The yearly gather from the moor is a magic vignette. This year our animals were spread out grazing the top of the cleave, about half a mile away. I called, and the nearest animal, a first year mother, not knowing, moved away back into the herd. I called again; grazing ceased, and heads went up.
Another call – is that what I think it is? – does he mean it? – I think he does! With that, the older cows beginning walking towards me; they all do, then faster, and faster -- they trot, the claves in their wake, they know not why.
Finally they stampede, towards and past me, on to the moor gate. I follow, and let them down the lane, unled, much to the consternation of those drivers unused to Dartmoor.
Bringing up the rear, I stop to greet a neighbour and exchange news. At Jurston Green the cattle slow and spread out, I pass them to the front, and when I call again they follow; along the lane, right at the cross-roads where Lizzie stands, and on to the first of the winter meadows, to graze the re-growth on the silage fields – they know; pure magic.
The older followers live in the barn. Every three or four days I spread a half ton bale of straw for bedding; the signal for fun, and what a right old schmozzle ensues. They attack the bale, and race around, bucking and roaring in a form of musical chairs, and I take a lot on trust that they are aware of my presence! Great craic – for them.
Winter has brought a few cold winds, sharp frosts and heavy rain. One of the gales brought down an Ash tree, with it’s buds full and ready for Spring. They also up-ended a neighbours field shelter. Last year’s calves will be weaned in early February, and this year’s will begin to arrive in April. Field work, harrowing and rolling the meadows, will soon be upon us, and the farming year will start in earnest.