How to win the heart of a Dexter

Sarah McAuliffe, volunteer stock watcher and wildlife conservation trainee, gets up close and personal with our cattle and sheep

As a volunteer Wildlife Conservation Trainee with BBOWT, I’m offered many different opportunities to learn about and engage with wildlife in different ways.

I try to take advantage of as many of these as possible, so when I was asked if I wanted to get involved in stock watching, I enthusiastically said yes!

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect in terms of time and responsibility, but Jody Cornfield (BBOWT Land Management Officer – Grazing) was extremely helpful, knowledgeable and supportive from the beginning.

My stock watching patch was Inkpen Crocus Field, a tiny little reserve nestled in Inkpen, West Berkshire. I was given an induction and an information pack with everything I needed, including a list of emergency contact numbers should I be concerned about anything at all, so I felt confident!

Every Friday I made my way to Inkpen Crocus Field to count and monitor 15 Beulah sheep and 14 Dexter cattle. It was a little disconcerting on my first visit when, even after two rounds of the fields, I could not find the 14 Dexters anywhere! How could that many cows hide behind bramble bushes? It turned out that I wasn’t using quite the right tone of voice when calling them! Jody, who arrived soon after to collect some fencing, found them on her first call! Apparently it’s all about the intonation!

After that first visit I didn’t have any more problems! As the animals got used to me and the trust started to build, we had some very sweet and funny moments together! Beulah number 81 is an inquisitive and confident sheep with a soft spot for head scrubbles! I also found that the way to a Dexter’s heart is through willow leaves! Seeing that they’d munched on most of the lower branches, I lowered some of the higher ones for them to devour! I was rewarded with a rather lovely cuddle from one of the cows, who stuck their head under my arm and proceeded to rub its head against me gently! When I finally went to leave, he called after me for quite some time!

At the beginning of October, when the animals were moved to their winter grazing patches, I felt quite sad knowing I wouldn’t be going back there to see them, at least not for a while. Jody had told me on the induction day that I’d probably become quite attached to them, and she was right!

If you have the opportunity to get involved in stock watching for the Wildlife Trust, I would whole heartedly recommend it. The personal rewards are so worth the time you put in, and of course you contribute to keeping the animals happy and healthy! Give it a go! I know I’ll be back in March in search of more memorable moments with our ungulate friends!