The Highland Cattle of Applecross
The Highland Cow – A truly iconic Scottish creature, orange and shaggy in appearance, gentle and curious in nature. We just love Highland Cattle!
We took the annual trip up to Applecross Estate to catch up with the owners, visit the characterful cottages and of course sample local cuisine at the Applecross Inn. I got chatting to Mike Summers of Applecross Estate and asked him to come and write about their very own, much – loved Highland Cattle herd. Enjoy this “moooooving” piece.
Hello I am Michael Summers and I work on Applecross Estate with the responsibility for general maintenance, holiday houses and the Applecross Highland Cattle Fold. I am always keen to tell people that the Highland Cattle fold on Applecross Estate is probably the oldest of all. Inside the cover of the first of the old record books, kept in the Estate Office, is an anecdotal account of how long the herd has existed. Written by Duncan McNair in 1884, it recounts that my “Grandfather…came to be ‘herd stockman’ on the Highland cows to old Thomas McKenzie of Applecross ( the then laird) in or about 1776. The fold of black cows was kept at Applecross…since the year 1700 and long before then”.
In those days the Highlands and Islands were the home to large numbers of cattle, the offspring of which were driven over the hills and along the drover roads to Falkirk, the main market in the central belt of Scotland – thence to provide food for the growing population of the industrial revolution. With changes in farming methods alongside major social changes in these areas, the Highland breed became less popular meaning they would be severely marginalised. However it was in areas such as Applecross that the breed survived intact due to its greatest attribute: its ability to thrive on poor land no matter the state of the weather.
Highland Cattle being small at birth are slow growing and as such have not been in favour with commercial beef producers for many generations, however there are other uses that these animals are needed for. On Applecross for the last few years Highlanders have once again grazed on the Glen from June ‘til October, with remarkable effect, enhancing biodiversity with efficient and steady grazing. Such improvements as these has led to demand for Highland Cattle by those who have wild or scrub land to manage!
The Highland Cow is the closest relation to the wild oxen that ranged over the earth after the last ice age. It’s shaggy coat, most obvious in winter, and its notable horns which grow all through life give it a wild, untamed look. But as is the case with most breeds, the Highlander by temperament is generally placid.
On Applecross the cattle range freely where they will in the Glen throughout the summer and autumn months, usually going to the hill in May and being brought back by early October so the cattle can spend their winter in the fields in front of Applecross House (Faoilinn). From late December onwards the calves are born and although despite the sometimes awful weather they are from their earliest moments the hardiest of all cattle. The calves remain with their mothers until the herd comes in from the glen for winter, at which time they are separated. Most of the calves are then sold but we usually retain 6 heifer calves which we feed well through their first winter and get them used to human company so that by Springtime they are well socialised.
Applecross cattle have found their way to all quarters of Britain and Ireland in recent times and last year we sold five beasts to a breeder in Germany who sought out our animals because of their vintage bloodlines. We are proud to have a link with the Gottsgarten fold in the middle of Germany.
The most important member of the herd is the bull as without him no calves would be sired. The current bull Ewan of Callachally joined the herd in February 2015. He is now four years old, red and we hope to keep him for about 5 years. Our oldest cow Catriona 1st of Applecross’ was born in April 1996 and still has a calf every year. A calf or bull can be given any name although a gaelic name is preferred and also to call the calf after their mother – so there have been seven Catrionas to date.
If you venture up towards Applecross this year, go for a walk in the Glen and you will see the cattle in their very own landscape. They are a treat to spot and quite used to people too, although I wouldn’t recommend going along to pat them, we must always respect nature!
Take a look at Faoilinn, Bramble Lodge, Clachan Manse & Studio and Jam Factory all of which are beautiful self-catering holiday cottages on Applecross Estate, you will be living right next to these famous Highland cows.
Until next time, The C&C Team.