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Journal of a livestock looker

July 27, 2011

Author – [Mary Harcourt – volunteer livestock looker]


Shetland cows on best behaviour

So first of all what is a livestock looker? Well, predictably, it is a person who is employed to look at livestock, in our case, as volunteers for the National Trust.

The livestock in question are five very smart Shetland cattle (some of them pictured above), all ladies of a certain age, who arrived about two months ago to take up residence in the Chase. Just now they are munching their way through the grass in the meadow and looking well on it, but the plan is, that when the works in the Chase are completed, they will be allowed out of the meadow to roam free and be very useful residents involved in conservation grazing of their environment.

The National Trust takes very seriously its responsibilities for the livestock in its care and on it’s land and provided a day’s training for the would be livestock lookers. This gave information on how to tell if a cow looks healthy and happy, what problems to look out for and of course the all important emergency call out procedures if you spot something untoward.

Now, as certified livestock lookers, we feel competent to carry out our first day’s duty. We don our lanyards with their official badges and set off down the lane. We gracefully vault the gate and head off towards our charges in the meadow.

There they all are, companionably standing together, munching away. They look up briefly but are unimpressed by our official badges and carry on with the important work of disposing of the grass. We perform the drill – check from the gate, move closer and check the group, counting the cattle and watching their general behaviour. Then we check individual animals, very importantly ensuring that they all have their ear tags in place. Any that are missing must be recorded and reported. We then check the site before leaving, making sure water troughs are full, mineral blocks are sufficient, gates and fences are secure. Finally the record keeping – fill in the book with names, weather conditions and any further comments.

Phew – all seems in order. No escapees. We remembered the code for the padlock on the water bowser so were able to top up the water in the troughs, no ear tags missing, no riotous behaviour among our charges. Essentially a tranquil pastoral scene in the meadow.

However we must be careful not to get lulled into a false sense of security about the straightforward nature of our post. As I mentioned, the cattle will eventually be roaming freely in the Chase carrying out their function as conservation grazers. Livestock looking will take on a whole new dimension. We will first of all have to locate our lady friends. This could take some while as although the Chase is not a very large woodland area it is quite large enough to hide five Shetland cows. Our day’s livestock looking may take some considerable time as we spend many happy hours playing hide and seek with our charges…… Watch this space….

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