Strawberry in fields is a rare breed when it comes to survival
It was more than any heavily-pregnant lady should be expected to endure.
There she was, grazing happily under the big oak tree with a couple of Devon friends, when up came her farm manager wanting to be social, followed shortly by two elderly journalists, puffing and panting, one with a camera and the other with a notebook.
Flight seemed the best option.
Then, just as Strawberry, the nine-year-old Dairy Shorthorn cow, had recovered her composure, 50 farmers arrived wanting to talk to her and take her picture.
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For Strawberry was the central attraction at the partnership ceremony between Bicton College and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST), a unique link between a land-based college and the charity.
Dairy Shorthorns (and this seems remarkable to anyone involved in farming aged over 50) are now an endangered breed, with only 90 breeding females left. In the 1930s two-thirds of all cattle in the UK were either purebred or crossbred Dairy Shorthorns.
Strawberry was expecting her seventh calf when her munchings were so rudely interrupted, heralding the beginning of a breeding programme at the college in conjunction with the RBST that will see Tamworth pigs, Berkshire pigs, Hill Radnor sheep, Bagot goats, Indian Game poultry and possibly even Shire horses joining the Dairy Shorthorns.
The breeding programme will be centred on the new £3 million Animal Husbandry School currently being built in the grounds. When it opens next year the project will even include an aquarium.
Royal approval for the new partnership came from Prince Charles, who has been patron of the RBST for the past 27 years. In a letter read at the ceremony, he said he was delighted to hear of the new arrangement and spoke of the importance of keeping rare breeds flourishing and maintaining a gene bank.
"I look forward to seeing the outcome of your work here," he said.
Rob Havard, RBST chief executive, said he had been impressed by the enthusiasm of the Bicton staff in running rare breeds alongside conventional livestock, and research by the college students would produce data that was "desperately needed" by the trust to plan its work programmes.
The importance of maintaining native breeds was exemplified by Beef Shorthorn cattle, which had been on the endangered list not so long ago, but now provided 27,000 animals to satisfy demand from the Morrisons supermarket chain every year. "The Berkshire pigs here at Bicton will allow the students to see the difference in fat contents between breeds – and allow them to look at specialist markets," he said.
So far as Dairy Shorthorns were concerned, the establishment of a herd by the college at Dartington Hall would make Bicton "the saviour of the breed," he said.
Mr Havard added: "Rare breeds are part of our bio-diversity and just as important as our wildlife. We must not lose these genes, because the threat of extinction is very real."
Chris Lorimer, a deputy principal at Bicton College, said the partnership was: "a pivotal relationship which will probably develop unexpected outcomes", and he spoke about the achievements of the college, which has been teaching agriculture since 1947.