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" - South Collafirth, Shetland
2. "Fleecefaulds" - Fife, Scotland
3. "Ustaness" - Scalloway, Shetland
4. "Randolph" - Frankton, Warwickshire
5. "Gillarunna" - Muckle Roe, Shetland
6. "Pepperbox" - Salisbury, Wiltshire
7. "Islesburgh" - Voe, Shetland
8. "Ocraquoy" - Ocraquoy, Shetland
9. "Boquhapple" - Thornhill, Scotland
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!
4. “Randolph” Herd - George and Gillian Browning.
The Randolph herd of Shetland cattle was started in July 1997 with the initial breeding nucleus being purchased from Linda McCaig. The first 3 cows were St. Clair Elsa, St. Clair Rebecca and St. Trinians Arrow, with calves at foot being St. Trinians Lucky and St. Trinians Purdey plus one steer. All three cows were back in calf so we thought we had a good start and followed up with the purchase of a young bull, St. Trinians Alistair in September 1997. Unfortunately Rebecca died within the year, shortly before she should have calved so we lost both cow and calf, a major setback at the time and from a post mortem not something we could have prevented. Thereafter we increased the size of the herd building up at one stage to a total herd size of 29, with another bull purchased in 2000 (St. Trinians Rory) and one more in 2011 (Aidlew Angus). The current herd is maintained at around 20, currently a few less, with all the cattle now housed during the winter to prevent damage to our heavy clay soils. They are fed only our own hay in winter and put out to grass through the summer months. No concentrates are fed and the only supplementation is limited mineral supplement to compensate from the effect of molybdenum in heavy clay soils meaning extra copper is needed by the cattle. If anything there is a danger of the cattle becoming too fat just off grass, particularly heifers yet to calve so we need to monitor that aspect.
Cattle of our breeding have been sold to a number of other breeders over the years, one of our bulls has semen in the RBST and SCHBS semen banks (Randoph Fergus) and he has progeny in Australia as part of Paddy’s breeding programme there. We like to think that over the years we have helped to spread the influence of Shetland Cattle, on the critical list of the RBST when we started, and remain firmly convinced of their suitability in our system, not least for their temperament. I have introduced parties of young children to our cattle over the years to the interest of the cattle and delight of the children.
The herd has therefore remained a ‘closed’ herd with nothing other than those three breeding males brought onto the farm in the last 20 years.
Feldon Forest Farm is an all organic mixed farm in Frankton, Warwickshire. The farm is about 32ha altogether, most of which is now species rich grassland but with woodland, agroforestry, orchard and other woodlands. More details are available on our website; www.feldon-forest-farm.co.uk or our Facebook page; Feldon Forest Farm. Shetland cattle are ideal in this system, being hardy with low maintenance requirements and making an important contribution to the maintenance of our species rich meadows, conservation grazing on the home farm effectively.
We sell as much of the beef from our steers as we can direct from the farm with any surplus sold through the Organic Livestock Marketing Cooperative.
5. "Gillarunna" Herd - Jim and Jane Johnson
Hello fellow breeders. I was told it was time I contributed a herd profile of the Gillarunna kye for the Facebook page, I am not a prolific writer so this profile may be a bit on the short side.
Gillarunna is located on Muckle Roe, an island just off Mainland Shetland, and joined to it by a short bridge. Muckle Roe means “big red island”, after the red granite which it is made from. When the herd was formed back in the early 90s from a start with four weaned calves alongside our crossbred herd, their fortunes have ebbed and flowed with the various constraints and limited opportunities afforded a small livestock enterprise this far north. I need not say much about the fine qualities of the Shetland here, as you are all likely well aware of them, so I will stick to what I tend to look for in my kye, where I have succeeded and where I have failed.
At the outset good temperament was of great importance as we had a young family involved with the day-to-day keeping of the kye. As important, a good strong frame, correct feet and a good well attached tidy udder with good capacity – the milk is exceptionally good and is one of the breed’s strongest assets. Well all that seems simple enough!
