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HILL CATTLE

Q 1.
What is a “Hill Cow”?

A.
There is no easy, cut and dried answer. Ideally, like the ‘hill sheep’, she is a cow that can spend    the greater part of the year out on a rough pasture, with the minimum input or interference from man, and still bring in a strong healthy calf in the autumn.
Q 2.
But that is a simple answer isn't it?

A.
No. Unlike the "hill sheep" there is no physiological difference between "hill cattle" and "lowland cattle"; they are all simply cattle. Consider, if you will, the geological and climatic variations throughout the United Kingdom, from the north of Scotland to Bodmin Moor in Cornwall via the Welsh Mountains; it all depends where you live and on local custom and practice.

Q 3.
Are there any specific breeds of "hill cattle"?

A.
Not really. The ‘Highland’, which is specific to the Northern and Western parts of Scotland and the Isles, the ‘Galloway’, in its various forms, from South West Scotland, North-West England and northern Pennines and the ‘Welsh Black’ are just better adapted to areas of high rainfall.

Q 4.
So that's it, then.  There are no specific breeds of hill cattle?

A.
That's right.  It all depends upon where you live, local custom and practice and economics.  Because of all the geological and climatic variations in the United Kingdom, over the centuries cattle have been developed that are best suited to their particular environment.  Those are our Native Breeds; The Highland, Galloway and Welsh Black, of course but also Shorthorns, Herefords, Angus and North Devons to name but a few.

Q 5.
Do these various breeds have anything in common?

A.
Yes.  They all have the ability to convert roughage, you might prefer to think of it as poor   pasture, into milk for the calf and meat to sell.

Q 6.
But the poor pasture means that they mature slowly.

A.
Yes, they do mature more slowly, which does not suit the modern trends forced upon agricultural production. Though they do produce meat of superior quality

Q 7.
What economic reasons can there be for keeping them?

A.
There are many good reasons, both economic and environmental:




...On Dartmoor many farmers kept cattle out all the year round, where necessary taking out feed in winter. The environmentalists have told them to remove the beasts from the hill in winter. The cost of the bedding, the capital costs of the buildings to house the cattle and the machinery to deal with the accumulated by-products of housed cattle, to say nothing of the rules and regulations attached to the latter, now make the keeping of those cattle commercially non-viable. The cash incentive doesn’t cover the costs. So, the cattle are going. (Part of that 80,000)

Q 8.
Would we be better off returning to more traditional and well tried methods?

A.
Yes, though it’s nearly beyond the point of no return; it will take years. Too many of the basic breeding stock, and the stockmen who tended them, have been lost. Where ticks or mineral imbalances are a problem it can take up to five generations of cattle (15 years) to accustom them to that hill. That is fifteen years of losses and a low level of breeding success. That is not just my experience in Cumbria, but is reflected all around the country. Ask the Dartmoor men who lost cattle to the FMD culls in 2001.

Q 9.
But, it is still possible, isn’t it?

A.
Yes it is possible, but only if there is the political will. Before that must come understanding at the highest level.



Richard Mawdsley m.r.a.c.
The Barn,
Great Broughton,
Cockermouth.
Cumbria

November.2008

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