Last week I spent an afternoon at RSPB site, Lakenheath Fen Nature Reserve, with cattle farmer, Esme and her father, Granger. It was an absolute pleasure to see Esme's rare breed herd of Original Population Dairy Shorthorn cattle roaming the fen land and listen to her inspirational story of how Esme hopes to protect and preserve this iconic breed which is sadly on the rare breeds critical list. I came away from meeting Esme feeling truly inspired by the importance of the work they are doing for the breed. Between Esme and her family they could now potentially change the future of this breed and be the difference between this breed surviving or not.
Esme and her father, Granger are passionate about preserving the Original Population Dairy Shorthorn.
How long have you been interested in cattle and how did you become so involved with them?
I grew up with livestock around me from day one; my Father is a passionate breeder and keeper of animals and always has been. I am lucky enough to have him to look up to and learn off of. He grew up with a herd of Charolais and has shown and bred cattle for all of his life. My first cow was born when I was five, she was a shorthorn x cow who I named Strawberry. Later on, I became interested with the Hereford breed, as my dad is a keen owner of them. I bought my first cow in 2012 that was in calf. She went on to have two sets of twins. My attentions then turned to the Rare Breed Survival Trust, when in 2013 we became heavily involved with the Original Population Dairy Shorthorn. They are now a huge part of our lives and forever will be.
Esme has been involved with livestock since early childhood.
What made you choose the Dairy Shorthorn (Original Population) breed?
The RBST approached my dad and I, as we had spare land that was in a low risk area on a local RSPB, we wanted to help and when they came out to see us they said the Dairy Shorthorn would be perfect for us! As we are beef cattle keepers this did come as a shock! They were so critically in need of help at the time with the numbers being as low as 65 breeding females. The main breeder of 100% shorthorns being located in Cornwall just 16 miles from Lands’ End was a fair trip for us in Suffolk. My dad was the first to travel down there and they both talked genetics and history of the breed for hours. When my dad came home, he was in shock and amazed of what a knowledgeable man he had met. Myself, my mum and dad then all travelled down together a few months after.
Our trip was an eye opener; it was like stepping back in time, as nothing had changed on his farm for years. The sheds were so beautiful and the cattle so calm and caring for their owner. From this trip we have visited many times again, each time learning new things and seeing new calves being born that hold strong traits of the breed. From meeting people and learning more and more about the breed this is what made me choose and want to develop my herd of Churchview Shorthorns. Being able to work with a breed so rare is an amazing experience, and I have a strong desire to increase the numbers for the breed’s future. Through keeping the breed I have been able to be a part of amazing experiences; my favourite would have to be when I was lucky enough to meet HRH Prince Charles in 2016. I met him at the Norfolk show, we both share a common interest in the breed and later on he purchased five cows from Cornwall that were kindly gifted to me. They are now at our farm in Suffolk and are an important part of the herd.
Esme meeting HRH Prince Charles who also shares Esme's interest in the Shorthorns and amazingly gifted her five heifers which are now part of her herd.
What is the history of the breed?
The Dairy Shorthorn was established in the 18TH century in Northeastern England, in the Valley of the Tees River. Bates and Booth established the dairy type of shorthorns on their own farms and this type has remained today. The breed has seen dramatic changes, and there are only a few remaining herds with 100% shorthorns within them.
Is supporting rare breeds something you feel passionate about?
Supporting Rare Breeds, for me is very important. Looking at the Watch List the RBST creates is an eye opener to how many breeds are at risk or could be in the near future. After working with the Dairy Shorthorns and seeing how one family like ours could have possibly now of changed the future they have, really makes you realise how important they are. I became a committee member of the East Anglian RBST support group shortly after we became involved with the Shorthorns and am the youngest member they have had. For me, it’s giving the past a future. Being a committee member allows me to meet likeminded people who are also passionate about Rare Breeds. I feel it is important for more people to be aware of what the RBST does and the work they put into saving the breeds. I also think the influence of younger people joining and becoming members is very important, for the future of the RBST and the breeds they support.
