England: Raising cows in the city

Troy Maben/AP
Do city dwellers balk at hens?

A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND – The biggest problem with raising cows in the city is the people.

“It’s just worrying about the number of people that go past them every day,” says Angelika von Heimendahl, owner and proprietor of CamCattle, who for three years has been grazing her herd of 100 Red Polls for milk and meat between Cambridge’s historic colleges and on the commons.

More than 500 people go by the 1,200-pound animals every day, and while most people are very respectful, some want to pet the cows. Or take pictures with them. Or run after them.

Ms. Von Heimendahl, a veterinarian, is taking advantage of 600-year-old laws that allow individuals to graze livestock on common spaces. Her cattle live their entire lives within a 50-mile radius, going from barns in the fall and winter to Cambridge commons in the spring and summer, and eventually to the butcher in town.

Von Heimendahl says that the project has been very successful, despite the occasional grumbling about cow pies. “I think everybody likes the fact that there’s something on the grass, there’s something on the common, and they like the fact that you can buy the beef,” she explains.

She is part of a growing trend of “urban farmers,” people going well beyond the odd backyard tomato. Fueling the trend are new products designed to make such small-scale farming not only easy, but cool, too – products like the Eglu. The Eglu, by a company called Omlet, is a sleek chicken coop designed to help space-starved city dwellers keep two to four hens in their backyards.

Johannes Paul, cofounder of Omlet, says that over the past five years, more than 30,000 people have bought the coops. This year, the company is on track to double sales over last year, and they’ve just started marketing their latest design, a home apiary kit called the Beehaus.

And it’s not just livestock. Gillie Westwood, chief executive of Britain’s Garden Center Association, a trade organization that represents more than 200 garden centers, says that year to date, sales at garden centers have outstripped last year’s by around 10 percent.

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