November 20, 2013 by stepneycityfarm
Lloyd and Leila are two large Sussex Cross cattle – one bull, one cow – inherited by our not-for-profit charity, Stepney City Farm, when we took over the Farm in 2009 from the previous management, Stepping Stones Farm.
When we first took over the management at the Farm, there were five cattle on site. The Farm was vastly overstocked with lots of old and ill animals and we worked quickly to move animals, including goats and sheep, on to more suitable homes, and to work with the RSPCA and DEFRA to ensure the highest standards of welfare for all the animals on the Farm.
In particular, we felt, and were strongly advised by our vet, that keeping fully-grown large breeds of cattle – including a bull – was unfair to the cows and as well as a risk to volunteers and visitors and we soon found other farms for three of them.
However, there was a problem with Lloyd and Leila. They had not been registered at birth by the previous management, Stepping Stones Farm and did not have “cow passports”. Following the BSE crisis, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs introduced strict regulations governing the registration and movement of cows. All cows are required to be registered immediately at birth and they may only be issued with a passport if this has been done. As Lloyd and Leila were not registered by Stepping Stones Farm and do not have cow passports, DEFRA regulations stipulate that they can never leave the Farm and can never enter the food chain.
We registered Lloyd and Leila immediately and since 2009 we have tried and tried to see if there was any way DEFRA would agree that these are special circumstances so they could make an exception in this case and allow us to move them. We have explained the background around our inheriting the Farm, and we also explained several times that we desperately needed to move them onto more appropriate conditions. The London Borough of Tower Hamlets has even written to DEFRA in support of our request. DEFRA have acknowledged our letters but have denied our requests.
In the meantime, we worked hard to improve the conditions for the cows by providing them with some hard-standing, as they had been up to their knees in mud for much of the year. However, we have been struggling to come up with a solution since inheriting the Farm. Matters got worse when Lloyd became fully grown and was particularly aggressive when Leila – his sister – was on heat. Having a bull on a City Farm was impossible as they are dangerous and we did consider culling him at that stage. However, we instead had him neutered so that he could be in a field with Leila and would be more passive. That had some success, but we then lost a third of the site to the Crossrail works. We now have little over an acre of grazing which is far less than the minimum recommended for two cows, let alone for the other sheep, goats and donkeys we have on the Farm.
It has not been an easy decision to make and it is not down to just one factor, but we reached the decision (a view our vet agrees with) that we, as a working farm, are unable to keep Lloyd and Leila any longer. We are glad we were able to improve their living conditions, and give them a good life for as long as we were able. It is very unfortunate that the previous management did not register the cows, though the fact cannot be escaped that if they had been registered and could enter the food chain, they would have been moved and would have been slaughtered years ago.
Space continues to be a major issue; we simply do not have the space to keep two such large cattle in appropriate conditions and the other third of the site will continue to be occupied for at least the next five years. Additionally, this year, DEFRA has introduced further regulations in relation to TB testing (we are in a high risk area) which requires annual testing involving two visits by a vet (once to inject and once to inspect). We don’t have the facilities or resources required for this testing.
DEFRA had been very clear to us that an exception could not be made to enable Lloyd and Leila to move to new homes. We exist as a charity to educate people about such issues, and so we have made public what was happening and been very open both about our decision and the reasons behind it. We have been disappointed that some of the reporting has failed to give a full picture of the reasons behind this difficult decision and as a result we have been criticised on a false basis. We are also grateful for all the support that we have received from local residents who know and visit the farm and from other local representatives and organisations.
All the animals at Stepney City Farm are looked after and cared for to the highest standards;the compensatory works undertaken by Crossrail included the fields being re-drained and improved, water plumbed in to and new animal housing in each field and a new barn for overwintering. The staff and volunteers give the animals very close attention. However, ultimately they are Farm animals and we don’t shy away from being open about that and educating people in the process of food production.
Some meat eaters, who have come to visit the Farm, when confronted with the chickens or lambs that they are happy to eat at the fried chicken shop or in a restaurant are shocked when we explain that the animals are being raised for food. This makes them think again about eating meat. That is part of the education we provide, and perhaps those people may become vegetarian or instead decide to eat meat that has been reared to comply with high welfare standards. We want to make very clear the distinction between the type of farming we practice and the practices of intensive, factory farming.
We strive to address welfare standards in all areas of food production: we regularly give a home to ex-battery hens that come to us almost featherless, barely able to stand and having never been outside. We’ve involved our young volunteers in a project charting their return to health on the Farm, so that they understand the importance of buying free-range eggs.
We understand that some people will be upset by our decision to cull Lloyd and Leila. This includes us, many of us volunteers, who have fed and cared for them 365 days a year for four years.
There have been some suggestions that this decision is about profit-making. We would like to reiterate that we are a not-for-profit charity, operating on the tightest of budgets. Whilst we were able to improve the fields and animal housing as a result of compensation from Crossrail we receive no public funding towards the running of the Farm.
Some people have generously offered to pay for their feed. However, cost is just one of the factors and by no means the most important one. We operate as a working Farm in order to educate people about agriculture and food production, and this meets our charitable objectives. By raising animals and crops for food we can also cover some of our costs and make the keeping of animals financially sustainable. From April next year we have funding for only one employee (an education worker) and no funding for revenue costs such as utilities and animal feed. The focus of our fundraising in the short term will be on ensuring we can continue to employ someone full time to manage the care of all the animals, so that we can keep the Farm open as an important, free resource in one of the poorest and most densely populated areas in the UK.
Since reaching, and communicating, our decision to cull them, Hillside Animal Sanctuary contacted us and said they had been permitted by DEFRA to take in cattle in similar circumstances, without passports, in the past. We considered whether it was appropriate to make another appeal and decided, given the very particular circumstances, to again contact the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) – part of DEFRA – to request that Lloyd and Leila be granted one off movement licenses to enable them to be moved to Hillside. We were told by the BCMS that this would not be possible and that we could move Lloyd and Leila to a slaughterhouse but not to Hillside. Jim Fitzpatrick MP (a former farming minister) intervened and spoke to one of the current Farming Ministers, George Eustice about the situation. The situation was considered but the Minister, in a personal response, explained that an exception could not be made.
We met with Mr Fitzpatrick last week and explained the situation to him. He appreciates the complexity of our situation and accepted that the only solution was for a movement licence to be granted. We have made every effort we can to move the cattle to somewhere more appropriate but have been unable to do so. We have taken the view that we have made repeated requests of DEFRA/BCMS over a number of years and we have met with a firm refusal, all the way up to Ministerial level. Ultimately we have to accept and respect the law as imposed by DEFRA. In seeking to ensure that all our animals are kept to the highest standards we have to meet many DEFRA requirements, and we will have a relationship with DEFRA for many years to come. We have taken the view that it is not appropriate for us to support a campaign that now appears to be seeking to demonise DEFRA for their decision and/or criticise the Farm for our decision. For that reason we are not seeking to court publicity. We understand a number of individuals are very active on social media sites and have been contacting local organisations but they do not represent the Farm.
We have communicated again with Mr Fitzpatrick, who has asked us for more time to make a further personal approach to the Minister. We agreed to give him this time; Hillside has visited the Farm this week and we have provided Mr Fizpatrick with the information he required. Mr Fitzpatrick is keeping us abreast of developments and we hope that his enquiries will bear fruit.
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