So it has been a whole month since me and beef cattle decided to ‘make it official’ and what a month it has been! I have learnt tonnes but to summarise here are the top ten lessons that I have taken away from this exciting/exhausting/enjoyable experience…
1. Tractors are surprisingly easy to drive. Ok, so reversing is a whole different ball game but if you are going forward, there is nothing easier to drive than a tractor. They are slow, so you have time to rectify your mistakes and they are really easy to turn, surprisingly easy in fact! And the reality is, if you mess up, tractors will pretty much drive over anything and crush anyone in your way (a good or a bad point, I will let you decide!).
2. When bulls fight, you get the hell away from them. Bulls scare me at the best of times, they are huge and grumpy (from my experience), but when they fight you are best off far away from the spectacle. Caught in the cross fire of a fight, it would certainly be your last day on the farm!
3. Cows also know how to fight. I have always found cows to be pretty placid beings and couldn’t have imagined them fighting before I worked with them. There is however a herd hierarchy to maintain and for that reason (and others I am sure) they can get pretty nasty with each other and when this happens you better jump out of the pen very quickly!
4. Calves are bloody adorable, but also incredibly strong. We have had two calves born on the farm since I started, two little heifers (girls). As with other livestock, such as sheep, goats and pigs, cattle must wear ear tags but believe me, tagging a calf is a whole different story to tagging a lamb! It takes one person to pin the calf down and the other to tag – not as easy as my previous taggees!
5. Cattle hurdles are much heavier than sheep hurdles. This is probably an obvious statement. Cows are bigger than sheep, so of course their hurdles are larger and heavier. Well, I had only ever come across sheep or calf hurdles before, so imagine my shock at a 5ft by 10ft galvanised metal fence that I had to move and lift! Needless to say my efforts to lift one alone were wasted and I soon realised that this was a two-person job if I wanted to get the pen erected before Christmas!
6. Trailers are a bastard to reverse. I wasn’t sure whether to include this one or not because I did already know this. I however, only have a small pig/sheep trailer (9x5x6ft) and I have got fairly used to only going to places that require forward driving, or simply driving as I like to call it. Now I have to reverse a cattle trailer, pretty regularly, in a Defender. That whole sentence makes me want to cry. There are so many things against me I fear I may have to list them – Cattle trailers are huge, Defenders have tiny wing mirrors, Defenders are a pig to drive, I am dyspraxic with my main problem being mirror imagery and coordination, everything in the yard seems to be exactly a trailer width away from each other with no gaps for fudging up and I have an incredibly small amount of patience. It is hell!
7. Heatwaves + farming = be prepared. I picked a great month to start permanently working outside, with the top temperatures hitting 36c! Something I have never experienced before in the UK and never, ever had to work in. After day one in the heat, I learnt to always be prepared with suncream, a hat and lots of water! And I thought the snow was bad…
8. Safety with cattle cannot be an after thought. I have been butted by rams, bitten by pigs and attacked by cockerels but what you probably wouldn’t hear me saying is – I just survived being squished by a cow. That is because a cow weighs a tonne, like an actual tonne! Therefore I would be in no fit state to tell you about my squishing! This means I do have to be less blasé about going in with the cattle, than when I worked with smaller livestock. I always ensure that I am wearing the correct PPE such as steel-toe capped boots and I have to remain alert the whole time I am with the herd. It is also a good idea to keep an eye on the bulls at all times and to not place yourself in a vulnerable position such as between a cow and a fence.
9. Kent is a very beautiful part of the country. The farm I work on has several fields around Dover and by far the most spectacular is the parcel of land on Samphire Hoe, near the port. It’s is owned by the National Trust and our cows conservation graze there. Every time I visit I am so grateful that this is my office…
10. Cows are not ‘cows’. They’re cattle. Apparently. I have to stop myself several times a day from saying ‘cow’ when referring to a member of the herd of any age/gender. ‘Cow’ is a very specific term in the cattle farming world, it is a female that is usually two years or older and has previously given birth. But to anyone outside of the cattle farming industry, carry on calling any age/gender of cattle a cow, apart from bulls – even they are easy to recognise (but I am not saying how!).
It seems that within my first month I have already learnt a lot. But one of my favourite things about farming is the fact that every day is a school day! I look forward to the next month now, which brings our first produce returning to the Beefery, our first farmer’s markets and the start of our home delivery service!
Check out the new business at www.Homestead.farm