05 January 2015
Kenny Matheson of Brue Highlanders talks to us about the challenges of keeping Highland Cows on one of the UK’s most westerly islands ...
Brue Highlanders has been breeding pedigree Highland Cattle on the west coast of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides since 2001.
‘It was a business decision taken at a time when much of the UK’s agricultural livestock sector was on its knees,’ said Kenny Matheson, who with his wife Lesley, own the Brue Highland Fold.
‘We were looking for a breed that could thrive outside all year round on the exposed west coast of Lewis regardless of extreme winter weather conditions, which would be able to compete with the best of the breed UK-wide – and produce both pedigree breeding stock and prime beef of a quality which customers would want to buy and come back for more.
It was a lot to ask, but in all of these requirements we can say that our decision to opt for Scotland’s iconic native Highland breed has delivered for us – and more!’
‘The Highlander is a remarkable animal in so many ways and many will be amazed to realise how versatile the breed is.
'From its native Western Isles and west coast of Scotland roots, where it was bred for croft, machair and wild moorland pastures, the 21st-century Highlander has become a global success story.
'Today, some of the largest folds (herds) of Highland cattle are not found in Scotland or even in the UK, but in America and Australia, something which the breed has in common with the communities of its Scottish homeland, from where so many individual and families have over the centuries emigrated overseas from their native Highland crofts, straths and glens.’
A global export
‘The Highland breed of cattle has a long and distinguished ancestry, not only in its homeland of western Scotland, but also in many far-flung parts of the world.
'One of Britain's oldest, most distinctive, and best known breeds, with a long, thick, flowing coat of rich hair and majestic sweeping horns, the Highlander has remained largely unchanged over the centuries.
'Written records go back to the 18th century and the Highland Cattle Herd Book, first published in 1885, lists pedigrees since that time.
‘It is amazing to think that Scotland’s hardy, hairy Highlander can so readily adapt, thrive and look after itself and its young so well, whether grazing high up on Swiss Alpine pastures at heights rising to 2,200m (Ben Nevis summit is 1,344m) or as it is does in the summer heat and winter snows of Colorado and Texas, or in subtropical Australia. From Scandinavia’s northern countries, south to Tasmania, from California to Eastern Europe, the superb qualities of Scottish Highland cattle are recognised and sought after internationally.
‘No one messes with the Highlander as they are more than able to defend themselves and their young against attack – be it beak, talon, tooth, claw or fang, few will escape without learning that these horns are for a purpose!
‘Still, regardless of where the Highland cow is seen worldwide, no one is left in any doubt that her heart is in Scotland, and that there are few places she would rather be than standing in the cooling waters of a Scottish loch whacking and swishing the midges with her tail should they get too troublesome.
'Yet, as any Highland breeder will tell you, a Highlander which has been well bred, fed and handled properly from a young age, is the most intelligent, gentle, and pleasurable of cattle breeds to work with. As for looks, beauty and delicious beef flavour they are without doubt a class apart.
‘Her Majesty the Queen, like her mother before her, is not only the patron of the Highland Cattle Society, but owns one of the best Highland Folds in the world at Balmoral on Deeside.
'The Royal Monarch knows that her light-footed Highland ladies, whose forebears sustained centuries of communities on farms, crofts and sheilings, are noble Scottish icons and true global ambassadors that will not let her or her country down. ‘
Find out more about the Brue Highlanders at: www.bruehighlanders.co.uk
Photograph: Brue Highlanders cooling off in Loch Urraghag, Brue, Isle of Lewis.
Read more about Highland Cows in the February 2015 issue of Scottish Memories (on sale 15 January), as we celebrate one of Scotland's iconic animals.
Order the print edition or download the digital edition using the links below…