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Roger Morgan-Grenville

Taking Stock: A Journey Among Cows

In 2017 the Sherborne Literary Festival hosted Rosamund Young, author of The Secret Life of Cows, who proved, for those fortunate few who attended her talk, to be one of the highlights of the festival and the book, by this debut author, went on to be a national best-seller.

On a similar subject but approached from a different angle is Taking Stock. This fascinating book takes a much wider approach and by the last page the reader has covered the length and breadth of the country and should have a much greater knowledge, not only about cattle but also about farming, animal breeding, the evolution of agriculture and how best to lock up carbon for the benefit of reversing climate change. And as the current debate rages about plant-based diets versus meat eating you will also get a much more balanced and nuanced insight into the subject.

I live in the heart of the Blackmore Vale, home of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Vale of Little Dairies’ and surrounded by lush grass fields grazed by my neighbour’s cattle. These fields and the local climate are ideal for growing grass and grass cannot be turned into food for humans other than going through the rumen of a grazing animal. These are highly productive fields and so are particularly suitable for dairy cows producing vast quantities of milk for human consumption. Although they are occasionally enhanced by the use of fertiliser, these fields also benefit from the spreading of animal manures which provide much of what the soil needs for its structure and the grass needs for better growth.

Moving further west into West Dorset or on to either Dartmoor or Exmoor, the conditions change again but are still really only conducive to growing grass and grazing livestock. Without the grazier the land would revert to scrub and much of the bio-diversity vital for nature would be lost.

What this book so beautifully illustrates is the complexity of managing the land for the benefit of everyone and everything. Current events have high-lighted the need for a much greater strategic awareness of our need to be sustainable in producing food for the nation while ensuring that we continue to monitor and control our environmental standards for the benefit of the planet.

But perhaps above all the book highlights the author’s ever-growing respect for cattle and for the individual animals that go into our diet. This is as a result of having taken on a part-time role as a stockman on his friend’s farm in Sussex and his subsequent travels around the country talking to many of the leading breeders of cattle and other stock. It is beautifully written with some very evocative descriptions of the natural world and the ever changing seasons.

I feel certain that Roger Morgan-Grenville will provide the Literary Society with as fascinating a talk as the one given back in 2017 by Rosamund Young and his book should be on everyone’s reading list for 2022.

John Gaye

Icon Books

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