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 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.
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.
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.
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.