way with your business?
Being told it’s a ridiculous idea to keep the calves with the cows.
Misogyny, finding money/land/farm, bad landlords, no locals doing things differently so advice and understanding is hard to come by as it’s all conventional thinking.
Where do you plan to take your business next?
To use more regenerative holistic farming methods. As well as cutting down on inputs and plastic use.
Jersey steers enjoying the sunshine, these are finished off on grass and sold at the small farm shop for beef.
You are a first generation farmer; do you have any advice to someone looking to get into farming that is not from a farming background?
To make sure you are 100% committed because you will fail if you have any other hopes/dreams/aspirations as livestock farming is a hard and relentless slog and if you have another calling you ain’t gonna last. However if you know this is your calling then don’t ever let anyone convince you that you can’t do it, follow your dreams. Surround yourself with support from positive people who believe in you and your dream. Don’t be put off by other people and remember when/if they laugh it’s either because they do not understand or they feel threatened. Focus and specialise on the one thing that grabs you the most, put everything into that and only once you have perfected that, then think about introducing the other things that will compliment it. So for me the one thing that I really ever wanted to do was high welfare dairying. I loved and wanted to do so many other things but I have learnt over the years that by spreading myself too thinly I can’t be effective at anything. The other thing that grabs me is regenerative agriculture and holistic grazing methods, and only now after 7 years of becoming a registered dairy business I can think about implementing these to compliment my dairy and restore, soils, and the ecology in the environment I work.
Also make sure you have the right animal and system for your environment and use social media well, to sell your story and your product.
'Dairy Angel' - Zoe
'Dairy Angel' - Amy
Founder - Fiona
I took home a bottle of their AMAZING raw milk which has been thoroughly enjoyed by me and my family!
I would like to say a HUGE thank you to Fiona, Zoe, Amy and their wonderful volunteers who made me feel so welcome and for sharing their story with me. I came away feeling completely inspired and in awe of the amazing work that they all do, with such passion, knowledge and enthusiasm. I just hope I have managed to portray their incredible hard work and compassion for the animals they work with through this blog. If you want to find out more about The Calf at Foot Dairy please take a look at their website www.the-calf-at-foot-dairy.co.uk or follow them on Instagram @thecalfatfootdairy.
I had such a fantastic visit to the Pointer Farm, I don't think I have ever taken so many photos in one day. I focused on the majestic English Longhorn cattle, but Jamie did kindly introduce me to all the different breeds which are also at the Pointer Farm. I came back to the studio with so much inspiration! It was fantastic, as well as the Longhorns, I have drawn from three of the different breeds of sheep and the Middle White pigs.
The Longhorns do not have to have symmetrical horns, and no two cows have the same horns. They come in quite literally any shape and size, going in any direction they fancy! This meant it was really hard to choose which cow to draw from, but I decided on this cow as she just caught my eye. I loved her delicate mottled markings and her horns are beautiful.
My pencil sketch of the Longhorn cow.
This is my final print of the Longhorn cow, I am really pleased with the outcome. The Longhorn is so very distinctive and they have so much character and I think that this has translated through the print.
As I said before Jamie works with 5 different breeds of sheep at the Pointer Farm and I have drawn from three! It was hard to choose!
The Valais Blackness Sheep - these have been recently sheared and are usually REALLY fluffy. I can't wait to draw them when their fleeces have grown back!
Sketch and print of Exmoor Horn Ewe.
My new favourite sheep - the Greyface Dartmoor, I loved drawing this ewe, she had the most amazing curly fleece.
Finally... The Middle White Pig!
I would like to say another BIG thank you to Jamie, for taking the time to show we around the amazing Pointer farm. I have really enjoyed putting this blog together and drawing so many different breeds. I certainly learnt a lot and gathered so much inspiration that I can't wait to use on products in the future. If you would like to learn more about Pointer Pedigrees take a look at their website > www.pointerpedigrees.com and follow them on Instagram > @pointerpedigrees.
Last week I travelled to Wotton in Buckinghamshire, to meet Jamie Brewer the head stockman at Pointer Pedigrees. Pointer Pedigrees is home to cattle, sheep and pigs (including many different breeds). However, in this blog I have mainly focused on the majestic Longhorn Cattle which were originally established in 2006 on the farm. I had a great morning meeting all the various residents of the farm and was especially lucky with the weather! The Longhorns are such an iconic native breed and it was great to catch up with Jamie and hear about the progression of the breed over the years.
