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
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.