The Dairy Shorthorn (Original Population) is on the rare breed critical list what does this mean for the future of the breed?
With the breed being on the critical list this means there are less than 150 left of them. Breaking that down to breeding females was 65, which is a tiny number to work with when looking to increase numbers. However the future of the breed is becoming stronger in my opinion, with the herd that we now have and the spread of genetics they hold I feel if we push and produce from them as much as we can within the years to come the breed will move up in numbers dramatically. We have carried out embryo transfer and have had two successful calves from a cow Moss Rose, one being a bull calf and the other a heifer. The more people that become involved with the breed and the larger spread they have across different farms in the county the more of the future they have. For me creating new herds on more farms is something I want to achieve, especially on dairy farms so that they can be utilised to their full potential.
The future for our Churchview Dairy Shorthorns is to be milked and farmed as a dual purpose cow which is what they are traditionally known as. By doing this, I hope it will also promote the breed. I want people to know how rare they are and how important it is to preserve them.
The Dairy Shorthorn have calm temperaments and are proving to be good mothers.
How many calves have you had this year and have the calving’s been easy?
The cows, heifers and bulls we have on farm are kind and docile creatures. The cows are proving to be good mothers that rear their calves well. They have a good temperament when calving and we have not yet (fingers crossed!) encountered any major problems! We have been lucky enough with the calves we have had being a majority of heifers, this is so important for the breed for the increase in numbers. We are currently awaiting our first calves we had to now calve themselves which to me is amazing to see how we have already grown as a herd. The first heifer that will calf was my first calf born at home, my dad and I rang the breeder in Cornwall to tell him of our new white heifer calf, he paused a minute and said ‘Esme, breeders wait years for a white calf, and the first one you have is white. You’re a lucky girl’. I then went on to have two weeks later another white heifer calf, who is also expecting her first calf soon. As of yet we have not had any calves this year.
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?
The calves we have had have all been retained into our herd. Our first bull calf is showing good shape and conformation and holds strong genetics from both his Sire and Dam, so we are looking to use him next time round. The heifers we are keeping to build up the numbers in the herd as one day we will hopefully be milking them ourselves. In the future I will sell on heifers to other breeders to create more herds of them.
An Original Population Dairy Shorthorn heifer calf born in 2017 which Esme has succesfully bred and will be retained for future breeding stock within her Churchview herd.
You show your Charolais cattle, do you ever show your Dairy Shorthorn (Original Population)?
We have taken the shorthorns to a few shows now and they have preformed well.
Esme has shown the Dairy Shorthorns, along with her Charolais heifer, Melanie.
What is involved in your show preparation?
The show preparation involves a lot of clipping before the show at home and washing them. At the show we use a mix of water and baby oil to smoothen down the coat and to give it a shine.
Why do you feel showing is important for you and your cattle?
Showing is important for all breeds. For me showing the shorthorns allows people to see and know that they are still here. Promoting the breed is very important for me. Also meeting people with common interests that share the same passion for showing and keeping cattle as I do.
What is your favourite thing about owning cattle?
For me, my favourite part of keeping cattle is being able to watch them grow, produce their own stock and build up a bond with them.
Esme shares a strong bond with her cattle.
What advice would you give someone looking to get cattle?
Depending on what they would want to achieve and do with them my advice would be to find out as much as you can about the breed you are looking to get. What would best suit you and the purpose of them. All breeds hold different traits and it is important that the breed works for you.
Meeting Esme and her Dairy Shorthorns was so interesting and I felt so privileged to have had the chance to meet these critically endangered cattle. I learnt so much in such a short space of time, I hope at some point I get the chance to go back and learn some more. I am now looking forward to heading back to the studio and creating a print or design from these beautiful, historic cattle.
If you would like to find out more about the Original Population Dairy Shorthorn take a look at the Rare Breed Survival Trust website >>>www.rbst.org.uk or if you would like to show your support and become a member of the RBST >>> https://www.rbst.org.uk/Support-Us/Become-a-Member.
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’