But you all know nothing ever goes to plan! So after 28 years I rarely look at my kye and see the perfect coo, there is always something that could be better. This year eight coos and two heifers are running with the bull Gillarunna Robbie. He is a fair good bull, but is too closely related to the females. Gillarunna Thor is in the same situation so will likely go with Robbie in October (i.e. be moved on).
Our crossbred herd is the product of our Shetlands and Limousine bulls which provide the greater part of our income. The crossbred Shetland-Limousine is a strong upstanding coo that clearly reflects attributes from both its parents. They are economical, able to calve to the Blonde D'Aquitaine with ease and have plenty of milk, in short, good mothers. We dehorn them as they are kept inside in winter in large pens. None of it would be possible without our small herd of pure Shetland coos, they are the foundation stock of the holding and will likely be so for a while yet.
For the Gillarunna Shetlands an over reliance on home bred bulls has not been a good thing, they are where they are, and I have a way to go before I can say I have got it right. Best wishes to you all.
6. "Pepperbox" Herd - Tim Mallett
Herd Profile No. 6. "Pepperbox" herd. Tim Mallett, Salisbury, Wiltshire
The Pepperbox Shetland herd was named after the original site near Salisbury in Wiltshire. The tower on the top of Pepperbox Hill (see the first photos) is an early example of a brick folly. Thought to have been built in 1606 by Giles Eyre of Brickworth House, it may have served as a viewpoint for ladies following the hunt, a haunt for highwaymen and a lookout post for the home guard. Its entrances and windows have now been blocked up.
The Shetland herd was set up in 2006 with the purchase of four cows, three from Mary Holloway (Greenoak) and Larchfield Bianca from Bridget Tucker. Bianca is still in the herd.
I started grazing the 35 acre successional chalk grassland, scrub and woodland on Pepperbox Hill a couple of years earlier with Belted Galloways but they proved unsuitable for a site visited by dozens of dog walkers most summer days. The regular walkers are now my eyes and ears, eagerly informing me of calving or odd behaviour. Many know the cattle by name and have their favourites. Some are named after the person who first reported their birth.
After extensive research I decided on Shetlands for their fertility, thrift, ability to browse as well as graze, ease of calving, mothering, small size and quietness, and they have achieved my goals, for the most part above my expectations.
The grazing is controlled by Natural England, through Countryside Stewardship, from which I benefit in the form of a grazing fee from National Trust, who own the site. This means grazing is limited to between March and September, but there were other issues including ragwort, so in the past I’ve had to remove cattle in July, and it is unsuitable to run a bull. To counter this I found another site, the other side of the valley, but wet clay soil instead of chalk escarpment, that agreed to pay me to graze at times when Pepperbox was unavailable, and provided a handling system suitable to AI in, taking the pressure off my home farm.
This is run alongside a commercial herd of Stabiliser X sucklers and a share in a few show cows, including Beef Shorthorn - which I now have started using on Shetlands after one AI to a purebred to breed replacements in the commercial herd (which includes a number of Shetland X cows). A little bit about the Stabilisers: I first encountered Stabilisers while working in the USA, milking cows. They are a Simmental X Hereford, crossed with a Red Angus X Gelbvieh. The aim is to breed a fertile maternal cow, with hybrid vigour, that produces quality beef offspring. Twenty odd years ago I studied buffalo and wildebeest in nature, sold all my cows (that produced some of the best suckled calves in the market, but showed the strain of being an intensive system) and started again with a dozen high health Hereford X Friesian calves in a system working with nature and bred them to a Stabiliser bull. Thirteen years later I had 95 high health Stabiliser X cows running to 6 generations. Over five years 96% of the cows weaned a calf and the calves averaged 55% of their mother’s weight. The bull was a Stabiliser but I now use a Charolais. I also have a nucleus herd of 7/8 Stabiliser and Stabiliser X Sussex X Simmental put to a Shorthorn to breed replacements.
