Monday 5 October 2009

Cattle - who'd have them?

'Where there's live ones there's dead ones', a saying known only too well in the farming sector which covers life in general. The recent accident with a heifer and a cattle grid got Shep on thinking.......... Oh, oh! That's often dangerous!

Why keep cattle?

They are big and heavy which can cause soft ground to be plunged up, they can cause physical grief to those whom work with them, believe you me when they stand on your foot you know about it and a kick has dropped many a man to his knees, so why on earth bother with them?

Basically they complement the grazing for sheep. Cattle have a different grazing pattern and prefer longer grass to sheep which enables the grass to be kept at a consistent length for the sheep to graze. Also cattle are worth a fair bit of money, there again, the losses are greater should you have one die on you.

Generally they are less time consuming than sheep. Sheep are forever coming into the pens for something or other, whereas cattle seem to need less doing to them, except for winter that is when they are in sheds and need feeding daily and bedding regularly. Calving can go by without too much incident or it can be a nightmare, now a sheep can be caught out in the open and wrestled to the ground to assist it to lamb, not quite so easy with cows!

They are an expensive commodity to look after though, most of the hay and silage made during the summer is needed for the cattle and then there is the bedding to buy in too. However, the returns on the finished article are high, so long as not too many losses are incurred.

But why keep them? It pays in farming not to have all your eggs in one basket, quite frankly over the last few years sheep trade has been dreadful, fortunately the cattle trade has helped balance the books. So not only do they complement the sheep grazing, you also have something to fall back on should sheep trade take a hammering and lets face it, we all like a bit of beef for Sunday dinner.

At what cost? The crack (gossip) at the mart the other day was of yet another farmer in Northumberland coming to grief from cattle, the air ambulance was involved, the condition of the guy in question is unknown at the moment, there's no doubt about it though he'll be very sore.

So should we get rid of cattle all together? Where would you end with that logic? A walker was once suspected of being killed by tups in a field, does that mean we should get rid of all sheep too? There is danger around every corner, working with livestock can be unpredictable you need to keep your wits about you, show common sense and often have good luck on your side. There are accidents on farms but then we have very few (if any) accidents involving pedestrians and motor vehicles in this area, London will probably have a high number of pedestrian injuries but no livestock related injuries.......... so where would you stop?

I'm a shepherd and although I have a huge soft spot for the good old Galloway which I was fortunate to work with for many a year I would choose sheep over cattle any day. Having said that I wouldn't like to see the countryside devoid of cattle, they have their uses, help the finances, taste good and I do like milk on my cereal. They are also great characters which are easily recognisable and due to the fact they have a longer life span than a sheep almost become one of the family (okay, not quite but I'm sure you get the gist!)Life without cattle would be miserable.

I can't help think that less staff on farms and an average age of around about 60 for a farmer are all contributory factors towards the accidents which happen. Poor financial returns on farming over past years may also contribute due to maintenance of fences, buildings etc being kept to an absolute minimum. Farmers are realistic, have money will spend, don't have money and you tighten your belt.