Becoming a livestock checker

Logo: Lancashire Wildlife Trust

By Sian Parry

Sian Parry, Conservation Grazing Officer with lambs (Lancashire Wildlife Trust)
Sian Parry, Conservation Grazing Officer with lambs (Lancashire Wildlife Trust)

7 years ago after volunteering for the Lancashire Wildlife Trust (LWT) I was lucky enough to gain an apprentice position in the Conservation Grazing Team and have progressed to become the Conservation Grazing Officer. I now work with volunteers across many sites throughout Lancashire, Greater Manchester and North Merseyside, who visit their local reserve, usually one day a week for around an hour to check that the livestock are all in good health and safe with both animal and human generally enjoying being out in the country.

Days are very varied - although often life as a Conservation grazing animal, and volunteer, is pretty laid back and straightforward. The cows, sheep, ponies and goats that we look after do an excellent job of grazing nature reserves providing a varied mosaic of habitat for

wildlife such as snipe or red shank as well as invertebrates. The animals are nearly all bucket trained so that when the volunteers go out to check them they come running to meet them for a little treat and sometimes a back scratch!  This allows us to check them over
carefully for any problems such as illness or wounds and simply enjoy being in nature with the livestock.

Longhorn at Lightshaw Meadow Nature Reserve (Lancashire Wildlife Trust)
Longhorn at Lightshaw Meadow Nature Reserve (Lancashire Wildlife Trust)

We use native breed animals: Longhorn and Red Poll cattle, Hebridean, and Norfolk Horn sheep, Golden Guernsey and Bagot goats, and Exmoor ponies. We lamb and kid in the Spring and work with local farmers to calve throughout the summer.

Each species has their own specialty grazing with cattle doing better on wetter land; whilst, as sheep have smaller mouths, they are better at getting new shoots out from within species that we are wanting to keep e.g. birch saplings out of heather patches on dune heathland. Ponies graze in a different manner again preferring scrub grasses over flowering plants.

 As the animals move around reserves their dunging patterns provide microcosms of habitats for insects, such as dung beetles; their hoof prints open up the earth for the less dominant plant species to be able to flourish. They can also spread seed from one area of a reserve to another, again through their dung, allowing plants to disperse across greater areas than they might do otherwise.

There is nothing so peaceful as being out with the animals on a cold winter’s morning or late summer’s afternoon. In today’s hectic world, visiting the livestock and nature reserves provides a respite from the demands of daily life and allows volunteers space to renew their energy, helping the environment at the same time.

Throughout the year we do different tasks ranging from cattle round ups for health checks to lambing, shearing, and vaccinations all of which volunteers can get involved with as much or as little as they like. We transport the animals between sites in Spring and Autumn, depending on the grazing needed, but they stay outside all year round so need constant checking.

Golden Guernsey goats at Freshfield Dune Heath (Lancashire Wildlife Trust)
Golden Guernsey goats at Freshfield Dune Heath (Lancashire Wildlife Trust)

Livestock volunteers come from all walks of life as it is quite a flexible role; here at the LWT we simply ask that our checkers commit to the same day each week but can check on the animals anytime during that day (some reserves do have opening times but others are open access). Some people combine their checks with their hobbies and do bird watching or insect surveys whilst they are on site so it’s a very pleasant visit.

One of our newer volunteers tells below how she came to be a livestock checker and how she hopes it will help her future career.

Lucy learning to shear  (Lancashire Wildlife Trust)
Lucy learning to shear (Lancashire Wildlife Trust)

Lucy’s story

I was attracted to being a Livestock Checker Volunteer (LCV) as I wanted to put my college studies into practice. At the time I was completing a Level 3 Extended Diploma in Animal Management & Animal Nursing. I thought it would complement my studies in the reality of

handling livestock, identifying the signs and symptoms of certain health problems and indeed the benefit of having them on the reserve.

On becoming a LCV I received guidance and support from the Grazing Officers. They explained what we should be looking out for on our checks and what documentation should be completed during each check. As a LCV we are required to ensure all animals are present and are not showing any signs of ill health. If an animal looks to be suffering we can contact one of the Grazing Officers who are able to visit the animal and check if any action needs to be taken. This information is logged to ensure the next LCV knows what to look out for and that it has been reported.

I love being a LCV.  It has allowed me to develop the skills and knowledge I had gained theoretically in college. I have learnt so much more about livestock, their role on site and signs and symptoms of ill health. By being a LCV it has enabled me to gain invaluable experience and has given me something to commit to week in and week out. It certainly has narrowed my course choices for university and has directed me to courses more appropriate to this field of work. I feel privileged to have been trusted to check on the livestock each week and indeed to feel part of the team. This hands on experience has been an eye opener to how much time and dedication goes into the care of the livestock. This role has broadened my knowledge and I love working in this field.

Lucy Hiller

If you would like to get involved like Lucy then please get in touch via the Lancashire Wildlife Trust website

First published in CJS Focus on Volunteering in association with TCV, the community volunteering charity on 17 September 2018

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