On Glengorm, the annual cycle of the farm is once again in motion. March brought the arrival of our first Highland calves, and, the first few precious days of good weather.
Highland cows like to give birth in private. When their time is near, they leave the main group and set off in search of a more secluded spot. In many cases, this spot is so secluded that it takes the farmers half a day of misery to find them.
Most calves are born on the hill without assistance. They are quite capable of withstanding the weather and do not normally need to be brought indoors. Unusually for cattle, Highlanders rely on their trademark hair for insulation – not deposits of fatty tissue under the skin. As such, their young are born with thick insulating coats that give them the ever-popular teddy bear look.
Once the calf is born, the dams assiduously stash them in a safe place.
This behaviour is similar to that of deer and antelope – where youngsters are “parked” between periods of suckling, to keep them safe from predators. It is also similar to the behaviour of my Grandmother; who selects places so “safe” that they are unlikely to be re-discovered at a later date.
By law, our cattle have to be ear tagged within seven days after birth. For this, and more obvious husbandry reasons, it is very important that new calves are located.
However. Highland cows are sneaky. They generate Oscar-winning performances, with the sole intention of sending Alex and Angus on a wild goose chase over the hill. Standing wistfully on a rocky promontory, the new mother throws clandestine glances at nothing. With every appearance of concern and anxiety, she seems hardly able to prevent herself staring – in the complete opposite direction to her calf. It is deception by misdirection.
Highlanders also excel at turning not much into something tasty; so they are a great choice for unimproved grazing land, and an extensive hill-farming style. The beef itself is lean and flavoursome, with lower cholesterol and higher iron and protein levels than other breeds.
Time from Calving to Carving [as one of our Facebook followers so succinctly put it] is approximately two to three years for a pedigree animal. There are faster maturing breeds out there – notably the Shorthorn; but good things come to those who wait.
On Glengorm, life for a Highlander is wild. They are left to their own devices and only occasionally have to be brought in. They are also very curious – apparently unable to resist the lure of unusual noises, animals or structures. The siren-song of a chainsaw will have them flocking to the forest from half a mile away.
Because the devil makes work for idle hooves, repeated assaults have been made on the integrity of my wildlife hide. It is surrounded by an asteroid belt of inquisitive footprints, tufts of orange hair and snotty nose marks. The turf has been neatly nibbled from the edges, and it is only a matter of time before I discover a triumphant cow within…
Those of you who have visited Glengorm may have come across “Bobby Dazzler”. This is our enormous white Shorthorn bull, who spends most of his time pottering about in Bluebell Valley. His job – as representative of a renowned commercial beef breed – is to reduce the time it takes for our own beef stock to mature. His hair is short and coarse, but he carries a formidable mass of muscle and fat under his skin. He weighs approximately one tonne, but still manages something like a scamper when he hears the snacker pulling up! Like men the world over: he really does love his food.
The Dazzler’s predecessor bore a slightly more suggestive title: he was called “Explosion”…
The Highland stock bulls are smaller in stature than the Shorthorn, but long and powerful in the back.
The son of “Eoin Mhor” recently won supreme champion at the 123rd Oban Highland Bull Show. Add this to Tom Nelson’s recent appointment as President of The Highland Cattle Society, plus Angus MacColl’s judging date at the Royal Highland Show… and Glengorm is all set for a cow-tastic year!
Clearly, there is a limit to the number of young bulls we can hold. Unless they are one of the fortunate few, males are castrated and then grown on for beef. The Chosen Ones enjoy a life of privilege and pampering in the shed, before going to new homes and new romantic encounters elsewhere.
Cross-bred calves tend to be larger at birth and grow faster than pure Highlanders. They can be ready for the table a full year sooner – extremely useful if you are a beef producer. They have a similar luxuriant coat [when not covered in mud and sticky burrs] but tend to have longer legs and some degree of white mottling around the belly. On Glengorm, the majority of our beef cattle are de-horned at a young age. This helps to make their “final journey” safer and less stressful for both the cattle and their handlers.
Though it seems like a strange thing to be thankful for, Mull is fortunate in the fact that we have our own slaughterhouse. When the time comes, our animals have a short 30-minute journey to their final destination, where they are dealt with quickly, professionally and humanely.
Glengorm is also grateful to our client base here on the island; all of our produce is sold on Mull, and is not transported over to the mainland. Without the support of both local residents and island visitors, we would not be able to farm in such a low-impact manner.
You may have already seen our new “Eat Local, Eat Glengorm” rosette logo. If not, look out for it on your next purchase of delicious locally produced Beef, Lamb or Venison. Our meat is cooked and sold in both the Glengorm Coffee Shop and Tobermory Bakery, in addition to being present on the menus of many local businesses.
No food miles, but hopefully, a lot of food smiles!
[Ps. for those of you who were not a child of the 80’s like myself, the blog title is my “Homage” to Pat Benatar’s Love is a Battlefield. Unfortunately, my shocking puns are lost on Alex; a man entirely devoted to the Peatbog Faeries and Mariah Carey – groan.]
Glengorm Wildlife Steward, Cow Fan & Music Aficionado