We saw some good cattle across the country – mostly 7-9 frame Continental breeds in Shetland, Orkney, and the mainland. . Nearly all in excellent, fat condition – a nod to excellent grass and forage management and the occasional feed wagon. All the cattle on the islands are stabled for the rainy winter season and, rightly so. Cattle that large and heavy would not be able to walk in the paddocks if the ground became any soggier than what we saw – they’d sink into mud to their knees. They are then fed hay and silage primarily with the subsequent manure being hauled out and the barn cleaned sometime the following year and spread back out on the grass paddocks. We saw NO evidence of confined animals on feed (CAFO’s). However, there may have been a few since we learnt later on the mainland, that grain finishing (barley and oats) would be done inside a barn.
Although there is a special breed that has been adapted for the conditions on the Shetland Islands. The Shetland Cattle, like the Shetland sheep, are considered primitive (unimproved) and smaller than more conventional animals. We actually did see maybe a dozen head of these cattle all over the island – most of those at a farm whose specific purpose is to preserve native Scottish livestock. The Shetland cattle are fine looking cattle, but smaller carcasses don’t fit the box. The Shetland Sheep are increasing being crossed with Cheviots for a crossbred ewe, then covered with a Texel ram for fast growing, larger terminal lambs.
Wednesday the 8th, we spent the entire day on a farm walk and enjoying a lovely lunch with Geordie and Julia Soutar on a sunshiny warm day on their Aberdeen-Angus Farm, Kingston Farm, just outside Forfar. Geordie and Julia have spent 20 years searching out the old genetics of Aberdeen Angus and producing them enough to help move them off the endanger of extinction list! These Angus cattle are like nothing i’ve ever seen in the US unless they are of these bloodlines. Yes, we were in the same pasture with the famed Jipsey Earl!
Most all the hay is finished being put up since we’ve been here. Here’s an interesting note – although the round bales here are slightly smaller than ours, they are very compact – we guess them to weigh around 800-1000 lbs. Anyway, Geordie Soutar put up 300 bales off 18 acres! He also ended up with 95 bales of silage (individually wrapped). Although we saw a LOT of silage bales from Shetland to Orkney, and all around the mainland, Geordie doesn’t like them because of too much plastic packaging to deal with. The reason he did was the late cutting of hay and it has just been raining too much of late and it simply wouldn’t dry. Instead of having all his animals in one mob (he has about 50 cows), he has them in separated in paddocks for various breeding reasons SO, he manages to not ever deworm because he changes the pastures every 4 years. Vining peas, potatoes, turnips, perennial rye. He plants, then harvests the peas and potatoes, then ploughs down and seeds to clovers and ryegrass.
Geordie is planning his paddocks to be ready for a sale put on by the American Angus Association in 2017 – it’s the first time the American Angus Association has had a sale off the North American continent. He will only have about 40 animals for sale – it will mostly be semen and embryos. Plus, he can only sell live animals in the UK. Kingston Farm cattle are 4-4,5 frame score and mature cows weighing 1500! They are meat machines. No grain is fed and the photos show them in working clothes with calves by their sides. It is interesting to note that he does not expose heifers until 18-20 months as he believes that yearlings are too young to breed and he gets the return back on the other end. His cows regularly produce every year until ages 15-16 and animals finished on grass alone have excellent marbling and cover in 18-20 months. So, whether it’s genetics, good feed, or waiting ’til later to breed or a combination of all, he’s got a great programme going here.