Reflections from a White Park owner
Members David and Carol Yiend farm on Exmoor and own the Watercombe herd of White Park cattle. In the article below, David explains why he became a member of the Pasture for Life scheme and worked towards High Health accreditation for his herd.
By way of introduction to this article I am very conscious that we are absolute novices as far as farming is concerned .
Within the White Park Cattle farming community there will be many of you who have established successful systems, this after all is what has enabled the breed to survive. This article is written regarding the experiences of a new entrant who still has masses and masses to learn!
Although connected with farming for most of our working career my wife Carol and I had not farmed previously, so it was a big step to invest in our small farm here on Exmoor some six years ago. We passionately believe in the role that rare breeds have to play in the future of farming and were keen therefore that this was the focus of our 35-acre holding.
We were anxious not to lose sight of the market demands in our choice of breed and we chose the noble White Park cattle for their hardiness, meat quality and suitability to our farming system which was to be producing beef from a totally grass-fed system.
Our passion was to do things right, our stock to be healthy and managed well and our farming activity to be thoughtful and respectful to the environment. We were very mindful of the fact that we were novices and had a lot to learn from others. In this regard we were very fortunate to find a locally retired beef farmer who became our mentor and also so fortunate to find a local veterinary practice with whom we have established a great relationship.
When it came to marketing our product it was likely that we would struggle to be taken seriously – how could we get people to believe that our products might be worth investing in? We were never going to be the cheapest! So, mindful of these three objectives – credibility with our prospective customers, managing our herd to the healthiest of standards and a need to learn – we decided to participate in two particular accreditation schemes.
Firstly, after careful research we set about joining the Pasture for Life Association and becoming accredited as a Pasture for Life producer of Beef and Lamb.
Secondly, after lengthy discussion with our vet, we started to understand what High Health status would represent for our herd; ie to be free of any of the nasties BVD, Johnes, IBR, Neospora and Leptospirosis. New knew this could be a challenge but we nevertheless decided to set about accreditation. It made complete sense to us to do this.
It was likely that some of our cattle would be sold as breeding stock – how could we in all honesty be selling cattle to others without a definitive health status of our own? I have to say it does surprise us that people are prepared to invest in stock themselves without this proof of health status. Personally, I do wonder whether in years to come this will become the norm? Why should it not?
The journey to this status for us has not been without its challenges; we did find Johnes in our herd and we also found Neospora, but through culling and a breeding policy these have been eradicated. Of course, this had an economic impact on us in terms of how infected cattle had to be managed, but we believed that if we were farming then it was irresponsible not to ensure health cleanliness of our herd.
Our journey to accreditation for Pasture for Life has been relatively straightforward. We chose White Park because of the breed’s record at being able to rely entirely on grass/forage for successful breeding or meat production. Our animals do not grow as fast as if we were to add cereals to the diet, but PFLA accreditation has enabled us to market our animals at an enhanced price to outlets that would not have been otherwise possible. Personally, I believe that this standard of totally grass fed cattle will increasingly become reflected in the price paid and become more of an essential to doing business in the future. Surely the role that cereals play in beef production will not continue to be ignored? Education of the consumer will continue in this regard.
Of course, at the end of the day, it is economics that has to drive us and personal choice of one’s farming system is one of the joys of being a farmer. But likewise, thinking about the changing market and perhaps trying to take a position to influence that in the right direction is something I am sure, we all consider.
One final point. Earlier in this article I referred to our need for support on our journey into successful farming. So how has PFLA helped us with this? Brilliantly! They have a fantastic network of like-minded farmers and people who are always available for advice, there are numerous farm walks and other visits regularly organised in our area and there is the forum that we see on a daily basis which is a treasure trove of diverse, interesting and useful information.
Yes, our journey has been into farming has been fun, albeit with plenty of challenges.
Click on the media link below to see a video of the Watercombe herd.