Hunts pedigree herd expecting first US progeny

THERE are cash cows and there is Tilbrook Cashtiller the 9th.

In what might seem like a time-and-place-warp of Dr Who complexity, the 11-year-old pedigree Devon cow – from the heart of Huntingdonshire – is expecting nine calves in the US in the autumn.

It all started last summer when a delegation of more than 50 cattle breeders from North and South America and the Antipodes descended to Tilbrook Grange Farm to see the Hunter twins’ 22-strong head of pedigree Devons.

Among the herd was Cashtiller, who had the previous year won champion female at the Devon Show. The US breeders, from the North American Devon Association, were so impressed that a dozen embryos were subsequently taken from the cow – the first time embryos from the breed had been exported – and nine have resulted in pregnancies on American ranches.

“They’re due to be born in the first week in October,” said Gavin Hunter, who runs the farm with twin brother James.

“It’s nice that they came first to us rather than anyone else,” he told The Hunts Post. “They were so keen that they came back when the embryos were taken in October, and they’ll be back again in a couple of weeks time, when we expect to get an order for semen from our bulls.”

The cattle are not, in fact, the 1,200-acre farm’s main business, which is 1,000 acres of arable – mainly wheat.

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“The Devons are a bit more than a hobby, because we enjoy it, but they’re almost insignificant in the [economic] scale of the farm. And, although we sell meat to the public, we sell more animals for breeding than we slaughter,” Gavin Hunter explained. The butchery side of the business turns over around �20,000 a year.

“We only sell beef born and reared on the farm.”

The Hunters have had pedigree Devon cattle on the farm for 50 years. The herd started in 1960 when 18 cows and a bull were bought from the county of Devon. The cattle arrived at Kimbolton railway station – the line from Huntingdon to Kettering was closed not long afterwards – and were walked to the farm. All 220 cattle in the herd today originate from the original 18.

Tilbrook Cashtiller, who was also champion at the Royal Show in 2006 and 2007, had five bull calves and one heifer before turning her uterus to less time-consuming activities.