Climate change hits cattle

A NEW study on north Northumberland’s iconic cattle has revealed the effects of climate change on their breeding.

A team of ecologists, led by Dr Sarah Burthe of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, was able to use Chillingham cattle to discover more about the impact of climate change on mammals because – encouraged by Charles Darwin – information about the cattle has been collected since 1860.

Examining data for the past 60 years, they found the biggest change was the increasing number and proportion of Chillingham calves born during the winter.

When they compared winter births with UK Met Office weather data, they found warmer springs nine months earlier were responsible.

Dr Burthe said: “Warm springs allow vegetation to start growing earlier, providing the cattle with more nutritious plant growth, and more cows conceive earlier as a result.

“Winter-born calves don’t do very well and are more likely to die before they reach the age of one. This suggests that the cattle are responding to climate change but this is having a negative impact on them.”

However the latest newsletter from the Chillingham Wild Cattle Association states that the 93 head of cattle are doing well and that four calves have been born so far this year.

The study was published in the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Animal Ecology on Tuesday.