I also have a few sheep, including Herdwicks, which graze the banks adjacent to Pepperbox.
I did own a Shetland bull in the early days, Greenoak Daedalus, and bred Pepperbox Hugh but all the rest have been done by AI. Nowadays that’s done at home on improved grassland, as I had multiple issues with handling and declining planes of nutrition on the conservation areas, resulting in poor fertility. I calve everything at two years and only house them to wean them. They don’t much like being housed but I find if you give them enough room they settle down in a day or so.
As I got to know the Shetland breed and the sites I started to look towards breeding more compact types but with my limited knowledge of the bulls’ traits I decided, although I am a closed herd, to buy some cows in to speed up the process. So in spring of 2013 I bought Ridgecross Maggie, Rogiavi Janie and Rogiavi Ffion from Sue Shadrick in Cornwall. These are now the foundation of my herd. Fertility is the biggest driver with all my cattle, although while building the Shetland herd to its current 17 purebreds, 12 grazing cows is my threshold, I have been a little lenient. Nonetheless infertility should not be tolerated and I’m now in a position to deal with that correctly. Once I’ve got a live calf I need my cows to grow and nurture it. Although my Shetlands are genetically on the small side I know from the Shorthorn Xs that the cows have the ability to rear large calves that wean at 70% of the cow’s body weight, even on the conservation grazing. This puts them well into the top 30% of my commercial group.
I like data so: Maggie is my smallest at 350kg and weans calves around 200kg. Janie my biggest (bar Bianca) is 550kg and weans calves at 225kg but when crossed with the Shorthorn bull, calves are weaned around 310kg. Beyond that I choose bulls that I feel, with the information gleaned from the more knowledgeable members of the Shetland breeders, will improve back-end strength and udder attachment, both of which are a little below par in my group, while keeping the more compact trait in breeding females, but able to produce proportionally larger calves for meat production. This may, or may not, require crossing back to a Stabiliser bull, maybe even using a Stabiliser X Shorthorn bull. Fundamentally, I will use what works, whatever name is attached is irrelevant. It so happens the Shetland ticks multiple boxes as it stands, we need to ensure this continues to be the case. Who knows with what is appearing over the horizon they may be entering a big revival. Whatever the future holds it would be a shame if this gene pool was not available to future generations.
7. “Islesburgh” Herd - Addie and Margaret Doull
Addie and Margaret Doull bought Islesburgh farm from the Late Johnie Copland in 1970. It takes its name from the broch that used to be there. Addie and Margaret married in September, 1970 and moved into Islesburgh in December 1970. There were three Shetland cows on the farm, fondly referred to as Da Vidlin coo, Sandness and AP. We also had offspring of a cow that we brought to Islesburgh with us in 1970 as a heifer.
In the mid 80’s, they bought the last three cows of the late Teenie Johnson’s herd, Westburrafirth. Teenie was an old lady and wanted them to go to a home where they would be looked after. We were honoured to have fit the bill. We also bought a cow and calf from the late Eleanor Hall in 1988 – Waterloo Dianna and Waterloo David.
Herd book No 88.1163.
Date of birth 02.1986, Ear tag No Z376-29
Herd book No 90.295.
Date of birth 14.02.1988, Ear tag No Z376.30.
Waterloo David was 1st prize calf at the Voe Show in 1988.
Waterloo Dianna was 1st prize with calf, best registered Shetland and overall cattle champion at the Voe Show in 1990. She sadly died on 9th December, 1995, with vet in attendance of staggers.
Herd Book No 93.1765 (Inspected 1993.)
Date of birth 1990, Eartag No Z841/289.
Dam, Islesburgh Sophie Pat, Eartag No Z841/266 (not registered), Sire Waterloo David.
Tamara was first prize cow with calf at Voe show in 1992. She was 1st prize cow with calf and best registered Shetland at Voe show in 1993.
