"Hollins" - Cockermouth, Cumbria
I have a small-holding of 45 acres in the Lake District, consisting of nearly all "severely disadvantaged" land. In 2007 I was applying for the Higher Level Stewardship scheme, and needed some native cattle for conservation grazing. My buildings and set-up were geared for sheep..........small gates and pens, so I thought of Highland or maybe Dexter cattle.
We have a large sheep and wool festival in Cockermouth in June, and whilst there I got talking to Barry Allan on the RBST stand. "Forget Highlands" was his advice. "Try Shetlands. Come and see mine." I hadn't even heard of Shetland cattle, but I went to see them and was hooked. Small, friendly, easy-calvers, living out all year. What's not to like?
A visit to the McCaigs followed, and in November 2007 I bought three in-calf cows from them, Geldron Sprite, Littlester Moira, and Arg Amelia. In March Moira had a bull calf to St Trinians Curan (Hollins Gustav, who went on to do great things for Ken Ansell and Stephanie Ede) and Sprite had a heifer, Hollins Florence. Unfortunately Amelia's calf had a heart defect and had to be euthanased. Now in need of a bull, I again turned to Barry Allen, (who I refer to as my Guru) and he sold me Windgates Toby. He was a lovely natured bull, and when he got his head stuck in a ring feeder he was so quiet he allowed us to lift it and twist his head to get it off his horns. He only blotted his copy book once when he took his ladies into the village to visit some other bulling heifers.
Amelia had better luck in subsequent years, and her bull calves have included Hollins Thor, who went to Mary Knibbs, Jack of Hearts who went to Jules Moore, and Storm who went to Rosemary Champion. Bulls have come and gone over the years, and have included Wharncliffe Kenneth, Windgates Finlay and Windgates Gingernut. There have been times when my next door neighbour's enthusiastic Limousin bull, and it has to be said my not unwilling cows, have got together, and produced a quite acceptable cross. People are amazed at the size these crosses can achieve.
In Autumn 2019 my herd had grown to 15 which was far too many for my 45 acres, with horses, goats, and sheep added to the mix. Last year's three male calves went to the auction as stores, and I have just sold the two heifers to a lady near Dalbeattie. The bull went to Kirkcudbright and the Limousin X went on a one way trip to market. At the moment I have three two year old heifers, my original cows Amelia and Moira, Rose and Lily (four year old) Alice (three year old) and as I write, two heifer calves and one bull calf. Two calves to go!
In general the cattle have done a very good job on the rough grass and reeds. I used to top off where I could, when things dried out a bit, but latterly there has been little need, and obviously they can get to the places where I cannot go. They are out all year, but during the winter I give them some hay, or silage, with some "treats" of nuts. I have sold steers and bulls through the local market, but often they go as breeding stock being sold privately.