A collaboration of coast and countryside organisations on The Lizard Peninsula

As a result, most UK grasslands today are sown as temporary ryegrass leys to provide this high protein diet fed to cattle to ensure rapid growth. Ryegrass is fast growing and short lived. It demands large amounts of fertiliser, and if not cut at the optimum time the feed value plummets, with mid-May being the optimum time for ryegrass silage harvest. This relentless drive for fast production and unnatural weight gain has been a disaster for our native grasslands, destroyed wildlife habitats and also the quality of our beef. Ryegrass leys are effectively an ecological desert, a monoculture of fast growing grasses leaving little space for any wildlife. The early cutting regime ruins any chance of ground nesting birds being able to successfully raise a brood of chicks, should they be brave enough to venture into such an inhospitable environment in the first place. Add to this the peculiar consumer demand for lean pale meat, pushes many farmers away from the naturally fatty traditional breeds towards the more fashionable continental breeds of Limousin, Charolais etc, which thrive on this husbandry and protein rich diet. In reality, grass fed beef is unusually high in healthy omega 3 fats, totally different from grain fed cattle being high in unhealthy saturated fats. And, of course, slow-grown, grass and herb fed beef is a far superior product, with so much more flavour and better texture.

GrasslandThe ancient flower rich pastures at Predannack could never support a herd of Limousin or similar continental breed cattle, they simply wouldn’t survive on the poor quality forage. In contrast, our own traditional breed docile Ruby Red Devon and Dexter cattle flourish on these pastures. These, and other traditional breed animals, have been selectively bred over generations to adapt to these traditional pastures with little or no inputs. However, no cattle should be expected to reach maturity within that crucial 30 month age limit on their natural diet of traditional grasses and herbs (our forefathers never had to worry about these artificially set time constraints) As such, we do need to supplement their herb-rich diet with some grain, ‘cake’ and ryegrass based pastures. With this occasional protein boost, you can almost watch them grow, but we are also trialling clovers and vetch which so far seems increasingly successful.

Through this use of traditional livestock and traditional management of the flower rich pastures at Predannack, we’re not only preserving an important genetic resource of the cattle, but we’re also helping wildlife through preserving the ancient species rich grasslands which have otherwise been lost elsewhere in the country though over-intensification of agriculture. However, the real proof is in the eating. Cattle of cliffsTraditional breed, slow grown, grass and herb-fed and well-hung beef is so much tastier and arguably healthier than modern grain-fed, quick growing, continental breed beef. Try for yourself.

 Published: Aug 2015
Author: William Watson