Why working with Highland cattle is just magic
Certainly they can appear scary with their fierce looking horns, but my girls are anything but scary. Yes, there have been many occasions when I’ve had my heart racing as they’ve come galloping across the field towards me and almost every time I’ve thought: “ Is this the end?” They have slammed the anchors on and come to a standstill just inches away from me.
Their appearance may look primitive, with their stature being solid and stocky and with their sweeping horns and long coats, but they are built to cope. Originally born and bred in the Western Isles and the Highlands of Scotland, their double coats have been made to withstand the harsh winters and wet conditions which are so often experienced in that part of the world.
I make my way out to see my cows each day as the dawn is breaking and on some of these snowy, frosty mornings, I can see as I approach them that Monica for example has her hairy ears frozen to a crisp with the frost and the long hairs on her dossan (fringe) are laying like icicles across her face, it’s then that I do sometimes wonder to myself, are they coping alright.
Bearing in mind they have no shelter to hide away in and no forest to shield themselves from the elements, it can sometimes be a little harsh. But as I get close up to them, I take my gloves off, give them a stroke and often throw my arms around them and whilst doing so, bury my hands under their coats to get myself warmed up. That’s when I find for myself that they are far warmer than I am and better prepared than I am.
When it snowed last week, the snow just lay for hours on their backs, because their coats are so insulated, very little heat escapes to allow the snow to melt.
Over the past three years, it has been my pleasure to get to know these animals and build a relationship with them. Learning to trust each other has been so important for things to work between us. By gaining their trust, it has enabled me to understand them so much more, to know their moods, whether good or bad and it’s helped me to recognise too if any one of them is not quite feeling at their best.
At almost twenty years old, our Monica is getting to be the old lady on the farm and I am seeing this more and more each week as she is steadily slowing down. Especially on these chilly mornings, she takes that little bit extra to get up on her feet and on the move.
There was an incident just the other day when I think she forgot just how old she was and after bringing them through from the top field to the middle, the younger cows frolicked like spring lambs for a few minutes and twice she attempted to leap into the air like the others, but soon realised that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all.
Immediately after this failed attempt, she just turned her head and looked back at me as I walked alongside her giving me a look as though to say, “Don’t breathe a word of this to anyone”!