We have a small band of mature trees that run along the track in the middle of our farm for about 1km. It consists mainly of mature oaks ranging from 150 to 300 years old, along with a section of horse chestnut, ash, large leaf lime, alder, willow, beech and field maple. There are very few trees between 50 and 150 years old as they have not been allowed to mature.
In 2020 we received approval to plant 2.5 acres of woodland. We will plant with a variety of mixed broadleaf native saplings from November onwards. This will ultimately help with water management and provide more shade and shelter for the cattle and assist us to increase the biodiversity as we create more balance between woodland and grassland.
We leave fallen trees to decay and provide habits for invertebrates, small mammals, or birds. Sometimes we may relocate a fallen tree into a field to act as a natural grooming area for the cattle during its decay phase. We also make smaller piles of branches within the woodland areas to provide habits for hedgehogs and smaller mammals.
Across the farm we have a few “wildish areas”. These are generally small areas that are often just left to do their own thing, or sometimes they may get some seed added (for example a winter bird seed mix) or we may just let a few cattle in to trample some areas and graze it back a little to help it regenerate.
We are often asked why we chose Highland Cattle. Back in 2014 we were looking for animals to graze our wildflower meadows. A key concern for us as novices at the time was to minimise the human intervention and look for a breed that could happily graze our fields and look after themselves. Although we did not realise it at the time, we had already decided that we wanted our animals to be able to exhibit their natural behaviours and to be allowed to just get on with animal life.
We were looking for a breed that is native to the British Isles. The quality of half of our grassland is poor due to regular extensive flooding that kills off most grass. The flooding also introduces various seed that establish herbs, flowers and weeds. This so-called poor-quality forage is ideal for the Highland Cattle. With the exception of the docks, the Coos will eat it all at some point during the year.
The Coos love to be outside and are designed for the worst of British weather. With their fleecy undercoat and long hair overcoat we knew we did not need any winter housing. Highlands are relatively small cows, but with large feet, which spreads their weight and does less damage to the pasture. This is better for our land that floods which has a tendency to be softer.
Another key characteristic of the Coos is their docile temperament For novices this proved invaluable in the early years, to help us with the handling and care, particularly as we were looking to rear animals with compassion and not with a stick!!.
Their easy calving and great mothering skills added to the ease in the early days.
Highlands are slow growing and slow maturing which provides a rich taste to the well marbled beef that they produce. Combined with just a natural diet of grass, herbs, flowers, shrubs and trees this ensures a truly delicious and nutritious meat.
Last, but not least, they are “picture postcard” animals. Who doesn’t love a Highland Cow?