How long have you been working with Longhorn Cattle?
I moved to Buckinghamshire in 2013, I was drawn to David’s (my boss) enthusiasm so I knew it was the right decision for me to come and work with a breed I hadn’t worked with before It was a challenge to get to the top. It was also a great opportunity for me to shine, with the backing and support to get where we wanted to with the breed.
Where do the Longhorn originate from and what is their history?
History is being made by me!... The Longhorns are beef cattle that originate from Craven, in the North of England. The breed was initially used as a draught animal, which its body is well suited for; the milk was also collected for butter and cheese because of its high butterfat content. The notable long, curved horns that serve to distinguish this breed from others can make an individual appear aggressive, although by temperament they are usually friendly.
What would you say the most attractive attributes of the Longhorn’s are?
People seem to see a lot of negatives to the Longhorns, the horns are probably one of the first things to put people off. People need extra space because of the horns and they carry the negative stigma of many native breeds of being slow finishing. However, with the improvements within the breed this is no longer the case, if farmed correctly. There is such improvement in the breed now people look past the horns and see a good suckler cow. They have a strong maternal instinct, easy calving, high milk yield; they flesh out well with the right food. They will finish on grass (turning grass into flesh) better than a continental, and finishing quicker than most native breeds. Higher profit margins within a beast, with not as much supplement feeding.
How many Longhorn’s do you now have in the Pointer herd?
We have 42 Longhorn cows, 15 two year old heifers which being introduced to the bull this spring. 5 bulls, 2 bought in and 3 homebred and all working. As well as the Longhorns we have Highland cattle. We have 5 different breeds of sheep; Hampshire Downs, Coloured Rylands, Exmoor Horns, Greyface Dartmoors and Valais Black Nose and finally... Middle White Pigs. All pedigree!
The latest addition to Pointer Pedigrees are these Swiss beauties, Valais Black Nose sheep. Jamie imported these only a few weeks ago so I was very lucky and excited to meet them!
Feeding Time! Pointer Pedigrees have 5 different breeds of sheep on the farm; Hampshire Downs, Coloured Rylands, Exmoor Horns, Greyface Dartmoors and Valais Black Nose.
Special treatment for this orphan lamb!
My personal favourites! The Greyface Dartmoors... aren't they just adorable.
Back to the Longhorns...You are in the middle of calving at the moment; do you find the Longhorns to be good mothers?
Yes, excellent mothers and good temperament, but I am always cautious and I treat everyday like a new day every time I see them. As my temperament changes daily, so does theirs.
What do you do with your young stock; do you sell them on to other breeders or retain them for your own breeding stock?
We do a bit of everything, we wean all our young stock at 9 months then go through them all and work out what we want to be kept back to reintroduce in the herd. These are chosen for specific attributes, I am looking for length, locomotion (keeping fit and healthy on their feet), and decent growth rates. You start to understand what cows are breeding what! Anything that doesn’t make the grade has their horns removed and males will be castrated. These are then sold as stores straight away. The ones that make the top 25% are retained and haltered and any we don’t keep ourselves are available to buy both privately and at society sales.
A few of the 2019 born calves.
Longhorns make excellent mothers, here is a cow with her calf which was born while I was there!
Do you sell your Longhorn beef locally, if so what feedback have you had?
Our boss keeps a few for himself, just for his own private functions and events. Otherwise we sell the young stock as stores so not finishing them ourselves.
You show your cattle, what do you look for in a show animal?
I am looking for conformation, something that is stocky not fat but well fleshed. Length is important but you can’t always get flesh and length together. For the cows I want a nice feminine head and a bull to have a strong masculine head. I want width for easy calving and something, which walks well. The horns are irrelevant, with this breed the horns do not have to be symmetrical and can go any direction, the horns are irrelevant to the butcher!
Why do you feel showing is important for you and your cattle?
I think it is more important for the breed, whether it does me a favour or not because I have a good cow. It does a favour for the breed, which has had hard, times but is now on the up! It is a great selling platform for both the breed and me. It is even better when you are winning! Nothing better than your hard work paying off.
Pointer Pedigrees have had a lot of success in the show ring!
What is your favourite thing about owning cattle?
