From the Yorkshire Dales to the Rutland Dales, the name is certainly familiar to many people living in and around the area.

Not only has it been around for generations, but bargain hunters from miles afar travel to Oakham each week for Jeff Dale’s auction at his centre in Pillings Road.

However, over the last decade or so the name has started to become familiar in other circles too. Not only are the Dales’ award-winning Chater Fold Highland Cattle infamous on social media, they’re causing quite a stir at agricultural shows across the country.

“Nearly 15 years ago my sister [Emma] and I couldn’t afford a house, so we invested in some land,” explains Fiona (nee Dale) who raises the herd with her father.

“We bought two sheep, Minty and Martha. Emma had always liked Highlands; she went to the Leicestershire show where a cow and calf was for sale and a week later they were delivered to our field.”

It soon became a family affair and although Emma’s interests steered more towards the sheep and Fiona’s towards the Highlands, they all chip in and their husbands, Roy and Darren are involved too. In fact, Fiona and Darren’s wedding theme was “Party until the cows come home”.

Jeff is currently President of the Midland and Southern Highland Cattle Club and the entire family are key players in the Rutland Agricultural Society and Rutland County Show each year.

However, Fiona is first to admit that looking after the fold is hard work and has no financial benefit.

“It was a steep learning curve,” she said.

“We don’t have any permanent buildings on our land so they had to be able to winter outside. They are slow to mature, the heifers cannot be bulled until they are three years old, this makes the whole breeding cycle very slow.  But let’s be honest they are the most majestic, beautiful animal, or am I just a bit biased?”

With all that in mind Fiona is keen to encourage more young people to invest in land and learn about farming, as the benefits far outweigh the losses.

She said: “Why would you not want to learn about animals, farming, cycles and food tractability?

“It’s about the enjoyment animals can bring to your life. We have four pigs every year and sit down to eat them at Christmas. It sounds harsh but there is nothing better than knowing that animal has had the best life, it makes it taste even sweeter.”

Fiona also works full-time as a successful business woman, running Creative Design and Print in Stamford. Looking after her girls is another full-time job and she’s often visiting the fold, which are mainly kept in the field behind Barnsdale Lodge Hotel, two to five times a day.

So is it worth it?

“Ask me at 6am on a Monday morning, when it is blowing a gale and hammering it down with rain and I am walking across a muddy 15-acre field to check a cow is ok I would say ‘No! I am selling the lot,” Fiona says.

“Ask me at 6pm on a sunny Sunday evening sat in the field with the calves playing and the sun on their backs I would say ‘Yes! And more'.

“It has been the most amazing family project, which has brought us even closer together.

“Facebook for the evening or fencing with my girls? No question really, I know what I would choose in a heartbeat, wouldn’t you?”

Join us again on Thursday to hear Fiona’s favourite Highland tale…

All photos submitted by Chater Fold

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