Jennifer MacKenzie is an agricultural photo journalist with almost 30 year's experience. Operating from her base in Cumbria, Jennifer undertakes mainly industry-related freelance writing and photography.
Charolais herd survives and prospers
2005 was an extraordinary year for Peter and Vanessa Vasey who farm near Carlisle.
With the New Year came the well-documented floods which drastically affected the lower Eden Valley and Carlisle more than a year ago on January 8.
The devastating flood brought a torrent of water and debris from the nearby River Eden five feet deep through their farm steading and buildings at the 170-acre Holme House, Wetheral, and into their farmhouse in the early hours of the morning – the first time in the 36 years the Vaseys have farmed there.
Peter, his son Giles and friends electrician Andrew Teasdale and restaurateur Kenny Hogg as well as firemen from Longtown, spent hours chest-deep in the freezing water to rescue the family’s prized Edenhurst Charolais herd from the buildings, including small calves and in-calf cows, taking them to higher ground.
|Vanessa and Peter Vasey with
youngstock rescued from the flood - the heifer
second from the right, Edenhurst Rosanna, was only two days old at the time
and she is now a show prospect for 2006.
Ironically, while Peter and Vanessa were only able to fully move back into their refurbished farmhouse seven weeks before Christmas, having spent the year staying with relatives and friends, 2005 had many highlights and it has been one of the most successful for the Edenhurst herd both in the show and sale ring.
However, the brightest moment of the year which helped maintain the Vaseys’ spirits during the trauma was the birth of their first grand child, Joshua, to daughter Jill and husband Chris in May.
“It’s remarkable that this has been our best year yet for the herd. It’s extraordinary that the animals have been able to acclimatise and in the end realise their potential considering what they have been through,” said Peter Vasey, whose pedigree Charolais bloodlines go back to when the herd was established 30 years ago, even surviving the foot and mouth epidemic which ravaged the area in 2001.
All of the herd’s 55 females and followers – now totalling 120 head – were rescued from the flood and remarkably only two calves whose heavily-pregnant dams were stranded outside, were stillborn.
Of the young bulls rescued, Edenhurst Vancouver went on to shine on the summer show circuit from his first show of the season, the Northumberland County at the end of May.
Helped by stockman Andrew Stott, himself a keen cattle showman and a Blonde breeder who joined the Vaseys in April, the bull collected breed championships at the Northumberland, Penrith and Dumfries shows and as well as the Charolais top honours went on to take interbreed awards at Cockermouth and Skelton and a reserve interbreed at the Westmorland County.
The bull, CH 34, which was only eight months old when it was rescued, then sold at the October Perth Charolais sale for 11,000gns after securing the overall reserve supreme and junior championship.
The herd also went on to claim the coveted champion group of three award with Vancouver, teamed-up with two more Hofmeister sons, Edenhurst Victorious CH30 who sold for 5,800gns and Edenhurst Vermont CH41 who commanded a 4,000gns bid.
|The Edenhurst bull line-up for the Perth February 2006 sale.|
The Edenhurst herd’s success at pre-sale shows and sale began with taking the top price among the bulls at the Carlisle June sale.
And at the Carlisle Christmas Cracker sale in November Edenhurst Unity CH26, an April 2003 born heifer by Oldstone Egbert, was sold for the top price of 5,500gns.
Peter Vasey’s involvement with shows during the year went far beyond his herd’s successes.
He had the honour of judging the big three breed shows – starting with the Royal Show, Stoneleigh, in early July, then three weeks later the Scottish National Charolais Show held at Kirriemuir Show and the Irish National Show at Fintona in Northern Ireland.
During the flood, a two day old calf was almost swept away and it was put into the back of the Landrover for safe keeping until the waters subsided more than 24 hours later. The heifer Edenhurst Rosanna is now one of the herd’s promising show prospects for next season.
“All the cattle were lucky to survive because as it is with fire, it is difficult to get animals out of the building,” said Peter Vasey.
“We were in a complete dilemma knowing what to do with the younger calves. We were turning them out into what was virtually a river coming past the buildings and we had to keep the calves’ noses out of the water.
“We were told that the Environment Agency’s equipment had stopped working when the river speed reached 1,600 tonnes per second. It was remarkable how the calves adapted to being outside in the cold weather which followed as we had to leave them unhoused for several weeks.”
Such was Peter Vasey’s determination to rescue his pedigree animals but little did he realise that his farm insurance cover for them did not extend to flooding.
Nor did it cover the loss of crop through flooding which included 750 big bales of silage and straw being washed away.
The devastation left by the water included also uninsured damaged fencing and the eroded river bank which had to be repaired and a massive cleaning up operation which is yet to be completed. The Vaseys’ three vehicles at the farm were also written off.
The farmhouse where Mrs Vasey had to take refuge upstairs for 24 hours was also under four and a half feet of water and much of the furniture and other possessions were ruined, including farm business and personal paperwork going back over the years.
Again ironically, a kitchen renovation which had been planned for some time, including a new AGA, as well as a new central heating system in the house, had just been completed in time for Christmas last year – a couple of weeks before the flood.
“The mess left by the floodwater both outside and inside
was indescribable,” said Mrs Vasey, who had been extremely
concerned at the mens’ safety during the animals’
“We lost everything which had been on the ground floor, including our marriage certificate which we later found but all the copperplate writing had been washed away. Peter lost all his shoes and he spent 12 weeks in Wellingtons.”
While the flood was a traumatic experience for the Vaseys as it was for many people in Carlisle, they are grateful that so much survived the event. However, putting their own troubles into perspective was the scale of the Boxing Day tsumani in the Far East.
“The floods brought chaos but we had tremendous support from family, friends and other Charolais breeders who helped us with somewhere to stay, fodder for the animals and in many other areas,” said Mr Vasey.