During November the riverside landscape changes dramatically. With the last of the cattle departing from the pastures their agricultural function ceases until the following spring. People tend to think that when the cattle are removed at the end of the season they are going for slaughter. In times past this was certainly the case and St Martin’s Day on 11th November was the traditional time when livestock was killed and salted because there was not enough hay and fodder to keep them all through the winter. Nowadays, of course, this is not the case and it is worth outlining the farming system in operation on our riverside.
On the Cornard riverside and the Ballingdon pastures opposite the Priory fishery and Friars meadow cows with new born calves arrive each spring. The calves are safe from human interference or disturbance by dogs and humans are safe from the protective instincts of cows defending their young calves. Often there is also a bull too. At the end of the season the calves are weaned off their mothers as they are no longer dependent on their mother’s milk for survival and the cows and calves go to separate winter quarters. By this time the cows are ‘in calf’ again, the bull having done his job!
Those young calves that enjoyed their first summer with their mothers will return to graze out on Freemen’s Commons and Fullingpit meadows. If anyone makes the comparison it is plain to see that these animals are usually so much smaller than those that are turned out to graze on King’s Marsh and North Meadow Common. As there are not enough ‘in house’ calves to stock all the pastures others are purchased. At the end of the season these animals are, once again, moved to winter quarters where they are well fed and protected from inclement weather.
The following spring these animals return yet again to King’s Marsh or North Meadow Common to graze for one last season before they are finally removed for ‘finishing’ on barley ahead of slaughter for the table. The cows, of course, continue to enjoy the summer pastures for many years and they become very familiar with the calls of the rangers when it is time to move from one area of grass to another.
Hopefully this outline demonstrates that there is method in the grazing regime on the Sudbury riverside. Of course, the bottom line is that by the end of the season all the pastures should be grazed off in a manner to provide a suitable habitat for the wildlife associated with them and to that end stock numbers are carefully controlled on each area. Without cattle grazing the riverside pastures would soon becoming rank and overgrown.