On lovely August afternoon, I was invited by Lindsey and Martin Trees to go along to there beautiful farm iust a few miles away in Ardens Grafton. I managed to get up close to there amazing award winning Highland cattle. I was even allowed to give them a little groom!
Lindsey has been supplying Maypole Butchers with her incredible Highland beef for the last two years so I was really looking forward to seeing what makes her fold so special and what it takes to be a Champion breeder.
Lindsey is so passionate about british farming it was really great to listen to her experiences. I have shared some details about Lindseys journey into breeding and farming below.
How did you begin in the farming industry and breeding Highland cattle?
In 2002, a chance purchase of farmland adjacent to our home led to an exciting new venture. With no farming knowledge or experience, we soon realised we needed help. A local farmer stepped in to look after the newly planted arable land while we naively tackled the pastureland and its excess of grass. A friend in Scotland had suggested some ‘shaggy grass cutters’ , what a great idea - I’d long admired these stunning animals. So a trip to the North ensued and a couple of weeks later our ‘starter set’ of a bull, two cows, one with a calf at foot, and three heifers arrived. Grafton Fold was born!
How has your fold developed since that time?
Twelve years on, we run on average thirty head of cattle including ten breeding cows, and with the exception of the bull, these are all homebred. In the day to day running of the fold, I am very fortunate in having stockman Charlie Edwards to assist me. Charlie’s experience gained over many years of working with Highland cattle is invaluable, and with his guidance the seemingly impossible becomes achievable!
How are the cattle reared?
We believe in rearing the cattle in as natural an environment as possible given the constraints of our land, and so they graze the fields all year round with supplementary silage being given over the winter months.
They are magnificent animals, are there any challenges rearing Highlands?
As with the traditional breeds they are slow growing, it’s the feature that sets their meat apart! They mature between 30-36 months. With this slower growth on mixed pasture they have lower cholesterol and fat yet are higher in protein than commercial breeds. Therefore we have to wait longer but it is worth it.
How often do you breed?
The cows calve down from January to March, the calves staying with their mothers until the autumn. During December we have our annual TB test, and at this time we decide which of the male calves will end up with the butcher. We sell our meat both locally and in the Cotswolds, and we’re told that once the word is out there is always a queue at the door!
We can definitely confirm that ! The beef that you supply is very special.
What made you decide to go into showing your cattle?
Four years ago, having retired from pharmacy, I had more time to devote to the cattle. The show ring beckoned! In the spring we choose our show team and then the young stock are halter broken and training begins. We have gathered many first prizes, including a handful of reserve champions and this year, we had our first champion at the Midland and Southern Highland Cattle Club show at Ashby. Encouraged by this we entered the National Fold competition in the large Fold category never once believing we would be our regional winner!
What makes a champion?
Just like people, it is a difficult mix to get right! Good genes from the parents, careful nurturing when they are young, good land and space for them to develop and then lots of pampering on the day of the show!
Without giving away too many secrets, what happens leading up to a big show day?
They are calm beasts anyway but we do “handle” them when they are young. We re-train them on the halter for a few weeks before a show and get them used to the power washer and hair dryer! They are definitely pampered, they have their horns oiled and buffed, back combed and their “dawson” combed nicely. (The dawson is the hair with a fringe that covers their face.
You have had a lot of success, what have been your high and low points?
Breeding Highland Cattle has thrown up various challenges, good and bad. There have been highs in recent years with successes at the different shows, but we have also experienced some very low points. During 2010 - 2011, we lost nearly half the fold to TB. It took us some time to recover from this, but we got there in the end.
What would you say to people to encourage them to support local farmers?
We all should be very proud of our stewardship of the land in this country. It is a fixed amount of space we have and we should support those who look after, and protect, the wonderful green landscape we all enjoy.
Use it or lose it! Cattle that have been born and reared near at hand, on good land, with care and no “additives” are the best for flavour the land they live on and the environment.
You have put Temple Grafton firmly on the map, this must have a positive impact locally?
Through the sustainable management of the land and fold we feel that we positively contribute to our local area in many ways, from an increase in bird life through to the small scale production of beef for our local butchers, and not forgetting the countless photo opportunities for passers by!
Thank you Lindsey, Long may it continue!