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Brian says goodbye to herd as he hands over

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: November 08, 2012

HERDING: Brian Nicholls leads some of his Heddon Valley herd.

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AS a boy Brian Nicholls would drive his father's cattle on foot along the lanes to market at Blackmoor Gate.

Theirs was one of 18 farms in the village of Parracombe, each averaging just ten or a dozen milking cows

On November 16, Brian will watch as lorries collect 750 descendants of that original herd to be sold at Exeter in one of the most significant dairy sales of the year.

"We had about 16 cows when I started, but it wasn't a small herd then," said Brian, who is approaching his 70th birthday.

"I've milked cows for 62 years and that will do. The boys can go on now, on their own. I'll potter round and help them."

Brian has two sons, Barry and Graham, who are taking over the farm and running their own sheep flocks.

"My father, George, started this herd. They were British Friesians, and their production wasn't so high. If a Friesian gave 1,000 litres it was a big thing. Now they give nearer 2,000.

"Once we started working with Holstein bulls it changed.

"It was the Milk Marketing Board which imported those bulls. They had longer legs, stretchier cattle, longer bodied and they put the size into the British Friesian."

Brian has built up the Heddon Valley herd, always breeding his own cows and finding good Holstein bulls, while running a sizeable flock of sheep on the 900 acres of Lower East Middleton Farm.

Brian remembers helping out with the milking before he was 10 and having to take the cattle everywhere on foot.

"The nearest market was Blackmoor Gate about a mile and a half, two miles away. Every farmer in the district did it. We were one of the close ones. And as a boy I used to have to take the cows one at a time to the neighbour's bull. That was half a day's work.

"I can remember coming home from school before I started milking. I would rush back because my father would be bringing the cart horses in and he would give me a ride on one of them. That was the highlight of the day."

The cart horses have long gone and soon the cows will have gone too. Only a handful of the old ones will stay after the sale.

The farm will be home to sheep mainly. "This isn't really dairy country," said Brian. "It's more suitable for sheep and the boys can see that."

It has been a team effort, with his sons and his wife, Edna.

"I suppose I must have liked it," said Brian.

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