How gallant Gloucester came back from brink
Saved from the brink of extinction, Gloucester cattle
are now out of the Rare Breeds Survival Trusts
critical category. Tim Relf visited a farm dear to the
hearts of many breed devotees
FOR a few people, it marked a pilgrimage dating back more than a quarter of a century.
They had come back – the four of them – to Wick Court Farm, Arlingham, Glos for a Gloucester Cattle Society open day. It was here, 26 years earlier, that the countrys last herd of Gloucesters was sold. And the breed, long since on the critical list, could have disappeared forever.
But Joe Henson, Eric Freeman and Robin and Lisa Otter bought a sizeable number of animals on that day in 1972. And together with another devotee, Charles Martell, they set about re-establishing it.
Now, there are more than 700 females, spread as far afield as Cornwall, Cumbria, Norfolk and Orkney. Fitting, too, that Wick Court is now once again home to Gloucester cattle, brought back by Jonathan Crump, who runs it for the Farms for City Children charity.
New converts mixed with the long-standing enthusiasts at Wick Court. "Theres something special about them – theyre just beautiful," says Joe Henson. He recalls his first trip to the site: "I followed the herd as it was walked in for milking, watching their white tails swishing."
* Magical animal
Eric Freeman calls it a "magical" animal. For him, born and bred in the county, the reason for keeping them was simple: "Its part of the countys heritage – thats why I had them to begin with."
Most people who keep them now, he says, are enthusiasts. And until theres a bigger commercial following, the breed wont be completely safe, he reckons. "We could still get lost among these Continentals."
Breed society president Stuart Hay says more people are now recognising the commercial attributes of the stock.
Mr Hay began keeping them after retiring from industry. "I enjoy them and feel that I am doing something useful in helping to retain a living gene bank," he says.
For Derek and Janet Barker, the motive for getting involved with the animals in 1986 was even stranger. "People used to pester us to use the paddock for horses, so we thought if they could see something grazing in there, it would stop them asking."
They chose the Gloucester for its looks. "We get pleasure in making a fuss of them and looking after them," Derek says. Since then, they have expanded the venture, keeping up to 27 at one point at Walnut Tree Farm, Stevenage, Herts.
Its a labour of love for the Barkers and, besides, the family has a long historical association with the breed. Janet is a distant relative of Edward Jenner, the doctor who, working with a Gloucester cow called Blossom, pioneered the smallpox vaccine in 1796. Nearly 200 years later, the Barkers named one of their first Blossom.
Theres a commercial side, though. A bull sold in 1992 by the Barkers (bred by the Otters) made 3500gns, a record price for the breed.
Theres certainly a market for the meat, too. "I can sell as much as I can get my hands on," says Newent butcher Tom Gurney. "After we sold the first one, people were coming back saying it was the best beef they had ever eaten."
People like the idea of a traditional, regional product. Tourists like to take a little piece of the county home with them. And they like its flavour – although it is a fattier meat than some. "If you dont like fat, cut it off after youve cooked it," says Mr Gurney. "But cook it with the fat on to give it flavour.
"Whats beef without flavour. The last thing you want is just to be able to taste the gravy."
There were certainly no complaints about the taste of the steaks served at the open day. Dark and rich and full of flavour. And the cattle they came from? Gloucester, of course.
The meat was cooked and eaten in the yard where, 26 years before, the breed had hovered on the very brink of extinction. As Charles Martell says: "Another puff of wind and it would have disappeared."
Now there was no talk of extinction. Just optimism. Optimism and a feeling that the breed had come home.