The SCHBS Facebook page is featuring profiles of all the Shetland herds in the country. As each profile is written it will be published below. Over time every herd in the UK will appear on the Facebook page and be available here on the website. Herds profiled so far are:
1. "Collafirth" Herd - Robert and Gladys Ramsay
Collafirth is in Northmavine, an area to the north of mainland Shetland. The Collafirth Shetland cattle herd is owned by Robert Ramsay and his family. It is one of the original herds of the modern Herd Book. It was established in the late 1970’s with cattle from the remote islands of Foula and Fair Isle along with cows purchased from the dispersal of the Araclett and Glebe herds.
When the Herd Book was established in 1981 Robert was Vice President. He has been the President of the society and remains on the Management Council.
Robert breeds a larger type of cow, which would be suitable for cross breeding. He bulls the heifers for the first time at 2 years, allowing them to grow and fully mature. He prefers “colour into the ground” - dark lower legs and dark hoof as he finds the dark hoof doesn’t grow as quickly and rarely needs any trimming. Temperament is important, many of the cattle are halter trained and cows are not de horned.
Cattle live at Collafirth in the summer months and have access to the sea shore, they spend a fair bit of time on the beach. During the winter months (December-May) they are housed in a traditional byre with stalls. They are fed over winter with silage and Shetland Kale with some concentrates. Calving usually happens in February-April and after a couple of days bonding the calves are kept in pens and let out to suck 4 times a day when they are young then 3 times as they are older. This means they are handled by humans from an early age.
Cattle are shown regularly at the local Voe Show and the Cunningsburgh Show with great success, regularly winning Championship titles.
Numerous bulls have been bred in Collafirth. Some of the most notorious include Collafirth Rasmie who was born in 1990 and who was the first red bull in the modern Herd Book and Collafirth Viking a grey bull who was Reserve Champion at the Centenary show as a calf.
The herd of Shetlands in Collafirth was at its largest in 2005 with 25 cows. Currently there are 12 cows and heifers with the current bull Ocraquoy Haldor. Robert also has a small Shetland pony stud Ockran, and keeps Shetland and cross bred sheep.
2. "Fleecefaulds" Herd - Laura MacGregor, Scottish Wildlife Trust
The Scottish Wildlife Trust began keeping cattle in 2010 and established the “Fleecefaulds” herd of Shetland cattle in the following years. The cattle are used for conservation grazing purposes on a variety of wildlife reserves owned or managed by the Trust, and for other partners. The herd is available for grazing projects all over Scotland.
The Scottish Wildlife Trust has a colourful herd of 11 Shetlands, including 2 bulls, with grey, dun, brindle and red animals in the herd. Calves, 6 expected this year, are sold at weaning with an occasional heifer retained to join the breeding herd. The cattle are wintered out on hay or silage. No concentrates are fed except as a means to keep them keen to come into the pens. Our cows have been chosen for excellent temperaments and ease of handling as well as the usual desirable traits of a Shetland cow.
Some sites have very difficult access - one notable example being Murder Acre, part of the Trust’s Bawsinch and Duddingston Loch Wildlife Reserve, at the foot of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. To get the herd onto this site requires a long reverse through the Innocent Railway Tunnel. This tunnel is 520m long - and not much wider or higher than the trailer at some points! There is then a further reverse of about the same again to the field entrance along what is now a cycle route and used by several hundred pedestrians and cyclists per day. Tasks like these are undertaken by members of staff and a huge team of dedicated volunteers. The cattle are checked while on Murder Acre by staff members, Historic Environment Scotland's Ranger Service and our volunteers.
The herd is managed by a full-time Conservation Grazing Coordinator, Laura MacGregor, who has worked on the project since 2002.
A further part of the conservation grazing team is the Flying Flock. Established in 2001 this mobile flock remains the only one of its type in Scotland. Initially Shetland sheep were used but more recently the flock has moved towards Chevease sheep, a North Country Cheviot Easycare hybrid which sheds their own wool and is a little less talented when it comes to escapology! However around 50% of the 100 strong ewe flock retain some Shetland blood.
3. "Ustaness" Herd - Ronnie and Jakob Eunson
The Ustaness herd was first established in the 1980s when I stayed at Ustaness, Whiteness in Shetland. In 1995 the family moved to Uradale, Scalloway, after I purchased the valley there.
My first cow was Murrister Kate bought from Bertie and Tamar Moar, hard working and wise crofting folk from the West Side. Bertie later accompanied me along with Tammy o da Glebe (TAU Fraser) to pick a bull at Quendale from the Hillwell herd owned by Magnus Burgess. That evening I will never forget. Tammy selected the young bull with a nod from Bertie and all I could do was agree. This bull became Hillwell Huxter and left a style on the Ustaness cattle. I try to buy bulls suited to my farm's circumstances.
My land is steep and rugged so I have always bred medium sized cattle which can move easily and eat from a wide variety of vegetation. I do not cross breed and wish only a healthy, efficient cow. My land has been certified Organic since 2002, which means imported feedstuffs are kept to a minimum. The farming policy is to aspire to sustainability. Therefore all fodder is homegrown without fertilisers. All youngstock are finished on farm and sold as beef. No other cattle breed can hope to achieve this level of sustainability in Shetland, in my opinion.
Although I have outwintered cattle in the past I have over the years built enough accommodation inside for them now. The dung and slurry is saved as a valuable resource since no soluble fertilisers can be used under Organic rules. The cows are on a solid sloping floor system cleaned twice a day. The young stock are on a slatted floor, which keeps them very clean.
Our herd usually numbers about 100 animals based on 30 breeding cows. Since the youngstock are left to grow till they are fat this means an average of 3 years old at slaughter. No minerals are fed or boluses given routinely. All treatments require veterinary sanction as to their need.
We are lucky in having the Shetland Animal Health Scheme which means Shetland has an exceptional health status. A number of UK endemic diseases have been eradicated and with every imported animal being examined and tested before release to the farmer, Shetlanders hope to maintain the healthiest of livestock.
My son Jakob will be taking over things soon and I am delighted to say that he sees the sense in keeping Shetland Kye!