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Crag House Farm, the home of Caring For Life and the centre for all our therapeutic activities, is also a fully functioning agricultural enterprise, as it has been for many centuries. In the past the farm was part of the extensive Kirkstall Abbey lands and its produce was integral to the local ecclesiastical economy. But now sales of beef, lamb and eggs from the farm support a quite different Christian organisation, which uses the farm to provide an opportunity for vulnerable and damaged people to experience the ‘hands on’ care of these lovely animals in a beautiful and safe environment.
The agriculture project has engaged in many different enterprises over the last 24 years but our herd of Longhorn Cattle has stood the test of time and, along with the expansion of the farm to 130 acres, the herd has also grown to 22 breeding cows and a total of over 50 head currently on the farm.
The Old English Longhorn cattle were chosen because they are a rare native breed that faced extinction only a few decades ago. Their very attractive and distinctive appearance, together with their placid nature, made them an ideal choice for our agriculture project. The Longhorns slow-maturing characteristic suits our low intensity, grass-based system and the cattle are ready for slaughter around 2 years’ old, having had small amounts of cereal in their diet. This produces the most excellent beef for our farm shop.
The move from an assortment of old ramshackle sheds and barns into our purpose built PAM building in 2008 has radically affected the way in which we can look after our cattle in a safe environment for those engaged in the project. The People and Animals Meeting facility enables us to house all of the livestock under one roof, including our flock of sheep at lambing time, and with a system of pens, race and crush we are able to handle the livestock in a controlled, safe and welfare-friendly way. Throughout the year the young stock are regularly weighed to measure growth-rate and this also affords the opportunity for a close-up health check in a way that is stress-free for both animal and workers.
Each January we pregnancy test our breeding cows prior to calving in the Spring. This is an exciting day for all of the team on the Agriculture Project and we have a competition to guess the number of calves expected. Our barren cows are sold into the wholesale meat trade through one of our major supporters, Dunbia Meats.
Lambing and calving time is probably the highlight of the year for the gentlemen who are engaged on the project. Being able to oversee the birth and after-care of a calf is extremely rewarding and news of each new arrival is soon broadcast around the whole farm. It is such a privilege for anyone to participate in the bringing into the world of a new life, but for some of those in our care, the thrill, pride and sense of achievement cannot be understated.
Caring for livestock also occasionally means being faced with the difficult reality of death or abandonment and this provides a natural context to help those who have deep hurts from similar personal experiences in the past. It also creates positive opportunities for those in our care to take special responsibilities, as happened last year when we had an orphaned calf. Some of the gentlemen particularly identified with the plight of the calf and consequently ‘Kamala’ received extra special attention. It is difficult to estimate what effect caring for these animals has on people whose lives have been a series of bad experiences and who have very little to look forward to, but one of the gentlemen said, “Kamala means the world to me”.
Over the years, the farm has been equipped with implements and machinery that enable us to carry out almost all of the tasks, including the harvesting of hay, silage and straw. It is important to those involved with the project that the farm functions in the same way as a fully commercial enterprise, as this gives a sense of being involved in real work, in the real world. The agriculture project is an ideal way of gaining real skills and responsibility, as well as building relationships through teamwork. The men engaged on the project have a genuine sense of achievement and find their own contribution to the work of the farm deeply rewarding.