I am just addicted to cattle since my Grandfather introduced me to them. I couldn’t think of anything better than being with him and his beloved Dairy Friesian cows. I bought my first Highland cow with money I got from the Government to fund my college, but I realised my money would be better spent on a cow which I paid off £25 a week for a year! Now the rest is history!
What advice would you give someone looking to get cattle?
Don’t bother! No joking… it brings you great joys but sometimes it can be hard work and painful with loss but the good overcomes the bad and I wouldn’t want my life without cows in it!
I would like to say a HUGE thank you to Jamie, for taking the time to show we around the amazing Pointer farm. I had a fantastic morning learning all about the Longhorn cattle and being introduced to all the other breeds on the farm. I certainly learnt a lot and got a massive amount of inspiration for drawings and prints. If you would like to learn more about Pointer Pedigrees take a look at their website > www.pointerpedigrees.com and follow them on Instagram > @pointerpedigrees.
After my visit to Carr Farm to meet Nicola and her Waveney herd of Belted Galloway's, I came back to the studio to go through the many photos I had taken to try and pick one to draw from. The Belted Galloway are such a distinctive looking breed and to the untrained eye they may all look identical. However, Nicola told me that a Belted Galloway cow should have a short, feminine head and that a long face was less preferable, especially in the show ring. The Belted Galloway, are a tough native breed with so much character, I was really looking forward to drawing them.
The only thing I was worried about was their features!!! With such a black face and with so much heavy winter coat it is very difficult to see their eyes. Eyes being an important feature and often the make or brake of drawing an animal... anyway I tried my best!
Here is the pencil sketch which I did from a 2 year old heifer, her face was a especially difficult, even now I am not completely convinced by it. I spent so long trying to put the suggestion of her eyes, it is hard because you can barely make out their eyes through all their hair. After finding the drawing a little tricky I knew that the print would be even harder, as it is always difficult to put subtle detail into my hand stamped prints.
Here is my final print, I feel that the texture within the print translates the shaggy, thick coats of the Belted Galloway well. In the end I am pleased with the result, after being quite anxious as to how it would turn out!
I would like to say another BIG thank you to Nicola for taking the time to show me her Waveney Herd of Belted Galloway, I had a fantastic morning looking round the farm and meeting the cattle. If you would like to learn more about Carr Farm or maybe purchase one of their meat boxes please take a look at their website, www.carrfarm.org.
On a very blustery Monday morning this week I visited Nicola and her Waveney herd of Belted Galloway. As soon as I arrived at Carr Farm I spotted the Belted Galloways in the distance with their distinctive black and white markings against the green landscape. It was really interesting to hear about how Nicola has grown and established her Belted Galloway herd, especially as she is not from a farming background. I was so impressed to see how much Nicola and her husband David have achieved in just 8 years since moving to Carr Farm. They are so passionate about promoting the breed and its tasty beef, selling it online, at farmers markets and at local pubs. I admire how proactive they have been in such a short period of time, beginning to establish an Eastern Belted Galloway Breeders group to support and learn from fellow breeders.
Last year's calves enjoying a corner of sun on a windy day.
What made you choose the Belted Galloway breed originally?
Hardy and good on poor grazing, polled, easy calvers, not too large, native…..distinctive looking (or quirky), great tasting and different (not many in Norfolk/Suffolk).
What is the history of the Belted Galloway’s?
No-one knows for sure where they came from but it is believed to be from crossing Scotlands native black galloways with the dutch belted lakenvelder in the C17th. The original Breeders Society was set up in the 1920’s.
Belted Galloways are most commonly thought of as being black with a white belt but they can also be red and dun.
How many Belted Galloway’s do you now have in your herd?
44 (2 bulls, 14 cows, 8 heifers, 8 steers, 12 youngsters)
What numbers do you plan to get up to in your herd?
2 bulls, 18/20 cows plus followers – because we are finishing (and that can take up to 3 years) that would take total numbers up to 60+
The Belted Galloway is a hardy, native breed, do you keep them out all year round?
Here is Nicola with some of her expectant cows which are due to calve from April onwards, all the cows are kept out all year round and fed only on grass and hay. In the run up to calving Nicola has the cows in fields near by so she can keep a close eye on them.
What do you plan to do with this years calves, do you plan to sell them on to other breeders or retain them for your own breeding stock?
