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Celtic Cattle

By Rosewood Farm, Mar 18 2016 08:34PM

We apologise in advance for a little bit of bandwagon-jumping, but we do have reason to be excited about the latest archaeological discoveries in the nearby town of Pocklington. The site is not only yielding things like warrior graves and unprecedented shield burials, it also has significance to us personally.


The Iron Age burial site in Pocklington (MAP Ltd)
The Iron Age burial site in Pocklington (MAP Ltd)

We are quite into our history here at Rosewood. Nat writes historical fiction, takes part in historical reenactments with her oxen and writes books about them, too. I’ve always held a particular interest in ancient and Roman history. The Iron Age Pocklington finds link all this together for us, particularly as we are one of a few stalwarts keeping the closest living relative to the ‘Celtic Shorthorn’, the Dexter, going long after they fell out of favour in the wider industry due to their small size.


Historical reenactment with Rum & Natalie
Historical reenactment with Rum & Natalie

I’ve spoken quite a lot over the years about why we feel smaller rather than large cattle work better for us, our business and the land but for historylovers the Dexter goes even deeper than that. It’s thought Britain first gained domestic cattle when ‘the Celts’ turned up. Whether they tamed the Aurochs that were already here, brought their Celtic Shorthorns with them or created a new type specific to Britain by accidentally or intentionally mingling the two is subject to debate, but what we do know is that the ancient cattle that this culture would have depended on were very similar to the Dexters we have today.


These little cows would have been the cornerstone of the newly created settled farming communities; they provided the muscle to make significant amounts of the scratches in the ground we needed to put our seeds into. They would provide a concentrated amount of muck to feed the plants. Their leather was vital for many uses, the milk and cheese a really handy form of supernutrition, to say nothing of the beef!


Allerthorpe Common; grazing through time
Allerthorpe Common; grazing through time

Cattle certainly were the key to wealth and prosperity back then. Maybe not so much these days, sadly for us. Our Dexters have kept us going for 20 years though and are helping others in unique ways too; because they are so similar to the cattle of ancient times, we are helping museums and academics with their work. You can find one of our Dexter cowhides in the Iron-age exhibit at Shrewsbury Museum and we provide bones from our slaughtered animals to Dr Louisa Gidney to aid in her research. Not only are Dexters the appropriate breed for her study but our cattle live longer than most modern cattle and have a diet very close to that of the cattle back then before anyone could get their hands on large quantities of modern grains or soya. This means they make a useful comparison to the bones Louisa unearths on digs.


Spot-the-Difference; Romano-British, Dexter & Modern cattle bones (Gidney)
Spot-the-Difference; Romano-British, Dexter & Modern cattle bones (Gidney)

Louisa’s 2013 thesis, ‘Offspring of the Aurochs’ features some of Natalie’s research on the subject of oxen too. We currently have a pair of our Dexters in training, Rook & Raven, to become oxen too and who knows what information this project may yield?


We graze land extremely close to the Pocklington dig site. Allerthorpe common is, like the Dexters, a unique relic that has survived by fluke, also like the Dexters because it was thought unsuitable for modern farming. It struck us this morning that the people being unearthed from this dig site were extremely likely to have hunted on Allerthorpe Common so closeby and the landscape would presumably be largely unchanged and thanks to us, the Celtic Shorthorns that were possibly once herded down there to graze 2500 years ago are back!


So you see, buying beef directly from your friendly local grazier does so much more than sourcing a tasty meal - it also advances our knowledge of the past.



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