Give a cow a show

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Jason Bennett is dedicated to preserving England’s oldest cattle breeds and is committed to educating the public about meat quality

Jason keeps British Whites and Gloucesters as well as the Dexters he uses for meat boxes

British Whites and Gloucesters are two of the oldest native English cattle breeds – Gloucesters date back to the 13th century. Jason Bennett, who runs a smallholding two miles from Wells Cathedral, is passionate about rare breeds. ‘My daughter and I have British Whites and a Gloucester. We also keep Dexters. It’s a father-and-daughter collaboration. Gloucester cattle are rarer than the giant panda – there are more than 2,000 giant pandas in the world, but fewer than 600 Gloucesters. The biggest Gloucester herd has 300 animals, and is in Gloucestershire. We are beef farmers, although Dexters and Gloucesters are dual-purpose beef and dairy breeds. We do beef boxes from the Dexters and then rare breed burgers and patties. Our Dexters are doing well at the moment. This year we won the Inter-breeds Championship and Reserve Championship at Honiton Show.’

With bulls it’s softly, softly
You only have to walk around the cattle area at an agricultural show to see the constant work needed to get the animals ready. How does Jason know which cattle will be potential champions that he can train for showing?
‘It starts when they are calves. You look for the ones that show a bit of promise, it’s all in how they stand and look. At three months, they start looking like a bull – that’s when I start them on a halter and lead them with their mum so they get used to it.
‘With a bull, it’s all about “trickery”. If a bull plans to run away … it will. They weigh around half a ton!
‘So we start them from a young age and teach them to run on a lead, softly, softly. Obviously with any animal things could go wrong, so we have the halter and a nose ring. I’ll lead it, and there’s someone else at the rear. But the bulls also learn that they get fed and have a nice bath for the show. And we use tea tree oil on them – they love that! I also give the bulls a massage. People love watching me massaging them at the shows.’

Caleb Cooper from Clarkson’s Farm getting to know Jason’s prize-winning Dexter bull.

Education, education, education
Cattle, beef and dairy farming have been getting a bad press recently with the green agenda. It’s something Jason feels strongly about.
‘The public aren’t stupid. They know a cow fart won’t blow a hole in the ozone layer. And if you stand my cow next to a diesel engine, the public will prefer the cow. During COVID, when the motorised boats and gondolas stopped in Venice, the dolphins returned to the canals within two weeks. They should go after these football players and billionaires in private planes who are doing far more damage.
‘I recently did the Farm to Fork event at Bath & West Showground. We had 12,000 kids come through. It was fantastic. I love teaching children. If you tell them something, they’ll absorb it like a sponge. It’s also essential that people can see the animals are treated well.
‘When each group of kids came up, I asked “Who’s had a McDonalds? Obviously 99% of them put their hands up. And whose Dad enjoys a steak? And who likes Mum’s spag bol? And then I say, well, these cows will become your steaks …
‘The kids must learn where food comes from. My mantra is “to save a rare breed you have to eat a rare breed”. When you have two, you eat one and breed the other. Some might be a bit put off by it, but a couple of people came by my stand afterwards and said the children had told them what they had learned, and of course then the kids help teach the parents.

Jason’s British Whites at home on the Mendips


‘We should all probably eat less meat – but make sure what we do eat is decent quality stuff, better food. Don’t eat crap.’
Jason is clearly passionate about promoting farming and his rare breeds – and recently he’s had some standout moments.
‘It was good this week at the South Gloucestershire Show when we won the inter-breed. But we also had our rare breed burgers there (Wessex Rare Breeds), and I got a thumbs up from Caleb Cooper for our burgers!’
Of course Jason will be showing his cattle at the Gillingham & Shaftesbury Show.
‘I’m looking forward to two things – showing the Dexters because they are our passion and also having our catering enterprise at the show.’
As a show pro, Jason has some excellent advice for any first-time visitor to Gillingham & Shaftesbury Show this summer:
‘Make sure you explore and check out the livestock. Traders basically pack a trailer and take it to a show, but the preparation that goes into showing animals is phenomenal. So please just take five or ten minutes to walk up and down the aisles to appreciate the work of the farmers. And once you’ve seen the rare breed cattle, go and taste one! If every farmer had a rare breed on their farms we would no longer have rare breeds.’

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