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Cattle farming


At Shabden Park Farm, we keep a herd of distinctive chestnut Sussex cattle, which are familiar sight in the surrounding farmland to the people of Chipstead village, and known as the 'red cows'.

Sussex are a native, local, English breed of beef cattle and we run a single-suckler herd, so each breeding cow has one calf each per year. It is believed that the Sussex breed is descended directly from the red cattle that inhabited the dense forests of the Weald at the time of the Norman Conquest.
Because they are a native breed, they are hardy enough to thrive on rougher grazing making them well-suited to our Countryside Stewardship wildflower meadows.


Sussex cattle on wildflower pasture

Sussex beef is characterised by it's creamy yellow covering of fat, the marbling through the meat and it's deep crimson colour, resulting in succulent beef with a rich taste.
Sussex are smaller and slow to mature compared to the fast-growing, commercial Continental breeds, which the supermarkets source for purely economic reasons. It is precisely this slow-maturing which gives the beef it's rich taste and marbling naturally. The breed is fast gaining in popularity with restaurants because of consumer demand for tender, rich-tasting beef.
Our Sussex beef cattle are naturally reared on our herb and wildflower-rich pasture and sold through our Back to Nature Farm Shop.

Cow and calf housed for the winter

Beef cattle husbandry
From each year's calves, we retain the heifers, or female calves, for breeding. They are reared with the male calves until such time as the main herd of breeding cows has finished calving, then they are separated and the heifers join the breeding herd. The heifers are put to the bull and have their first calves at two and a half to three years old. The gestation period for a cow is 9 months and we usually calve from December. The calves are weaned at around 10 months old so that the cows can recover condition before the following year's calf.

Our cows are naturally served by our Sussex bull, Frank. The choice of bull suits our farming methods and our ultimate aim, which is to produce quality beef.

A young Frank the bull

The cows and young stock graze the pasture on the farm from the end of March until November/December. During the winter they are brought into the buildings and fed silage which was made during the summer. This minimises erosion of the pasture and allows the spring grass to grow, while providing the cattle with the extra energy they need to keep them through the cold weather and carrying a calf.

Fattening stock are kept outdoors throughout the winter unless conditions become very wet and cold, and they are fed silage and GM-free cereals to supplement them through the winter, as appropriate.
Bull calves are castrated shortly after birth, from which time they are referred to as steers, and reared until around 24 months old when they become mature beef.
Mark introduces his young dog to bullocks!

Products from cattle

As well as producing our delicious beef, the cattle assist in the ongoing upkeep of the natural chalk downland in the Shabden valley. Cattle are an excellent grazing animal for conservation, especially in combination with sheep, as they graze the clumpy, coarse grasses which the sheep do not eat. The sheep then graze the plants at a length which encourages fresh growth and tillering. This allows wildflowers to grow up unhindered as can be seen by the species-rich grassland meadows on the farm.

The cattle hides, or skins, are processed by the abattoir and sent away to be tanned to make leather for clothing and furniture.

 

Sussex cattle grazing the wildflower pastures in the Shabden valley


Links

Countryside Code video   Creature Comforts animation advert for the Countryside Code
The Sussex Cattle Society   Sussex breed society website with breed information, history etc.
BCMS   British Cattle Movements Service Defra information page

 

 

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