At a Shetland kye show at the Marts she was first and champion (cannot remember the year). She was 1st prize cow at the Millennium show at Clickamin.
Tamara was selected to be the feature cow at the Shetland Museum and she can be seen there today. We had a taxidermist arrive in Shetland and carry out the process to prepare Tamara for her final home.
We are very compassionate about maintaining the purity of the Shetland breed, and in 1991, we joined the Herd Book.
A few of the bulls used over the years have been – Waterloo David, Waterloo Charlie, Benston Foster, Williamsetter Aero, Hillwell Huxter and Minarvi Nicol. At present we are using Collafirth Bagheera. We have bred several bulls, such as Islesburgh Dexter and Islesburgh Alf, that left their stamp. We breed from our type of cow. Our cows are housed on slats during the winter. They are not halter-trained now, so are de-horned and we aim to have them with neat udders.
We used to show our cattle a lot through the 90’s and early 00’s but not so much in the past few years.
8. "Ocraquoy" Herd - Steven, Wendy and David Malcomson
The Ocraquoy herd was established in 1995 shortly after I took over the Malcolmson family croft. We are 9 miles south of Lerwick on a croft which is made up of small patches of land dissected by roads, we have a range of grazing including rough heather hill right down to a small beach. We started the herd with two young heifers bought at market from the Trondra herd. I wanted to bring Shetland cattle on to the croft for two reasons. Firstly, I have had an interest in Shetland cattle from as early as I can remember so they were the only choice for me when I started working the croft; and secondly I felt the in-bye croft would benefit greatly from the reintroduction of cattle and I have not been disappointed.
The croft had been used to keep heavier cattle in the past by my grandfather and father, but there had been a gap of over ten years where there had been only sheep. My intention to bring them back on to the croft was met by warnings that the land was not suitable due to its shallow soil over clay in-bye. I believed the croft could keep Shetland cattle having seen them on different land types. Our cattle use the whole croft, from the heavy in-bye land to the peaty hill land with little or no damage and the improved fertility of the land on the croft was seen very soon after the arrival of the cattle. The cattle have proved to be all and more than I had grown up to believe and have served our family very well.
I was very lucky to have been able to spend time with my grandfather, Thomas A. U. Fraser, who as well as having lifelong livestock experience had a very focused interest in the breed. He was the founder of both the Glebe and Heather lines and was entrusted with inspections for the new herd book when it was formed. He was a frequent visitor and a great teacher, happy to give advice as well as helping me to learn from my own experiences to get the best from the herd and the breed. My grandfather was never far away when the cattle came in, so I always made sure their tails were trimmed immediately just in case he dropped by unannounced! To this day our herd is heavily influenced by the principles and knowledge gained from discussions with him.
After initially selling meat to family and friends, this trade has grown with the herd. We use local facilities in Shetland to produce quality lean meat packs for a small local customer base that have returned year after year since we started. In the past, looking to produce heavier carcases, we tried various crosses. The results were mixed and we felt any increased quantity did not compensate for the change in the quality of the beef. Customer feedback always preferred pure Shetland. We also found cross calves needed to be kept longer and heavier and this resulted in damage to the land.
I favour the more traditional cow, finding they perform best and can use all the land types on our croft. Due to the high performance of the cow, it is important to ensure cows do not gain too much condition before calving, which can be difficult especially as they will put on condition even on lower quality fodder or grazing. Although not considered a hardy breed, we have found that a good Shetland cow will out-winter with no effect on performance, and winter born calves, born outside will often be the better calves later in the year. I would try to ensure that calves are born as early in the year as possible to have cows calving before new grass is underway. I find that calves born on lush grass do not grow out as well and I think this is due to the over richness of the cows’ milk.
Temperament has always been at the top of my list of essential traits. Although the cows are not routinely milked and handled they have to be able to be tied and milked in order to be representative of the breed. All our heifer calves are tied and handled when they come in for their first winter and we ensure heifers are handled once settled with their first calf to assess temperament.
