Life of a Livestock Checker

Tony Day

Is it a Tuesday? Tuesdays mean it’s livestock checking day. Read more of my life as a livestock checker...

Since April 2017, I have spent part of every Tuesday (except holidays) out and about with goats, cows and Konik ponies and I love it! Luckily, my volunteer task is flexible, meaning there is no fixed time to be onsite, so if it’s raining in the morning with a promise of a better afternoon then I can put off going out until the weather clears up. 

I lived most of my life in the inner London Borough of Wandsworth so the only ‘livestock’ I came across were domestic pets. There were the magnificent shire horses which were used to deliver beer to the local pubs from the Youngs Brewery. The baker also had a horse-drawn van until the 1960s but that was it so far as ‘exotic’ animals were concerned. I moved to the coast in 1997 and immediately fell in love with the countryside – the real countryside.  

I retired in 2016 and spent a lot more time walking in West Blean Woods then I saw an advert on the Kent Wildlife Trust website for livestock checkers and thought ‘what could be better?’. The ‘job’ entails visiting a site where Kent Wildlife Trust has livestock helping to manage the land by grazing/browsing and checking that the correct number of whatever livestock are present, as well as making sure that they are not showing any obvious signs of injury or illness. A livestock checking course that I attended also gave more detailed information about various problems that different livestock species may be prone to and how to spot them. 

Hereford in hedge

Tony Day

To become a livestock checker, it said that previous experience is not necessary which was just as well given my background. I was introduced to my first ‘charges’ at Foxes Cross Hill which comprised four feral goats in a relatively small reserve of shrubs, trees and rough grassland. When I first met them, they ran away into the shrubs and didn’t like being observed. However, over time they became more used to me and while they still won’t let me approach closer than 10 metres, they no longer take to the hills when I show up. Unfortunately, after about 6 months of checking one of the goats succumbed to pneumonia, so there are just the three there now. 

There are cattle on Wraik Hill during the months April to October and their number varies from four to eighteen. Currently, I look after four Herefords and four Sussex heffers. It’s amazing how such big animals can all disappear into a hedgerow. I once had fourteen smaller heffers all hiding within an overgrown hedge.

My other charges are Konik ponies who live in either West Blean Woods or South Blean Woods. There are six of them in the enclosures in the woods, these enclosures are very large so finding them can involve a bit of searching. I am rewarded when finding them by being approached by bolder members of the herd in case I have something tasty for them to eat. I don’t encourage them as they could become a nuisance to the public and a bit scary for those not used to them.

Konik ponies

Tony Day

As you can see, I cover more than one site but I understand most livestock checkers will only visit the one site and look after just the one flock/herd. 

The wildlife I’ve encountered while out checking is quite fantastic. I have seen rabbits, foxes, lizards, lots of invertebrates, and I am getting better at recognising and IDing wildflowers and trees. The exercise is brilliant and often, especially at Wraik Hill, the scenery is to die for. There is no better way to occupy my time on a Tuesday, a day I look forward to all week.