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Highland Cattle at Williamwood Farm

During your holiday at Williamwood, you will meet our highland cattle. We keep a herd-or “fold”, as it is known, not just because they look nice, make great photos and are a Scottish icon, but because they are hardy, they live a long time, can produce calves well into their teens and are very good mothers. Their skins are thicker than many other breeds of cattle and they have a double coat of thick hair. Their milk is rich, which means they can live outside all year long and produce great milk for their calves. The female calves are used for breeding and the males go for beef, so we usually have some of our own beef for sale.

In the autumn, we introduce a Beef Shorthorn bull called Glenisla Braemar to our Highland girls. They’ve met him a few times now, as he’s 7 years old and we’ve had him since he was 2. He is a very big chap and from another traditional native breed. He produces calves in the spring which are born easily and grow very well on their mothers’ milk. Strictly speaking, they are Shorthorn X Highland but the type is similar to that known as “Luing” (pronounce “Ling”), which is a breed for which there is a good demand because of its hardiness, milkiness and ability to grow quicker and bigger than the pure Highland. The females go on for breeding and the males go for beef, which is sought after by supermarkets like Morrisons, who pay a premium for native breeds. Because we don’t want calves being born all year around, Braemar reluctantly leaves his ladies in the autumn to face the winter weather without him and their calves and retreats inside to spend a comfortable winter on his own in a special bull pen.

We have kept some of his daughters and bought-in others like them to create a herd of Luing-type cows, which we keep in a different part of the farm from the Highland fold. They are very quiet and good-natured and also live outside for most of the year, although we sometimes bring them in to calve if the weather is particularly unpleasant then. They spend the summer grazing our fields with a Simmental bull called “Brandy”, whom they’ve met before as he’s 5 and we’ve had him since he was 2. He’s not quite as big as Braemar and is a Continental breed. All his calves have white on their faces, are beefier than Braemar’s and grow more quickly but are not always as easily born. They are of a type known as “Sim-Luing”, for which there is a good demand for breeding females, which tend to be crossed with another native breed like the Aberdeen-Angus. We sell them on to other farmers to do that because having to keep 2 bulls all year around and in separate quarters during the winter is more than enough for us to cope with! Like Braemar, Brandy is too thin-skinned to live outside in the winter, even if we wanted him to, so we bring him into his bull-pen, where he keeps warm and dry while his ladies endure everything that a Scottish winter can throw at them.

We wean (“spean”, pronounced “spain”) our calves from their mothers when they are about 8 months old and bring them into the farm buildings for the winter, where they lie in deep straw beds and are fed the same home-made silage (conserved grass) as their mothers get outside, plus an additional ration of “cake”, which we buy in as cereal-based nuts. They spend the next summer together on our pastures before we sell them to other farmers for breeding or beef the following autumn, keeping a few back for replacements for our own herd.

 

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