Bulls are likely to be castrated unless they look particularly special, we may retain 2/3 heifers for our own breeding stock the remainder will either be sold as breeders or kept as stores.
You take your Belted Galloway beef to local farmers markets, you must have a great reaction from customers, do you find it a good promotion for yourself and the beef?
We do a couple of farmers markets and I enjoy the interaction with customers and hearing their recipe ideas and they in turn like to hear what we are doing on the farm. It’s also been useful to get feedback on different cuts of beef, hanging times etc. We also sell alot on-line but the markets are a good barometer for what is important to people at any particular time; price, taste, welfare, feeding, farming methods etc.
Waveney's current stock bull, Meadowhall Idris, has been out wintered with a group of steers (castrated males), which Nicola will eventually sell at farmers markets or through their website where she sells her popular meat boxes.
You show your cattle, what do you look for in a show animal?
Nice and square, level top line, good feet, locomotion and a wide head with thick coat and good belt – a steady temperament also helps – if its too lively or naughty it won’t be going to a show however nice it is!
Why do you feel showing is important for you and your cattle?
We love getting the animals out there for the public to see and interact with – farming needs to connect more with the public and the shows are a great opportunity for this. In the future showing success may lead to us being able to sell more breeding cattle, but currently we are just happy to participate. It provides a good shop window for our farm, the belties, our beef and our PFLA certification
Here is Nicola and Harnser with his Sire Southfield Sonny Boy – who won the best in breed and bull class at the Royal Norfolk Show.
What is your favourite thing about owning cattle?
They are all such great characters – whatever else is going on in my life and whatever the weather I love spending time with the cattle whether it be feeding them, keeping an eye on them calving, training the youngsters for shows or just carrying out the daily checks they are great levellers.
Nicola with her homebred Dun bull Harnser.
What advice would you give someone looking to get cattle?
I’m not from a farming background and ever since I can remember wanted to keep cattle but never had the confidence to get on and do it – now I have them I wish I hadn’t wasted so many years. I’d recommend going and helping someone who already has them to get used to handling them, have a plan for what you want from them and consider the handling equipment you will need. Then if you have the space and the time take the plunge –there’s lots of help out there for new cattle keepers.
I would like to say a HUGE thank you to Nicola for taking the time to show me her Waveney Herd of Belted Galloway, I had a fantastic morning looking round the farm and meeting the cattle. It just proves if you have the passion and drive you can go into farming even without a farming background. If you would like to learn more about Carr Farm or maybe purchase one of their meat boxes please take a look at there website, www.carrfarm.org. Keep your eyes peeled for my next blog when I will be drawings these striking cattle.
After visiting Helena and her flock of Herdwick's I came back to the studio to look through all the photographs I had taken. The Hardwick's have so much character and are extremely distinctive with the small white faces and large, thick fleeces. Tormund the Ram is particularly eye-catching with his impressive set of horns and tufty beard.
The Herwick's have a distinctive contrast between the colour of their faces and fleeces.
These are two pencil sketches which I have completed of 'Tormund' the ram.
A pencil sketch of Arya, one of Helena's favourite ewes.
These are my final hand stamped prints which I created from my pencil drawings. I take all the 'main' shapes from my drawings to create simple stamps from, which I then use to build up and create the coloured prints. I then work back into the stamped prints, putting in all the characteristics and detail. I am really pleased with how these prints have turned out, I think it is mostly because of the character and distinctiveness of the Hardwick breed. They also have such variety of texture and colour within their fleeces which really compliments the hand stamped technique.
I would like to say another BIG thank you to Helena for taking the time to introduce me to her Stark Herdwicks. It was so interesting to learn so much about another one of our countries native breeds.
Welcome back to 'Over The Farm Gate', following the Christmas/Winter break I am really looking forward to starting the blog up again and begin visiting local farmers to share their stories and gather inspiration for my prints and designs. Last week I had my first farm visit of 2019 to local Shepherdess, Helena Wright. Helena keeps native Herdwick sheep which originate from central and western Lake District and would usually live on the highest of England’s mountains. I was lucky enough that I could find these beautiful sheep in the local village of Wood Norton. I went to see Helena and her Stark flock of Herdwicks to find out more about the Native breed and why she chose them.
Helena feeding her flock.
Helena's flock is called Stark Herdwicks, named after Game of Thrones which she loves!
