In 2005, after EU farm support was decoupled from headage payments, we decided to replace our traditional Angus X suckler cows with Highland cows. This breed of cattle fit in best with our long-term plan for the farm.
There is no cattle housing for the winter here and there is plenty of rough grazing that can be utilised to good effect by the Highland cattle. At the same time they are being used to manage suitable areas on the farm for the benefit of the environment.
A small nucleus fold of Highland cows was established which has quickly mushroomed into 80 females of different ages. Now that we have enough homebred females we have started to put the Whitebred Shorthorn over them. The females produced from this crossing program will make first class suckler cows.
The Airyolland fold of Highland cattle has reached a new milestone when we travelled to Forres in Morayshire to purchase Longley Milestone, a Whitebred Shorthorn bull, from Adrian and Janice Wheelwright's Longley herd. We had the choice of eight bulls and were delighted with the quality on offer.
We chose to cross our Highland cattle with the Whitebred Shorthorn because of their reputation for producing a suckler cow that is remarkably milky and easily maintained.
The Whitebred will go to the cows in June 2012 and our Highland bull (pictured below), who has been breeding very well, will be retained to sweep up and provide replacements.
The Highlanders have a very placid temperament and they do not require much in the way of inputs. They graze the inbye after they calve in the Spring which ensures that they return to the bull easliy. After this they are turned out onto the hill where they make very good use of the rough grazing to be found there. Controling that rank vegetation on the hill has also led to the recovery of our heather in many areas of our hill where there has been no heather in recent memory.
Our herd is a member of the Premium Cattle Health Scheme (SRUC) and has accredited Level 1 status for Johnes disease which is the highest level possible and we are also fully accredited for BVD, IBR and Lepto.
In 2009 we replaced our first stock bull Cabhlaiche of Mottistone with the brindle bull Corin of Benmeanach (pictured left) who was sired by Othello 2nd of Meggernie. Corin has produced twice as many heifers as bulls each year. In 2011 we had 30 calves - 20 heifers and 10 bulls. He has had the same ratio with his 3rd crop of calves born in in 2012. Corin, however is a victim of his own success. Due to his ability to produce so many heifers over the two crops, so far, our fold has grown so quickly we are now able to cross the Highlanders with a Whitebred shorthorn to produce "Highbred" suckler cows.
Due to the quality of his progeny we are retaining Corin to "chase up" after the Whitebred bull has been in for a certain period of time
Ironically, both the Beltex and the Highland cattle came to High Airyolland after Neale had by chance spotted them elsewhere.
He first saw the Beltex crossed with Scotch Mules that he had supplied to a farmer in France. He was very impressed with the lambs and this resulted in him buying 11 gimmers from a well known Beltex breeder in Belgium.
And it was while fishing early in the morning on the Knoydart Peninsula near to the village of Inveree in North West Scotland that the sight of the Highland cattle, which came down to the water to drink, pictured right, made him vow to start his own fold.
After the first purchase of three females bought in Oban in October 2005 further females were selected at sales at Oban and Perth and the fold now numbers 20 cows plus young stock and a stock bull. The cows calve in February and March.
As fate would have it, in 2008, five of the cows Neale admired in Knoydart, pictured above, three years before, made the mammoth trip to Airyolland to join our fold of Torloisk, Craigowmill, Garfield, Finnart, Earn, Gartchonzie, Lagg, Knockendon, Fourmerk, Shanter, Achnacraig, Tullach Ard and Shenavallie females.
On 26th September 2009, as part of their annual weekend visit, the East of Scotland Highland Cattle Club spent a day viewing the stock at High Airyolland. The day started with a tour of the fold who were running with the bull, Corin of Benmeanach
Once again Corin of Benmeanach has produced twice as many Heifers as bull calves and we are very pleased with their quality. Now that we are going to be crossing them with the Shorthorn we took the decision to dehorn the heifers at birth. Should be interesting what they look like as they mature.
The heifer calves, that we have also fitted with boc-loc tags, are pictured right.
We are very pleased with our new calves off the Whitebred Shorthorn. They have very good conformation, are growing out well and they are particularly pleasing to the eye.
In 2017 we kept some of the cross calves and A.I'd them with the Simmental. We were so pleased with the calves born this year(2018) we are increasing the number of Whitebred Shorthorn X Highland heifers that we keep each year and reducing the number of Highlanders that we run. We also purchased 2 Simmental Bulls.
We are also keeping the herd fully accredited and selling a few heifers every year.
We have recently sold the heifers straight from the farm. They have been very placid and easy to work with.
We have just sold 9 of the bullocks at Stirling market on 13/11/13. They were 215kg and made £490 each.