I consider myself very lucky to have worked with this breed. Our son David has taken over the croft this year and I’m glad to say that he intends to continue the Ocraquoy herd. I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops. My grandfather’s wish was that the potential of this exceptional breed was realised and I thank everyone involved in the survival and development of the breed.
9. "Boquhapple" Herd - Kate Sankey
I find it hard to believe that it is 20 years since the Boquhapple herd began in 1998. West Moss-side is set on the flatlands of the Carse of Stirling right on the edge of the Highland boundary fault looking up to the mountains of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park to the north and west. The land of West Moss-side (160 acres) includes part of Flanders Moss National Nature Reserve – the largest raised peat bog in the British Isles.
The ‘good’ ground is Carse of Stirling mineral marine clays laid down millennia ago when it was part of the Forth estuary. It is heavy, wet and difficult to manage, but grows some of the best Timothy hay in the country. In the early days we grew some barley or oats but with climate change that enterprise has become non-viable. The grass fields are in agri-environment schemes for improved habitat for wildlife – especially the farmland waders. The curlew are hanging on here but are severely threatened by the unrelenting march for grassland efficiency and multiple cuts for silage. Conservation of both the moss and the adjoining farmland is critical for the health of the bog.
So this is where the cattle are needed. The choice of breed in 1998 led us to Shetlands – they are small and hardy, able to cope with wet and peaty ground throughout the year, preferably have a penchant for rough grasses and regenerating birch, easy calvers, well tempered and easy to handle. They have been true to this with few health problems. I had to say farewell to one of the oldest cows Evergreen (16 years) this year as on inspection she was found to have lost her teeth. I have their feet trimmed every other year and routinely treat with flukicide mid winter as liver fluke is endemic on this wet, poorly drained ground. Otherwise they are a healthy herd – there is BVD testing every year and Scotland is TB free.
We bought 6 bulling heifers from Mr Webster of Largoward Farm in Fife in November 1998 – with no former farming experience we wondered what we had let ourselves in for! Lorne Amy11, L. Kirsty, L.Marie, L.Arran, L.Rose, and L.Bonnie were all predominately black with some white. Amy had a typical white flash over her shoulder blades and the others were all black, save white tummies and white tips to the tail. In winter 2003 the herd was split when Steve up-sticks and left West Moss-side for pastures new. Since then I have introduced just two Shetlanders Trondra Rhona (black and white) and Geldron Tara (red and white) to the herd in 2007. Since then it has been a closed herd and I have been breeding with a selection of bulls chosen for their genetics, temperament, looks and compatibility with the herd - all thanks to the expert advice of Paddy and the amazing data base. In 2009 I kept a red bull calf intact. Boquhapple Kelvingrove (dam Lorne Amy 11 and Sire Struihill Zizou) was very special – with old genes and no red genes in the background! He left West Moss-side as a young bull but was later bought back for two years siring 2015 and 2016-born calves. His straws are with SCHBS and RBST as he is seen as an important bull in the history of the breed. Very proud!
In the first four years Steve and I could have been described (and I am sure were!) as hobby farmers as we both had full-time, off-farm jobs and the farming was motivated principally by conservation principles but to be honest the farm was funded by the day jobs!
After a period of serious contemplation of life and the universe in the winter of 2003, I decided to take a plunge. I gave up the day job (gulp) and set to, to build up West Moss-side as a viable ‘business’. This involved stages of diversification – renovating a steading and hayloft to a beautiful venue for workshops, seminars etc as well as art gallery (2006). Secondly to develop an award winning small eco-glamping site with three yurts together with a commercial kitchen (2010). (www.westmossside.com; www.trossachsyurts.com). Most recently (2018) to work with an award-winning chef Andrew Barrowcliffe who has his development kitchen here.
