Wark Farm

Organic Farm and Butchery in Aberdeenshire

Phone Number: 01975 581149

News From The Farm March 2024

  • Posted by:
  • Admin
  • Tags:
  • Posted date:
  • 11-03-2024

A few of the Chillingham Wild Cattle

Stories from the farm January 2024

We had our annual Soil Association organic inspection back in October. This is an annual audit we go through to verify that, both on the ground and in the office, we are compliant with the requirements of remaining a certified organic farm. It involves a walk round with the inspector, looking at the land and all the groups of animals, and then a rummage through the paperwork or, more often now, a quizzing of farm and accounting cloud-based software to make it cough up some of the stuff we've fed it over the preceding 12 months. The inspectors change every couple of years, presumably so we don't get too chummy with them and to maintain their regulatory zeal. Nonetheless they tend to be interesting types and a wander round the farm with them is more a pleasure than a chore (though I can't say the same for making a computer regurgitate its breakfast).

Our last inspector, on working out from a scan across the farm that we are grazing our cattle and sheep on a mixed age, quick moving, longer grass grazing pattern, started comparing notes from his experience of such things and we got happily distracted for much of the morning discussing more naturalistic approaches to managing a cattle herd. This included a recommendation to visit a herd of cattle in Northumberland, called the Chillingham Wild Cattle. And it being on the route of a planned trip to Yorkshire in November, so we did. And fascinating it was.

This is a herd of cattle, hefted to an area of parkland surrounding a castle, that is recorded to have been present there for hundreds of years with smatterings of historical anecdote that could place them as having been there much longer, Julius Caesar is mentioned ... . Suffice to say they are smallish, white, horned cattle, much more likely to be akin to medieval cattle than anything modern. Dreams that they may be a direct link back to the extinct auroch haven't yet found much scientific validity. But it's good to dream.

What captured our attention though was their self-sustaining/self-managing status. They have close to no direct human interference (a minimal amount of hay is provided in the winter). No vet input, no calving assistance, no selection, no handling, no culling, no minerals, no harvesting, no new bulls, no new cows. In effect they are a self regulating island population of bovines. They live and die by their individual wits within their herd social structure under the influence of the weather and the available food. As a farmer deeply programmed to care for our animals, this was tough to swallow but also enthralling. Even after an extended 1-2-1 tour of the herd with the cattle warden and reading a book published on them, there are way more questions bouncing around than answers.

To begin to understand something of the complex social matriarchy of a herd left largely to its own devices has added a new richness to our thinking as we continue to evolve our management. Comparison is indeed a great illuminator. Even if there is no precedent here for our cows, they will inspire us in the way we read our cattle's needs, behaviour and interactions. In the mean time, another spring is coming around and we just gave our cows their annual pre-calving minerals pill yesterday. Even with certain routines, a year with the cows is full of interest and always changing.


The March order form is now updated and online. You can find the link below to the order form with all our different meat cuts available, along with practical info about delivery/collection dates.

Our regular customers already know that it's first come, first serve for our delicious meat cuts that are not only full of flavour due to the breeds we use and their grass/herb diets, but also free of nasties such as pesticides and antibiotics. You can find all the info on the order form, including more info about the specials of the month.

Link to order:

March 2024 Order Form