By: Blonde Two
There are fifteen little beef cows on Norm’s farm at the moment. Fifteen cows and fifty acres of lush green New Zealand grass means that the cows don’t really need that much looking after; but they do need moving around the farm from time to time. This job involves the opening of strategic gates, a modicum of standing back and a bit of ‘directing’. Sometimes the ‘directing’ is easy; stand behind gate and watch cows wander (or occasionally run) through. Sometimes it is a bit more of a challenge; and you have to do a bit of ‘getting behind’ or ‘leading further across’. One thing that I have learned (and used on Dartmoor a couple of times) is that if you want a cow to move away from you, you make yourself look big and look straight at them; but if you want a cow to move past you, you avoid looking them in the eye.
There are lots of cows on Dartmoor (you shouldn’t see bulls over six months old). They appear to be wandering around aimlessly, but like good Blondes, the cows (and sheep) have a system. Each group of cows has a lear (called a heft in other parts of the UK) that they learn to graze. This lear is obviously encouraged by the farmers for ease of care, but it is passed on through generations of cattle so that everyone knows where they need to be.
Lears work a bit like a jigsaw, with one group of stock keeping another in its place. Cows that roam out of their lear can be moved back by other farmers and all that are grazing on common land should be marked.
The organisation that oversees the commons grazing arrangements on Dartmoor is the Dartmoor Commonors’ Council and they have a set of guidelines for learing stock.
Guidelines for walking past cows on common land are similar to those when crossing fields, except that you may have more scope for avoiding a group: Try not to walk between a cow and her calf, keep your dog under control (but let it go if you are attacked), don’t panic or run and remember that the cows are probably as worried about you as you are about them. See The Ramblers advice here.
Two more interesting cow things; if you want to graze your cattle on Dartmoor (you can’t do so without applying to the Dartmoor Commonors’ Council) you can forget it if you live in Totnes or Barnstaple. Also, just because your cows are up there; it doesn’t mean that you have any rights to turbary, piscary, common soil, estover or pannage … go on, see if you can translate those!