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Journey of a livestock looker – Mary Harcourt

March 8, 2012

Several people have asked us how the cattle have fared over the winter in The Chase. It has been a relatively mild winter with very little snow and the cows have wandered freely all over the woodland grazing and browsing. So the answer must be – extremely well. They have roamed far and wide around The Chase, sampling its varied habitats from the lake to the heathland, the Alder Carr to the beech woods by the gates at the Broad Layings end. They have grown thick coats and have been unfazed by wind or rain, calmly carrying on their daily munching and cud chewing. One day when it was very cold and we were anticipating a chilly search we arrived at the gate to find all five cows waiting just inside. We were most grateful to them and carried out our check in double quick time before returning to the warm. The sharp eyed among you will have noticed that the gates to the meadow have been shut for some time (I am writing this in late February). This has been to keep the cattle out so that the grass can regenerate. In general it had been the normal practice of the cows to come back to the meadow overnight so that if we arrived to check on them early in the morning they would probably not be very far away. However with the gates closed they have had to change their ways. Now it is anyone’s guess where they will be and they do like to keep us guessing! We have caught glimpses of them in places where we would not normally go as there is no path and have had to fight our way through bracken and bramble to get close enough to check they have ear tags in place. We have on one occasion had to help out another livestock looker who was unable to locate our four legged friends but have always managed between the two of us to find them on our own looking day. However we thought a couple of weeks ago that our luck was about to run out. We set off early in the morning and spent a fruitless hour searching separately and keeping in touch by phone. We returned about two hours later for another search – still no luck. Two – nil to the cows! The afternoon saw us setting out again, this time accompanied by reinforcements (two granddaughters). Again we split up, each of us with one granddaughter, and after more fruitless searching, were almost giving up again when we saw a lady by the top of the field. Usual question – “Have you by any chance seen the cows?” “Oh yes,” came the reply, “they are up by the car park.” We set off at some speed and indeed there they were, well hidden in the trees, two of them lying down, making it even more difficult to spot them. Triumphantly we checked them out and wrote up the records in the book. Luck had not yet deserted us. The spring is almost coming to The Chase now. The snowdrops are going over and the birds are singing their hearts out. Our livestock looking duties this morning were a real delight – we walked up to the field and saw in the sunshine Blackie, Whitie, Spotty, Stripy and Socks all lying companionably together chewing the cud, their thick winter coats gleaming – a picture of contentment. The life of a Shetland cow in The Chase, Woolton Hill is obviously a good one.

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