DEXTER cattle are part of a three-way partnership in Steyning, formed following a successful pilot project.
The cows are helping to preserve rare chalk grassland on the Steyning Downland Scheme.
They were introduced on to the land last summer and such is the success that cattle breeder Frances Sedgwick has been shortlisted in the 2015 Sussex Food and Drink Awards’ Farmer of the Year category.
Matthew Thomas, project manager on the downland scheme, explained: “We need grazing on this land, otherwise it turns to scrub and then it affects the ancient chalk grassland, which is an internationally rare habitat.
“We were really in trouble because we needed grazing but this is really tough tor grass that most cows won’t eat. The Dexters are an old breed that will eat anything, and if anything, they do better on this.
“The tor grass swamps everything else if it is left. Where we have grassland that hasn’t been grazed for years, we almost lost it but we have caught it in the nick of time. These cows are conserving the landscape.”
Frances established her herd in 2010. They calf in May and go to beef at 30 months, for the Christmas market.
She said: “The cows on the downland scheme are there all-year-round, grazing at the Rifle Range, Steyning Coombe and Pepperscombe.
“They are 100 per cent grass-fed, which has a proven benefit for health. They are very well loved and they have a good life together.
“It is an absolutely fabulous partnership that has gradually evolved. They go to beef only once a year so it is something special.”
The third link in the chain is The Garlic Wood Farm Butchery, which has also been shortlisted in the Sussex Food and Drink Awards.
Owner Paul Martin said: “Our ethos is all about conserving so this is terrific. It is nice to be able to tell people that the beef they are buying has come from literally just up the road.
“You can put all the energy into the live animal but you also need a butcher to respect the carcass.”
Liz Vande Putte, manager at the shop, in High Street, Steyning, added: “People are desperate for it, they have been putting in orders since June.”
The Greyfriars Dexters graze the sward and are watched over after by a team of volunteer ‘lookerers’.
Frances uses a high standard of care to produce quality grass-fed beef.
She lives in Storrington and first established her herd to help her get back to health following a chronic and debilitating illness in 2007.
“I wanted to put into practice my passion and beliefs about producing quality food in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way,” she explained.
“I had gained a wealth of experience through my long employment with the Goodwood Estate, where I was an integral part of the conception and development of their organic food brands business up until my disability struck.”
She studied part-time and gained a degree in countryside management in 2010, winning the Top Student Award.
Frances added: “After graduating, I was looking to form a new work lifestyle that fitted in with my health and so the concept of producing my own quality beef was born.
“My aim was to establish an efficient and sustainable farming system, producing a quality product raised solely on pasture that would benefit both the environment and human health.”
She chose the Dexter for its fine meat and hardy nature, producing her first beef in 2012 via a community box scheme in Storrington. She now also supplies The Hungry Guest in Petworth.
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