How long have you been interested in sheep and how did you become so involved with them?
I have always been interested in “Livestock” in general with my family since I was born, but my own flock of sheep I have had since December 2017
What made you choose the Herdwick breed?
By chance on social media I saw a picture one day of a Herdwick (Herdy!) and I instantly fell in love with the breed and said these are my sheep!
Can you tell us a little bit about the history of the breed?
The are native to the area of central and western Lake District and live on one of England’s highest mountains. The breed dates back to the 12th century with local folklore linking the breed to the Vikings. The name Herdwyck dates back to the 6th century and refers to “Sheep Pasture”. There is a lot of references to the Herdwick breed throughout the years along with Beatrix Potter being so passionate of her Herdwick sheep that upon her death left the National Trust all her 4000 acres, 21 farms and it was stipulated that her Herdwick flock must remain on these farms. Her Legacy remains one of the largest and most significant bequests ever made.
The Herdwick is distinctive looking with its small white head and large heavy fleece of dense wool.
How many Herdwick sheep do you now have in your flock?
I have 6 shearling ewes and 1 shearling tup.
You have just bought a ram, what specific qualities were you looking for?
The boys OR Rams must be masculine in character. Broad and full. Horns smooth and round, rising out well from the back of the head. Their face, jaw and top of head must be covered with strong, bristly hair and free from wool.
Legs must be straight and clean with big knees. Bristly hair and free from wool again. And both face and legs must be clear “hoar-frosted” (White) in colour.
Their wool should be heavy and dense with and undercoat of fine wool which is even in colour. Good quality all over their body. A strong ruffle or mane around the neck and top of shoulders. And a good strong tail.
No spots, brown or yellow in any part.
Helena's Ram Tormund with a Herwick ewe.
This year will be your first year lambing, how excited do you feel?
Nervous and Excited! I’m use to calving, but sheep are smaller scale. But I can’t wait to grow my own flock. And the lambs are completely black when they are first born! They then change colour as they get older, so I’m interested to see that for myself.
Will you lamb them outside or inside?
Herdwicks have good mothering instinct and I have been given advice that they are very much the independent type, so they will be outside but if they need help they have a nice new “maternity” pen to come into.
Will you be selling your lambs on or retaining some for breeding stock?
The plan is to keep my ewe lambs for breeding stock and I’m not sure on the ram lambs. Depending on how many I get, to sell on as breeding tups or for meat (But that’s another plan of mine 😊)
Arya, one of Helena's ewes due to lamb in March.
Helena took her Herdwick's to a handful of local agricultural shows in 2018.
Last year was your first attempt at showing, how did you find it?
I did get very nervous as again I have shown cattle, but sheep is a different thing again. However, I have met some great friendly people along the way. And that is the main thing. To enjoy what you do.
What do you look for in a good Quality Herdwick sheep?
Strong body, clean legs and face. Females must not have horns and have that “feminine” look to them. Then the Tups being “manly” as I call it. Good even colour of wool.
What is your favourite thing about owning sheep?
With my herdy’s it’s got to be the face! They always look like they are smiling. So, no matter what time of the day or night. Whatever sort of day I’m having they always make me smile. And they all have names which I’m sure they know it! As they all seem to live up to their character.
Helena with one of her favourite ewe's Arya.
What advice would you give someone looking to get sheep?
Speak to other’s who have the same breed as you. As each breed is different. Some need more prep than others. Always contact your breed association, as they are very helpful in pointing you in the right direction. And you got to like being cold and wet! No matter what the weather or time of day. So long as you don’t mind getting your hands dirty then your fine!
A BIG thank you to Helena for taking the time to show me around her flock of Herdwick sheep. It was great to be back visiting a local farmer, I never get bored of hearing about peoples passions and stories. I am even more excited to go back and visit in March when Helena starts lambing!
I am Izzi, farmer’s daughter and textile designer at IzziRainey. If I am not designing or sewing you will find me out in the farmyard with my cattle. I am constantly seeking inspiration for my prints, not that I have to look very far. Growing up on the farm, I have always been influenced by my surroundings and this combined with my passion for farming is what inspires my designs. I love spending time on the farm but I also enjoy learning about other people’s animals, passions and stories, which are also influential to my design process. I hope you enjoy reading ‘Over the Farm Gate’