My second visit to Swillington Organic Farm just outside Leeds provided me with one of those special encounters which are forever in the memory – in this case with a group of young British White calves and mothers, with one calf just a couple of days old.
The modern day breed of cattle known as British Whites can claim direct links with the ancient indigenous wild white cattle of Great Britain, most notably from the park at Whalley Abbey in Lancashire. Records at Whalley date back to the sixteenth century. Records are though sporadic with breeders of these cattle engaged in a continual struggle to maintain numbers, and from time to time the blood of other breeds needed to be introduced in order to avoid problems associated with in-breeding.
However by the beginning of the twentieth Century there was a growing consensus that “Park Cattle” would best be conserved by through a co-ordinated plan across all the breeders. So it was that in January 1918 the ‘Park Cattle Society’ was formed “with the object of keeping records of Park Cattle, wild and tame, of developing and popularising their great commercial qualities as well as keeping up and developing scientific interest in this most ancient race”. Today the British White Cattle Society remains their ‘official’ recorder and is maintaining exactly the same aims as those on which the original society was formed. The rise in the fortunes of the breed brought about by the work of the society ironically now mean that the breed can now no longer be listed as a rare breed, and it has joined breeds such as the Longhorn in the minority breeds category.
The cattle at Swillington are particularly good looking and especially that young calf. It was, though, the docile nature of the mothers that provided opportunity to get close…….though have to say not too close, they were not that docile!! I spent over an hour captivated by the wonderfully white animals with rich black nose and ears. Such a special encounter though cannot be experienced without the realisation that the mothers’ nature was probably so through farm breeding – such a laid back approach to potential threats would be disastrous sin the wild – and that the animals are there for only one purpose – albeit after as good a life as can be given to them by Jo who owns and runs Swillington. The ear tags became a poignant symbol to me of their sacrificial existence. My commitment to meat eating was also seriously challenged both during and after my visit. Although still adhered to, it could though hardly be described as emerging intact from such a close encounter.
In the meantime……..Len and his dad were busy on the job of restoring the walls to the walled garden which formed part of the original Georgian estate and which is now used by Jo as the base for a veg crop share scheme. Len and dad have voluntarily appointed themselves as restorers with a monumental task – the garden is large and the walls in poor shape! Photographing them both at work was soon interrupted by the appearance of two further generations of the family……and a call to them to lunch. It was a privilege to be with a four generation family with such generous intent, albeit for a short time. Sorry Windsors, you are not the only family who can line up four generation in one picture and these guys are working for free!
Whilst Len and family disappeared for lunch beside the Swillington fish ponds, part-time help, Brett, and a small group of volunteers were busy on the ground of the garden itself setting out the first planting of the season, in this case garlic. The activity provided a rare opportunity – albeit at distance – to capture the camera shy Jo (small lady in the blue overall, bottom right picture!) for whom Swillington is, even after nearly forty years, as much a labour of love as it is a job. Its only thanks to efforts from the likes of her in the care and compassion shown to her animals that I personally can find a way to eat meat!
For more on Swillington Organics see the earlier post.
For a bit more on meat eating see the post of Gazegill Farm Shop
[Double clicking on any of the images below will open up that image up in a slideshow format. You can then run the slide show using ‘left’ and ‘right’ buttons. Personally I prefer to go also to full screen having opened the slide show – F11 on my PC, don’t forget to get out of full screen is the same button , not ESC!]