I used to boast at one time that in our dairy herd we had every colour of cow, other than green. Green would be far too difficult to spot when out at grass. (Actually Black and White cows, in the early morning, can be damned difficult to spot when they’re standing against a hedge line. They’re woodland animals wearing woodland camo). But when you work with different breeds you soon begin to spot that some breeds have their own traits. So Simis were tended towards the quieter end of the spectrum. Indeed when we let cows into the parlour, the first eight in would always be Simis. You’d not see a black and white until the second tranche.

Ayrshires were fine but somehow ‘independent.’ We dried off a couple of old Ayrshire milk cows and walked them down to spend a couple of months with some heifers. The idea was that it would be a rest for them. They arrived home before we did. They obviously wanted to stay with the main herd, no matter what we thought.

Friesians, or at least ‘Black and White’ are the default. They’re the standard domesticated dairy cow. But I remember talking to a vet who had had to TB test a small suckler herd. This herd was a mixture of older dairy cows the farmer hadn’t sold, and younger Angus, Hereford and similar suckler cows he’d purchased. To TB test them they tied them up by the neck in a shippon and tested them that way. There might have been ten or a dozen of them. The first time they tested them, the old dairy cows were easy to tie up, after all they’d been tied up twice a day, every day, for years. The others were a little more exciting. But the following year when they came to test them, the suckler cows were easy enough, whereas the old dairy cows were distinctly skittish, having almost forgotten how these things were done. I suspect that perhaps Black and Whites have to be constantly handled to keep them properly domesticated.

We did have some Black and White cows that had been bought out of a dispersal sale. They’d been housed inside all year round and had milked through a big rotary parlour. Until they calved we turned them out with some heifers. The first day it rained the cows ran en masse to the tallest hedge and huddled under it. The heifers stood there in the rain, grazing happily, wondering what the fuss was about. When I went out to give everybody a handful of cake, the cows glared at me, it was obviously my fault, and standards had obviously fallen in recent years.

Jersey cattle are something else. I always found them good to work with but if anything went wrong it was ‘Your’ fault and ‘You’ were going to suffer. They could be flighty and Jersey bulls are notorious in some circles for being bad to work with. Anyway we had to load about fourteen heifers out of a field. They were Jersey cross Black and White. We made a pen of gates and quietly walked them into it. Backed the trailer up to the gate and loaded five. By that time three had already jumped out (one without touching the gate, which is impressive.) We took the five to the other field and went back for the next load. We got them all back into the pen and loaded another four before the others left. The problem is that the five now left in the field had self-selected as excitable. So something had to be done. I deployed the plastic dog.

Every day I went into the field with a bucket of cake. On the first day I had to go to them. On the second day we met half way. On the third day they followed me. They wouldn’t go into the pen, and there was a pony looking over the hedge at them which didn’t help. But still they ate the cake near the pen. After a week I got them eating in the pen and by the end of the second week some of them were waiting in the pen for me.

Finally I got them used to the pen being smaller, and even to having the gate shut whilst they ate.

It is said that timing is the secret of good comedy. It’s certainly the secret of moving livestock. If the landrover and trailer had appeared before the heifers got into the pen they’d have suspected something was going on. So we had to time things very carefully. I had the heifers in the pen, eating with the gate shut as the landrover drove into the field. Then, with three of us making sure that they couldn’t jump out, we quietly moved them in the direction of the trailer. Eventually one of them virtually ran up the ramp, and with that, the other four followed meekly after her.

Somebody once commented to my lady wife that she’d seen this shirt or jumper or something with pigs and sheep on and wondered if it was the sort of thing I’d like.

My lady wife just said, “Not really, Jim’s a cowman.”

Jim Webster farms at the bottom end of South Cumbria. Jim was encouraged to collect together into a book some blog posts he’d written because of their insight into Cumbrian farming and rural life (rain, sheep, quad-bikes and dogs) It’s available here.