Prized herd of Jerseys ambles into history as farming crisis deepens

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The Independent Online

An eerie transformation will come over the small Cumbrian village of Calthwaite this week. For 50 years, the rhythm of life has been set by a daily procession, blocking the highway at breakfast and tea-time as it winds between red sandstone cottages, past the Globe Inn and on to Calthwaite Hall Farm.

An eerie transformation will come over the small Cumbrian village of Calthwaite this week. For 50 years, the rhythm of life has been set by a daily procession, blocking the highway at breakfast and tea-time as it winds between red sandstone cottages, past the Globe Inn and on to Calthwaite Hall Farm.

Tomorrow it will stop for good. Anthony and Eve Pattinson are selling their herd of more than 500 Jersey cattle and getting out of farming. The lanes of Calthwaite will be cleaner and smell sweeter, but the book will have closed on a lifetime's work by the Pattinsons building a herd of national acclaim, and two more farmworkers will be out of a job.

When the herd comes under the hammer at Penrith auction on Wednesday it will be the biggest dispersal sale of Jersey cattle Britain has seen. With the 260-strong milking herd and most of the other younger Jerseys and two stock bulls due to go into the ring individually, selling could last nine hours.

More than 2,000 farmers, buyers and on-lookers are expected at the sale - pointing up a paradox in British farming. Depressed milk prices may have tipped the Pattinsons out of business and wails of "crisis" rend the rural air, but there will be plenty of farmers keen to pick up new stock. They will be pursuing their own survival strategies, maybe even switching from the ubiquitous, bulk-producing Friesian cattle to high-quality Jerseys and going for the ice-cream market.

Richard Morris, the managing director of Penrith Farmers, & Kidd's, the owner of the auction, said the Calthwaite Hall sale was a disturbing reflection on the dairy industry. "We have got used to small producers going out. But here is a large-scale, efficiently run, nationally known business having to go out."

For some farmers, getting rid of their animals is so traumatic they cannot bear to attend the sale. Mr Pattinson is more sanguine. "It's been my life. But we have taken the decision and we have got to get on with it," he said. So he will be at the auction, hoping his best cows make £300 or more each and the millstone of a bank overdraft can be paid off.

The Pattinsons have not been afraid of change. Anthony Pattinson's father, who had a flour mill in Whitehaven, west Cumbria, took the tenancy of Calthwaite Hall Farm in 1950 and surprised his conservative neighbours by importing 12 doe-like Jerseys from the Channel Islands. Aiming at the quality market, the Pattinsons produced cream and then yoghurt, employing 90 people in a factory on the farm until a decade ago.

Calthwaite Hall's output of 4,250 litres of milk a day has continued to go into yoghurt. But with Jersey milk fetching only 20p per litre compared with 30p three years ago, the Pattinsons barely break even. There is certainly no Range Rover in the yard and struggling on would mean only more debt. So, in February, the 400 acres they rent will revert to the Brackenburgh Estate, to be split between other tenants.

Mr Pattinson is 61 and, on his own admission, "starting to creak a bit". He read law at Oxford but his daily schedule speaks of a more physical life - up at 4.30am seven days a week, working until 6pm and bed at 9.30pm. He used to have weekends off but that cost £120 for a relief milker. And the couple have not had a holiday since their honeymoon in Scotland 25 years ago. Mr Pattinson says selling the herd "is going to leave a big hole in my day".

The sale is no less daunting for the three employees and their families. Andrew Mallinson, 36, the cowman, has been at the farm since leaving school, but has at least found a job with cattle near by. The other two are still looking.

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