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News. Preparing the cattle for winter

5th of November, 2018

As the colder weather sets in it’s paramount that the animals on Home Farm at the Dumfries House Estate are ready for the winter. Farm manager John Rowell shares his insight into how he prepares his cattle for the cold snap.

What sort of cattle do you have on the Estate?

We have three pure native breeds of cows on the Estate including Beef Shorthorn, which is perhaps the largest herd. It is a traditional breed of cattle that has a number of well-known attributes - hardiness, calving ease, good-natured and quiet mothers, in addition to producing excellent, quality meat.

We also work in collaboration with the Rare Breed Survival Trust (RBST), a conservation charity who aims to continue the existence of native farm animal genetic resources in the UK. Our resident Whitebred Shorthorn cows are on the RBST endangered list. Like the Beef Shorthorn, they are also good mothers, but the males are bred primarily as a crossing bull to mate with any breed of female, but principally with Galloway cows to produce Bluegrey cattle.

Lastly, again through the RBST, we have an even smaller herd of Vaynol cattle which are on the RBST critical list with only four herds and 150 breeding females left in the UK.

How do you prepare for winter? How does this differ from the summer?

The cows calve in the spring and are turned out to grass as soon as possible after giving birth were they spend all summer with their mother. During the summer we cut grass to feed the cows during the winter and conserve it as Silage and Hay. Although our breeds are hardy and have been chosen to withstand the Scottish weather, soil type and ground conditions on the Estate dictate that we bring them inside. They are all housed in straw-bedded buildings with access to a feed passage which is scraped on a daily basis.

What is the most difficult thing you have to deal with over the winter?

I don’t think anything is to difficult over the winter as long as you don’t have problems with animal health and you are prepared with plenty of feed and straw supplies.

What is it like farming at Dumfries House?

Farming at Dumfries House is not without its challenges. One of the biggest is the high rainfall with clay type soils which are not particularly free draining, however that is the same as the most of East Ayrshire. But to work in this environment with a positive team throughout the Estate, not just the farm can’t be all that bad!

How far along are you with getting fully-organically certified?

We will get organic certification in 2019 after a two-year conversion period. This means that during this time we haven’t used any artificial fertilisers or chemicals, making better use of farmyard manure as a fertiliser and clover in the grass seed mixtures to help with grass growth. Animal health and welfare is still top of the list and we will be able to sell organic beef and lamb from November 2019.

Read about how the rest of the animals take shelter over the winter here.