Over the stable door: Pride in dairy at the show

Livestock remain an integral part of Otley Show, now in its 206th year.  Pic: James Hardisty
Livestock remain an integral part of Otley Show, now in its 206th year. Pic: James Hardisty
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THERE ARE three ways of losing money: backing horses is the quickest, wine and women is the pleasantest, but fattening bullocks is the surest.

This old Yorkshire proverb is hung on my office wall, a daily reminder the career path I choose is unlikely to make my fortune, but I can certainly enjoy trying. I feel for those who wake every morning and dread going to work or worse still, have no job to get up for.

Felix and I visited Otley Show last Saturday. A proper agricultural show, it has retained a strong country feel. We went to the farmer’s auction marquee where free cups of tea and cakes were on offer in return for a donation in the charity box. As we sat tucking into butterfly buns I noticed one family of show goers arrive, fill up their plates with goodies before throwing a few coppers into the charity box. They even had the cheek to ask for seconds. Some people have no scruples.

Talk in the cattle tents was centred on the milk trade. The sight of a dairy farmer smiling is now a rare one (unless he’s just sold me some haylage). My son and I watched the cattle being judged. All immaculately turned out in prime condition as they were led round the main ring for the championship prize giving. Their handlers had been up with the lark, tending and preparing their animals. One exhibitor explained he had even shown the grandmother of the fresian heifer he had brought. It made me wonder how much the public or the government really value the effort, care and breeding that goes in to the UK dairy industry.

My father sold his milk herd in 1997 when it became unsustainable. Then he received 24p per litre, now some farmers are getting as little as 21ppl almost 20 years later. It seems an impossibility. The home market is swamped by foreign milk imports, purchased at a fraction of the cost by iron handed supermarkets who compete to sell at rock bottom prices. It is forecast 90 per cent of the remaining British dairy farms will no longer exist in another eight years. British milk will need to be produced on huge factory farms like America.

I’m already sorry my son couldn’t grow up to enjoy the benefits of fresh unpasteurised cow’s milk on his cereals every morning as we did (there were no sniffling illnesses in our house). It now looks highly likely he won’t get many more opportunities to see top class family bred dairy cattle on show at the local agricultural events either.

But with media assistance and careful shopping we can salvage our industry. Using a milkman, buying dairy products from local companies like Langley Farms and Dales Dairy who use Yorkshire milk is an easy place to start.

My little herd of racehorses is on the increase once again. No sooner had we turned out the winter horses and disinfected the stables and they were filled up with new arrivals. Some from Ireland and others I purchased at the sales. It is an exciting time getting to know each one individually.

Everyone is keen for a nosey. One of the new purchases is a filly who has won on the flat and over hurdles. After trotting her around the pen for a few minutes I noticed my father’s jeep arriving in the yard, then the lasses decided it was time to clean out water troughs next to where I was working. Soon a small crowd had gathered to watch, as the filly whizzed immaculately over my fences I could hear oohh’s and ahh’s from the audience. They weren’t the only ones excited by what they saw.