Midsummer Common cows breed awards success
Rare mix on British Farming Awards 2018 shortlist
Camcattle, whose famed Red Poll cows graze on Midsummer Common and Grantchester Meadows between April and November, has been shortlisted for the Beef Innovator 2018 title at the British Farming Awards.
“It’s very exciting as I’m not really a big farmer in that sense but the British Farming Awards is looking at different types of farmer and they liked the fact of the cattle being in the city, with people seeing them every day,” said the farmer who runs the firm, Angelika von Heimendahl. “It’s always great to get more people interested in the cattle.”
Angelika founded the company 10 years ago and lives near Parker’s Piece.
“It’s a traditional East Anglian breed,” she says of the Red Poll, a cross between Norfolk Red beef cattle and Suffolk Dun dairy cattle breeds which emerged in the latter half of the 19th century. “They’re pretty rare – most farmers keep continental breeds which are much bigger. We buy them from two farms in Norfolk: they have suckler cows and we buy them at about nine months old. They’re quite small, docile and good-natured, and don’t have horns.”
Camcattle came about 10 years ago when Angelika was a vet. “I was walking the dogs on Midsummer Common and a friend said ‘What a shame there are no cows here’. So I bought eight cattle – Red Polls because I’m really interested in local food and farm animals adapted to the local environment. I’m a member of the Rare Breed Survival Trust, so I wanted to promote rare breeds.”
The herd consists of 70 cattle which are grazed in different places from late spring to the end of autumn. The youngest is nine months, and the oldest around 28 months. No antibiotics or growth promoters are involved.
“They all go to a barn in Royston over winter,” says Angelika. “They like to be outside but they’d make such a mud bath the grass wouldn’t be able to grow. They poach a lot of the ground and a lot of city people don’t like poached ground.
“It’s sad when they go. Last year I got an email from someone who said that ‘Midsummer Common is like an empty aquarium’ after they leave.”
The beef goes on sale at Cambridge Market and markets at Fowlmere, St Ives and Impington – and by the way, if you’ve ever wondered why a cow’s meat becomes a beef burger rather than a cow burger, it all goes back 1,000-odd years to when the Normans invaded England, bringing with them the words “le boeuf” for a cow.
The Anglo-Saxon “cow” stayed but what went on sale became “boeuf”, which was translated as “beef”. Most probably the lower-class hunters stayed with cow, while the more gastronomically inclined – and wealthier – French retained the word for what they ate at the dinner table.
There’s a big debate nowadays about whether we should all become vegan to save the planet but Angelika points out that the dung the cattle produces plays a role in the food chain as a source of food for insects and bugs, plus it provides the soil with a lot of nutrients.
“I do think we should eat a lot less meat individually, but Red Polls have high value and are not mass-produced for burgers. Industrial farming is not going to work for climate change, but in any case the land can’t just be switched over from cattle use.
“The land they graze on is often not usable for anything.”
You can find out more for yourself at the local produce market every Sunday in Market Square.
“It’s not just us, it’s vegetables, it’s chicken, pork, fish, bread... lots of stuff. You can do most of your food shopping there.”
More by this authorMike Scialom