From an American Prospective as Breeder and Judge
Many breeders from around the world have asked me to write my views on Highland cattle as they know I have judged in many different countries and of course have visited many farms. My opinions are just that, my opinions and I do not contend to be considered THE authority.
The first thing I would think is universal is the desire to devour knowledge about the breed, constant enthusiasm and yes, even jealousy. The Australians call it the "tall poppy syndrome". Once a breeder reaches a certain level of success, then other less knowledgeable breeders are certain that he is engaging in unacceptable practices. What we have to learn here is that as responsible breeders, we must make a serious commitment to MENTOR all other breeders. Every breeder needs to develop a marketing plan, best animal husbandry practices and in general everyone needs to push the wheelbarrow in the same direction.
|Zeus of Swains at the U.S. National Show under judge Donald MacGillivray of Scotland|
Most astute breeders are aware of the strong maternal attributes of the breed but few have any meaningful statistics to present to other cattlemen. There are virtually no statistics on bulls. Data needs to be collected on such traits as, birth weight, weaning weight, yearly weight, scrotal circumference, udder quality, carcass quality, tenderness factor, hybrid vigor, maternal milk measurement. All breeders need to become vocally proficient in discussing these traits. I certainly envision a time when the agricultural world will not be able to feed expensive grains to cattle for inefficient weight gain. People will need to be fed instead. It therefore would be to our advantage to immediately fund trials of crossing Highlands with other breeds and measuring hybrid vigor weight gain and carcass quality.
We are perhaps in the best position tovoffer true hybrid vigor to nearly all other breeds, horns are a recessive trait, hair is geographically or environmentally changeable. Few people know that the Highland was one of the breeds Mr. Lassiter used to develop the Beefmaster breed in Texas because of the small calf size and strong maternal traits.
I contend that when a person buys his first Highland he needs to immediately initiate a marketing plan if he intends to breed. To market you have to have knowledge about your product. I tell new breeders that you can only do three things with Highland cattle, breed them, eat them and sell them. Unless you learn about true breeding and marketing, you had better be prepared to eat and keep a whole lot of them.
I have learned that Highlands are very adaptable. In Canada and Northern parts of the U.S. it is perhaps desirable to have perhaps just a little more leg than the traditional Scottish beast. I have had to plow paths in the snow because they can have a tough time getting from hay to water.
Shorter legged beasts work well of course on hilly or mountain
country. I have attached a photo of one of the most successful Highland cows in North America, Finola of Dirtane. She was a show winner 13 consecutive times including twice the Canadian and U.S. Supreme champion. The one thing I would change about her is that for my climate I would have made her a few centimeters taller for functional purposes.
|The famous Bull - Rider Glenn Bluhm|
When I judge a show I can tell you that invariably there are 1-2 top animals in a class, several in the middle and unfortunately some that should not be in a show. When I judge a class of say 15 Angus, there is virtually no disparity and on any given day the top five could each be a champion. One thing I do when I judge is to ask for permission after the show to take temporary possession of the champion female and champion male and then let the other exhibitors bring their animal forward to place beside the champion. Often times this is the first time that a breeder truly looks at their own animal critically or subjectively. I have become more tactful in that I ask the breeder if they could change one thing about their own animal and take it from the champion, what would it be. Everyone really wants to know reasons for placement.
We have to mentor breeders on how to properly groom and show their animals. Everyone needs to look and act professional at all times. Potential customers may be watching.
Some things we need to learn.
1. Not all females should be registered. We do not need to perpetuate inferior animals and most of all not any animal that is not structurally sound. Simply put, if an animal is not good enough to leave your farm with your name proudly on its registration paper, eat it, or sell it as a pet or unregistered animal. Culling is the animal version of QUALITY CONTROL.
2. If you sell a bull, make sure that he is of the highest quality and that you can give the breeder as many statistics as possible. Remember, he is your permanent advertisement away from your farm. If he is not good enough for you, he is not good enough to sell.
3. Look at any pedigree as a opportunity to learn about the animal. The paper should match the animal. For example consider this; if there are 10 different breeders in a three generation pedigree then there are probably ten different views on what they consider a good animal. For example one of the best references I can make on this subject is at the Millerston Fold in Scotland. The former Tom McLatchie and Jack Ramsey have a record to envy for top notch female cattle. If I saw that their name appeared several times on a three generation I could certainly reasonably expect that the females would be of very high quality. The Capleadh heads were easy to recognize. Know who you are buying from is the lesson here. Study.
|Finola of Dirtane as Supreme champion at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto, Canada under judge Michael Gibson of Scotland|
4. We must identify lines of cattle that mature at a earlier age. I know in the U.S. the farmer cannot wait for 4-5 years for that first calf. I was able to identity several cow and bull lines that matured much quicker than the average. For example, the Finola in the photo had several bull calves that each exceeded 272kg at 205 days of age. One of her embryo transfer females achieved the following results: Fenella of Killara in Australia, DOB 22 Nov 2000, shown 18 Nov 2001, weight 320kg.
She was not quite 11 mos old. My stationary has had the same saying for 40 years; "Selected Genetics Produce Predictable Results". There are no guarantees but the percentages certainly improve.
5. Bull test weight gain alone is not always a true indicator of performance because I certainly have seen some aggressive bulls keep intimidated bulls away from feed. I like how the Australians do a grass weight gain test at Warangul (SP) Some animals convert feed much more efficiently than others. For example I had one beautiful female that wouldn't quite get the finish that I liked on her. I discovered that she needed 5.9 kg of grain feed in addition to hay/pasture to gain .45kg of flesh. Very inefficient. BIOBeef (in Ontario) has a system of actually measuring the feed intake of each animal to determine a efficiency factor.
6. Must access top genetics such as semen and embryos to
constantly improve one or both sides of the pedigree. Less risky than importing live animals.
7. A global mentorship, strategy and task force should be
immediately developed so that all HIGHLAND breeders can pool data and access data to become better informed cattle people.
Thanks for taking the time to read my observations and opinions.
Glenn W. Bluhm
|Winter in Michigan, USA|