CAP reform is bringing other major changes in farm support in January. In theory this should help support more extensive systems, as it will eventually be based on area rather than animal numbers, but the system is hugely complex and still favours big agri-business. As our land is all rented we may well be worse off and for the same reason probably won’t qualify for the new agri-environment schemes. Many small farmers are in a similar position (a lot are giving up), so there will be even more need for conservation grazing herds like ours to manage important wildlife habitats. If we manage to survive we may expand in due course to take on more large heathland sites that no-one else wants to graze.
Right: Commoners collecting cattle off the New Forest (photo by Eleanor Collingridge).
We ought to know better than to take on more, after what turned out to be a stressful summer. A herd across the river got an infectious and unpleasant disease called New Forest Eye, which causes cloudiness, ulcers on the surface of the eye and ultimately blindness—in due course ours caught it. The treatment is gruesome if ointment does not work—injecting the inside of the eyelid with slow-release antibiotic. Catching them the first time was not too bad, but we had few volunteers after that... The disease worked its way through many of the herd, only petering out when the weather cooled. Fortunately after treatment most healed very well.
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