Our Organic Pasture Beef Cattle
We have a cattle herd of 450 with 180 suckler cows expected to calve this year taking our herd to nearly 600. The breeds are all indigenous to the British Isles, so they are well adapted to our climate, pasture and management style. Sheepdrove specialise in Beef Shorthorn and Aberdeen Angus.
Pure-bred or crossed, the outcome is the same, strong healthy calves from milky mothers that grow solely on pasture. Our herb rich meadows provide a balanced and varied diet for much of the year, and they are supplemented with our own hay and silage throughout the winter. Animal welfare is at the centre of everything we do so we try where possible to keep animals together in family groups which replicates their natural behaviour.
Cows and CalvingEach cow has a calf every year as long as they are in good condition. We run the bulls in two, five week blocks which means we calve in two, five week blocks. The first starts in November and the second, March. The block calving pattern makes managing a calving herd much easier, as the expectant and new mothers can be observed constantly for that period. It also means that the calves all have play pals and will grow up and stay together for all the time they are at Sheepdrove. Sheepdrove's dedicated cattleman checks the cows during the night throughout the calving period and we have use of a have a clever handling system within the cattle shed to assist with any calving difficulties. Calves go out with their mothers as soon as the weather is good enough as new grass growth increases milk production- and consequently calf growth.
The BullBringing a new herd sire (bull) is a huge decision and financial investment for any working farm. The bull is fifty percent of the herd genetics and the choosing process is not undertaken lightly. The bull has to be polled (no horns) to ensure calves are born with no horns as this makes handling easier.
The bull is"half the herd” but his offspring will be two years old when we add them to the breeding herd or sent away for meat to our butchers shop. So it is three years after we purchase the bull that we see any returns from him. The bulls will run with the spring calving cows at grass from June for two heats (42 days) and with the autumn calving cows from January. At 34 days post service we will diagnose pregnancy using an ultrasound scanner. Should a cow be empty she will then return to the bull for the next block. This tells us roughly how the calving pattern will work out, so we are on calving duty around 50 days. Cows that fail to get in calf twice are sent for cull, but our fertility here is excellent and that rarely happens.
Cows in the WinterWe house all the cattle in winter if the conditions are wet, so that we do not poach the grassland. We feed silage and hay ad-lib to all livestock during winter so they maintain body condition. During the winter months the stockman's daily routine seven days a week is feeding the cattle silage, bedding up with fresh straw, checking the animal's health and seeing that they have plenty of fresh clean water.
Unlike conventional farmers we don’t use nitrogen fertiliser to aid silage yields, instead we use nitrogen fixing clovers, vetches and herbs which are sown into the pasture, this produces a naturally rich, organic silage, to feed our cattle through the winter. We produce high quality meadow hay too which encourages the new calves to start eating roughage to supplement mother's milk.
The Welfare of our CowsWe have unique rubbing posts which are in the shape of a pyramid so they can scratch their backs, and you can see the animals love them! We provide salt licks for our cattle, although like related species in the wild, cattle will lick mud or soil to take up essential minerals.
Our British White CattleWe have a small herd of native British White Cattle on the farm. This breed is known for being hardy, with naturally strong feet and legs, producing plenty of milk and having exceptional maternal instincts. Generally they calve easily - an important trait when choosing a breed as it allows our stockmen to let the cows give birth outside, only intervening when absolutely necessary.
They are naturally healthy animals, and their hardiness is helped as all of their vulnerable areas - nose, muzzle, ears, eyes and udder are black. This avoids problems with sun exposure and is less likely to attract flies.