By Annie Stirk (UK) – From setting up on his own from scratch, “straight out of school and from virtually nothing,” Yorkshire, England, farmer Andrew Fisher has come a long way—and so have his British White cattle. Since purchasing a single pedigree British White cow in 2004, Andrew has built up a 125-strong herd of these British White cattle at his Pateley Bridge farm—one of the largest herds in the country— winning national awards and, along the way, helping to conserve what was once a critically endangered native species.
“I used to breed commercial cattle but they were quite wild and on my own it was very hard work,” says Andrew. “I decided I’d had enough one day, and saw a British White at Melton Mowbray market and said to myself ‘I’ve got to have one of those!’ Soon after, I went to a rare breed sheep and beef sale and bought one. In the first year I’d built this up to 20 and five years later, I had more than 100!”
Word of his “Nidderdale Diamonds” spread, and in the last few years he’s been supplying Harrogate farm shop, Weeton’s, with an entire animal each week (quite a feat) in order to provide premium cuts of rare breed beef to its discerning customers.
“When Weeton’s owner Andrew Loftus came to see the herd, he just said, ‘I will take all the meat that you can supply!’”
“It is a privilege to supply Weeton’s and it is a unique breed to their farm shop. If it wasn’t for people like Andrew Loftus, the breed wouldn’t survive—I couldn’t have done all this without him.”
British White Cattle: A Breed Apart
Farming, and particularly breeding cattle, has been a passion for Andrew from a very young age.
“My granddad and uncle were beef and sheep farmers so I got my love of cattle from them. I worked with them as a young kid and picked up a lot of experience, and during school I worked at a neighbor’s farm too, and got hooked!” says Andrew. “When I left school at 16 it seemed a natural path, I suppose you could say it’s in my blood.”
British White cattle are characterized by their white color, which can include red or black markings, and the distinctive flavorful meat.
“They’re an attractive bunch so great for showing,” says Andrew. “But they also produce lovely tasting, tender meat. They mature and fatten on grass, which adds to the unique and lovely flavor.”
And, as a member and show judge for the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, the charity set up to protect and conserve the UK’s rare native breeds of farm animals and poultry, Andrew embraces the challenges of rearing such pure breeds.
“I love the breeding, the calving, the challenges of keeping pedigree cattle—I love all the aspects of it,” he says.
Having spent many years growing his herd of British White Cattle, this year Andrew began showing his cattle at agricultural exhibitions for the first time. And he’s had some fantastic results.
“At the first one I attended, the Cheshire Show, I was awarded seven first prizes,” says Andrew. “I was really pleased—if a little shocked!”
He’s since gone on to win second prize in the “Herd of the Year” competition, which saw his British White cattle competing with herds from across the UK, and says the rewards make all the hard work worthwhile.
“It might sound strange but these shows are essentially my holiday!” he says. “So, it feels so great to win prizes and it gives me a great deal of job satisfaction.”
Andrew’s job is certainly not an easy one. “I’m up at 6:00 a.m., mucking out, checking on the show cattle inside, then checking the stock outside. I rent some 300 acres on the farm so I’m in the LandRover a lot too,” he says.
So, does he ever think about giving it all up? “Every other day in winter!” he laughs. “When it’s snowing and blowing, I think I might like to be in a nice warm office in the dry.”
“But I love the changing seasons and the diversity of the job,” he continues. “Ultimately, working out- doors is just ‘me’. It’s my way of life, and it’s exactly how I like it.”
|Facts about British White Cattle|
|• British White cattle are white with black or red points on the nose, muzzle, eyes, ears and teats.|
|• The cows are docile and dual-purpose, so they are naturally good milkers and hardy so they can be out-wintered.|
|• According to the British White Cattle Society (BWCS), the modern day breed claims direct links with the UK’s ancient indigenous wild white cattle, which date back to 1553.|
|• In 2008, celebrity Michelin-starred chef Nigel Haworth was the driving force behind setting up his own herd of 90 cows to supply his expanding string of restaurants— recognition of the distinct eating qualities of British White beef.|
|• The BWCS suggest that in 1918 there were only seven recorded herds containing 16 bulls and 115 females, but thanks to farmers like Andrew it is no longer listed by the RBST as a rare breed, joining the Longhorn (among others) in the minority breeds category.|
Weetons.com is the ultimate website for food lovers, with bags of inspiration to tempt your taste buds, including recipes, insider tips and a taste of what’s in store.
Originally published in Countryside November/December 2012 and regularly vetted for accuracy.