This unique herd of cattle has (apart from one 65-year break) been in the continuous ownership of the Shirley family for 700 years.
In 1248, the Baron Ferrers of Chartley, Bouchier and Louvaine was given permission by Henry III to fence in a thousand acres of the Needwood forest in Staffordshire. The wild white cattle which lived in that forest were rounded up and driven into the fenced area, in which they remained until 1905, and the species has been preserved ever since, making the Chartley Herd a unique breed under White Park Cattle grouping.
The 13th Earl Ferrers brought the herd to Ditchingham in the 1970s, since when they have lived in the Park. The cattle remain at Ditchingham today:
- Conserving this rare native breed for future generations
- Improving and maintaining the parkland by natural grazing and foraging
- Producing beef naturally
- Predominantly white cattle with ears, muzzle and feet black; a splash of black on the front of each fetlock and a thin line of black above each eye; horns long and white with black tips
- Their white coats (thin and silken in summer, thicker in winter) protect them from the sun and, to some extent, flies
- Their shape is different to domestic cattle: they are large-framed, long-legged, and tend to be heavy on the fore-quarters and lighter on the rear quarters
- Vigorous, healthy and disease resistant
- Adventurous by nature!
- Celebrated for their wonderful natural motherly instinct, thought to be a legacy from the days when the cattle were on their own in the forests and the mothers had to be both protective and aggressive
- Excellent milk supply, ensuring strong and quick growth in their calves
- Their black teats prevent chapping or soreness
Occasionally, an all-black calf is born in this white herd. In former times, such a calf was always instantly slaughtered – according to legend, the birth of a black calf meant the death of the current Earl within a year.
But generally, for the Chartley herd, modern life doesn’t get that dramatic.