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Royal Three Counties Show 2015
Royal Norfolk Show 2014
Reserve Female Native Champion at this year's Royal Norfolk Show:
James Crane with Romany Wilcow and her calf, Fenland Megan.
Pembrokeshire Show 2013
Wendy Finucane has now capped all her previous results winning the Supreme Cattle Championship at this year's Pembroke Show against 9 other breeds with Ashrose Beverly 20th, below.
Murray Greys graze for wildlife on Anglesey
In the slanted light of a winter afternoon the sight of over two hundred sable, grey, white and black cattle grazing and roaming across 276 Hectares (685 acres) of open dunes and grassland is awe inspiring. This is Richard Owen’s Trefri herd of Murray Greys and crosses, working hard to benefit wildlife and restore the traditional grazed dune habitat of Aberffraw and Llangadwaladr commons on Anglesey’s west coast.
The area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a European Special Area of Conservation (SAC) because of its impressive dune habitat and the plants and animals that live there. Without the help of the cattle the area would become overgrown, the rabbits that help to maintain the close cropped lawns amongst the dunes would disappear (they need the browsing larger animals to help keep clear areas) and rare plants such as early sand grass, autumn ladies tresses and bee orchids would struggle to survive. These species and invertebrates that live in sand dunes, need the trampling of cattle hooves and grazing of the grass to keep open spaces for them to colonise. Choughs, a scarce and protected member of the crow family, who feed on insects use the area to forage for food which the dung from the herd helps to support and Lapwings and Skylarks are encouraged too.
This is the fourth year that the herd has grazed here, the A4080 coast road passes through small villages and past Newborough forest before crossing the common, which stretches over rows of dunes from the sea, inland to Llyn Coron. With no fences to block the view this road is one of the reasons that the original 38 commoners stopped exercising their grazing rights on the land. Speeding cars were a danger to livestock so the grazing practice was abandoned. The lack of grazing over many years led to the common becoming overgrown and losing some of its wildlife value.
The Countryside Council for Wales (CCW) approached Mr Owen, who has rights on the land and proposed a management agreement to support grazing of the common but the difficulty was lack of fencing or cattle grids which would have been unsightly and expensive. The answer came from Chris Bennett, a local horseman with a love of cattle; he spends his days with the herd keeping them from straying onto the road, stopping traffic when they cross and watching over them either from his horse or the tractor. He can’t drive on the dunes so keeps fit as he walks along with the herd.
“I don’t drive them” he says, “I just keep with them- I don’t want them to run because the rabbit holes are treacherous and could easily break a cow’s leg but these cattle are so quiet and docile that they seem happy to take it easy.”
The herd spends the night in a field on the Owens’s farm by the common and is let out after the morning traffic rush. Large hand painted signs warn motorists about
“Though there have been a few long skids” Chris remarks. The cattle move across the common, winding their way up and over the dunes and stopping to drink in the river Ffraw or from pools in the dune slacks. There are 120 cows with their followers and steers of up to two years old. The cows are crossed with Limousin and Simmental bulls, some have been bred with a Belgian Blue and some are bred back to keep pure Murray Grey stock. The original Murray Grey cows were bought in the late 1970’s by Richard’s father Iolo from Llangollen.after seeing them in Australia on a Nuffield scholarship trip he then graded up his suckler herd using hired bulls before buying one from Bill and Judith Woolley, at Bickerstaff, West Lancashire. The breed is ideally suited to the terrain and the forage they are eating. Chris says “They are hardy and do well on the coarse grasses here; we have never had one injured on the road or on the rough terrain. They calve easily as they are so fit- he proudly shows off a grazing cow. “Look at that glossy one, beautiful.”
After grazing their way across the common, spreading across about 200 acres as they go, the cows know when it is time to head for home in the evening and turn themselves round to wander back. Chris tells me “I always check that we have them all but I can feel it if there is something wrong and one has gone astray in the gorse.”
The herd has to be safely back across the road before the evening traffic arrives. Usually someone comes out from the farm to help with traffic control but once, when Chris was on his own he says “The whole herd got to the road and lined up at the edge, waiting for me to walk out in front and see them across- they just knew.”.
Calving is from May to July, the cattle are finished at around twenty seven months and are usually sold through local markets. However, this year some will be marketed under the ‘Anglesey Wildlife Friendly Produce’ brand through local butchers. This premium brand is marketed by a group of farmers who work with the Anglesey Grazing Animals Partnership to manage land for the benefit of wildlife using their livestock. The animals, all of traditional breeds, are grown slowly on diverse pastures on Anglesey’s fens, heathland, dunes, saltmarshes and species rich grassland to produce high quality meat. The Murray Grey beef will be a just right for this market.
It was a pleasure spending the afternoon out with Chris the shepherd and the Murray Greys, the sunshine helped of course but Chris says rainy days are fine by him too the only weather he doesn’t go out in is fog or snow, when it would be dangerous on the road. He often gets company from people from all over the world who have read about the grazing scheme and want to see for themselves. “It’s funny how farmers want to be farming when they are on holiday.” he says.
Everyone can appreciate the advantages of this system, this year the grazing on the common has been a godsend for the farm, with the price of forage and the long winter- the Owens benefit from the chance to manage extensively and spread the stock over a wider area. John Ratcliffe, Team Leader for the CCW is pleased with the restoration of the habitat, Nature gains when areas that were rank and impassable now have bare sand and paths where insects can warm up and plants can colonise; the cattle look contented and healthy; local people can enjoy tasty meat with a conscience; Chris feels he has the ideal job, working with cattle and horses in the outdoors where no two days are the same; and I think the landscape is enhanced no end by the sight of two hundred and thirty sable, grey, white and black cattle grazing and roaming across the open dunes and grassland in the slanted light of a winter afternoon.