I have included this context/background in the herd profile to share with fellow Shetland cattle lovers because I believe that if we are to see the continued recovery of our special breed they need to have a place in the farming/land management business. The cattle are the backbone of the whole enterprise here at West Moss-side and in many ways have been the catalyst and the reason for the chosen developments. They are also my best friends and keep me grounded. Let me explain.
First and foremost the cattle are my conservation grazers – they are an integral part of the conservation management of Flanders Moss. This is a long-term collaboration project with Scottish Natural Heritage under a 25 year Nature Reserve Agreement. They graze and browse the regenerating birch on the high moss in the summer months. Reducing the birch cover is helping to reverse the drying out of the bog, thus encouraging the peat growing mosses (Sphagnum spps).
Because they are light and hardy they cope with the ground and because they are a traditional slow growing breed they do well on the ‘poor’ grazing. They are contributing to a number of key government priorities – peat restoration/ carbon capture, natural flood management and biodiversity.
In the winter they enjoy haylage from the grass fields. They can therefore be described not only as certified organic, but also conservation grazers and 100% home fed. So the second key element is the beef production enterprise. All bull calves are kept for beef unless there is something special – such as Kelvingrove. The steers go to the butcher at between 24 and 30 months. Until recently they have gone to the abattoir just up the road at Dunblane – sadly this has now closed and along with that, two specialist butchers have gone under too. This is a fact of life these days. It is hard to be a small, local and high quality producer. However, as a result of some lobbying, a large slaughterhouse in Perth has been persuaded to take private kills and a new butcher located in Fife. The first two beasts came back in November 2018 and the butcher said “it was a joy to butcher such beautiful beef … it is of the absolute highest quality I’ve seen”.
I sell direct from the farm freezer mainly to locals and to people who come on a workshop or to visit the gallery, or to stay in the yurts. Steaks and burgers and sausages are guaranteed to be on the barbeque! This summer we have been developing offerings for our yurt guests – ‘Ready meals’ or a fine-dining experience served in the hayloft or outside on the decking - thanks to the chef Andy Barrowcliffe! Andy is using the beef in his cooking which is very exciting, and developing new products too, and so show-casing this wonderful meat.
In the last couple of years I have sold through an online local market (www.neighbourfood.co.uk ). It is one very flexible solution for small producers to get their produce to market. Your produce is bought on line and then picked up from a hub. In Stirling that is the local High School. I drive to Stirling (11 miles) with the produce (already sold and paid for), and meet the customer – allowing an exchange of farm news with the customer, but also to meet like-minded small producers. There are a number of these markets all over the UK.
Last year the number of breeding females was up to ten, one was not in calf, but the resulting calves were six bull calves to three heifers. That is good news for beef sales! This year I have twelve cows/heifers in calf. The cow which was not in calf last year is not in calf this year either, so I am afraid that she will not be kept for another year! She can be sold either for conservation grazing or she will go to the butcher – tough – but… Calving will be late spring/early summer. To date there have been 112 calves born here and I have only lost one and have helped only a handful. I have witnessed less than 50% despite having the expectant cows in the field near the farmhouse. Over the years I have been breeding particularly for the smaller end of the breed profile and with some white. I have also introduced some colour. The reasoning being that for conservation grazers it is useful to be able to spot the cattle for easy lookering and checking.
Each year I sell some breeding stock in the winter (after weaning) and this year there are two or three in calf cows for sale. After February all cows are kept for calving. I have 27 head of cattle 2018/19. Two years ago I decided that it was time to house all the cattle over the winter (because of the damage to the ground) so a magnificent wooden shed with 3 sided Yorkshire boarding was built with a generous outdoor corral - another response to the wetter climate we are experiencing. So I have my calves in one shed and the adults in the new shed. Depending on the severity of the winter this can amount to at least 7 months.
For the future I hope to maximise the beef production although this will always be limited by the land capability; I hope to keep the old genetic variability and continue to breed animals who are good looking, genetically diverse and sustainable with good temperaments so that the breed advances and is assured a future.