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Pair say goodbye to their cattle for slower pace of life

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: April 17, 2014

MOVING ON: Robert James and Kate Palmer. Picture: Richard Howe

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A NORTH Devon couple who have just dispersed their pedigree cattle at auction spoke of their sadness at retiring and their pride in maintaining the traditional traits of the original Devon Reds.

Robert James and Kate Palmer sold virtually all their stock at Hatherleigh market on Thursday.

The cattle were raised at West Yeo Farm, Witheridge, where the couple kept an organic holding, rearing sheep and poultry and the Devons.

They stayed true to the original pedigree and declined to follow recent patterns of cross-breeding the red cattle to raise bigger animals.

"We've always stuck to the traditional type of Devons and Robert's father had 50 years of breeding behind his cows," said Kate of the Langworthy pedigree started by Phillip James.

"His cattle were successful in shows, before the Devons went into a sort of decline.

"The modern type has developed because more commercially minded people thought it was better to have French Saler cattle to cross with them."

Although the new type is taller and longer, Kate said the modern breeding had not bettered the Red Rubies: "The Saler types have a different temper and structure. I know of some that are so wild the owners just wanted to sell them.

"They've got a completely different temper and muscle structure without the same marbling of the meat.

"The traditional Devons have a marvellous conformation and marbled meat right down to the hock.

"Provided they're given good quality forage they don't need cereal-based feed unless it's a freshly calved cow. It's the continental breeds that need the extra.

"Ours [at the sale] were out of the houses, some were due to calf. They were quiet, content and as they should be."

Kate went on to explain their decision to sell and move: "I chose to be a farmer and to buy a farm at 50. But unless you've got children you can't do it and keep struggling on. Getting up in the middle of the night and lambing is tough.

"I want to move on. I'm going to do gardening by the sea, walk the dogs and have a more relaxing lifestyle."

Robert explained the decision was partly due to a recent struggle with his health.

He is a qualified butcher and has earned his living driving heavy goods vehicles as well as from the farm.

Kate was a teacher for 25 years and has been a Devon county, district and parish councillor for 30 years.

She went into farming with half a dozen calves and just 12 acres of land. "We were always renting and borrowing land and to come here with a proper ring fenced farm was a relief.

"I've restored the whole farm and the people who are coming in like the organic and the stewardship, including a county council wildlife site."

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