Michelle Shaughnessy is nothing if not a character. When the phone lights up and her name appears, you have to pause and wonder what the conversation will be for the next half hour or more.

It will invariably involve her beloved Highland cattle, but after that, it could be anything.

Back in September when the Whatsapp message came through: "Do any of ye want to jump in a lorry and go to Balmoral Castle to pick up a bull I’m buying?", it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Michelle is well known around Ireland for her Highland cattle, having imported several top bloodlines from their native Scotland over the past number of years.

Her Instagram page and her passion for the breed, coupled with her infectious energy, mean that she’s liked by both breeders and non-breeders alike both at home and in Scotland.

Robert McCreery of McCreery haulage outside the gates of Balmoral Castle.

A 4am ferry awaited me less than 48 hours later. For anyone concerned about animals being transported across the water in ferries, I’d encourage them to travel on one.

The trip was beyond smooth and certainly is more comfortable for the animals than a lot of Irish roads. If cattle had the choice between the ferry or the Westport to Clifden road, they’d see very little of Galway.

Two hours later and we were offloading in Cairnryan. Up along the west coast of Scotland across small towns and villages, it reminds you very much of Ireland.

There was even a hat tip to Fr Ted with a caravan having turned over on its side on a beach, though I doubted it was due to a dancing priest and his youth group.

One of the breeding cows of the Balmoral fold.

Stirling Mart was set to be my rendezvous point with Robert McCreery, Michelle’s haulier of choice. The McCreery name is well known in the livestock haulage business operating outside Ballybofey, Co Donegal.

Breakfast is the first port of call, followed by a tour down through the mart.

"See them pens, there was cattle in them yesterday evening. There’s men come in then at night and wash them and spread sawdust on them, ready for the sheep landing in," explained Robert.

The store lambs that are landing in for the day’s sale are exceptionally clean and even.

"If there was a screw thrown in among a bunch of good stock, buyers would just have her pulled out before the lot is auctioned."

A trio of young Highland calves on the Balmoral estate.

We hit the road - destination Balmoral Castle. Along the way, Robert chats about haulage and moving cattle and sheep between Ireland and the UK.

Robert is in the UK nearly every week with a lorry, with trips to the continent less frequent. The ferry over from Belfast is now £700, with diesel having taken another major jump in recent years also putting pressure on profit.

A bull fit for a king

With her charm, Michelle has made good friends with the Balmoral herd manager Dochy Ormiston. One of them is as particular as the other about which cattle are imported into Ireland, with the mutual relationship working off Dochy only wanting good bloodlines to go for breeding and Michelle purchasing such.

Having bought several cattle from Dochy, Michelle’s latest purchase is Eoin Mhor 1st of Balmoral. A super red bull, he’s been on loan to Grace Noble prior to his export.

The Noble family markets and sells Highland beef boxes from their steers, with surplus heifers sold as breeding stock. They have four for sale in Oban in the weeks after our visit.

We drop the tailboard of Robert's lorry, with the inside being spotless. Robert still beds the area assigned to Eoin with a generous scatter of sawdust.

Highland cows and calves of the Balmoral fold grazing in front of Balmoral Castle.

We’re no sooner in the lorry and on the road again than Michelle rings us for an update and "what are the heifers like?" She went to Oban sale after and bought all four.

Balmoral and Dochy

Another short trip sees us land to Balmoral Castle and estate to meet the famous Dochy. He doesn’t entertain anyone from the media (even the BBC), but Michelle has worked her charm yet again and Dochy is set to give us a farm tour.

The Balmoral Estate extends to 52,000 acres, comprised mainly of hill ground and tenanted farms. The Balmoral fold (the correct term for a herd of Highlands) runs to about 50 head of cows plus followers, which Dochy is responsible for.

Dochy has been manager of the Balmoral fold since 2007, when at the same time his wife Sylvia took control of the Balmoral Highland ponies. There’s been a fold of Highland cattle in Balmoral since 1954 when Queen Elizabeth was coronated.

While the breed are predominantly red, black cattle like the one pictured are also popular.

Myself and Robert are in luck, as just in front of Balmoral Castle is a small packet of cattle, among them Gusgurlach of Balmoral, a two-time breed champion at the Royal Highland Show.

The cattle are all outwintered (bar the weanlings) and supplemented with homegrown grass silage in the fields. The breed is in its native country here and the thick shaggy coats are ample protection from the elements.

Three stock bulls service the fold’s cows. The breed comes in a range of colours, with red, black and dun being the most common.

They are a typically low-maintenance breed, with cows calving themselves and calves up and suckling quickly.

Dochy passes through various paddocks in his Hilux of cows with calves at foot. The newborn calves are undeniably cute.

Dochy is also responsible for a flock of 200 Cheviot-cross ewes crossed with a Texel ram. The cattle, sheep and about 40-odd Highland ponies are run on 1,300 acres of lower ground.

During the stag shooting season, about seven or eight ponies go out each day with their special saddles to carry culled stags from the hills.

Herd manager of Balmoral Dochy Ormiston pictured beside two time Royal Highland breed champion Gurgurlach of Balmoral.

Unfortunately, since our trip back in September, King Charles III has decided to remove the Highland fold and herd of ponies from the estate. They are set to be relocated to an estate closer to London, cutting short nearly 70 years of breeding at Balmoral.

Not only is it devastating for the breed, but for the farm staff associated with each enterprise, many of whom have living quarters as part of their remuneration.

We thank Dochy and he sends his best wishes with us back to Ireland. Down through the Cairngorms, there’s few places to even pull in for a cup of tea. We pass a seasonally redundant ski resort on our way, awaiting the heavy snows that hit the Highlands.

In the high country, there are large red metal rods sticking up from the ground on the road's edge. Robert informs me that they are to guide snow plough drivers clearing the heavy drifts that fall. Sheep and small crofts occupy the hills, which are greener and softer looking than that found in the west of Ireland.

Ewing's yard

Robert drops me back off in Stirling Mart for my jeep, as he has some additional pick-ups to make; this time a score and a half of Lanark ewes.

I hit off to Andrew Ewing’s yard, our stop-over for the night. Anyone who has ever imported or exported breeding cattle likely did it through Andrew, with him being one of the main export and assembly yards in the UK. It’s ideally located, just around the Scottish-English border

Dutch lorries getting inspected in the Ewing yard. Separate inspections must now be carried out in the UK as the EU inspection does not suffice since Brexit.

The next morning, after a stay in one of the farm's self-catering cottages, I met with two Dutch drivers who had delivered some heifers to the Ewing yard. The lorries were then getting inspected to allow for the transport of animals in the UK.

Prior to Brexit, the one EU certification covered this. Now, separate certificates have to be held. The changes that Brexit have done to exporting livestock are the main theme of my chats with Andrew later in the morning.

Nearly all cattle are straw bedded, with the farm keeping a herd of pedigree Limousin cattle. One of the pens of commercial cows and calves have a young stock bull in it from the Ernevalley herd from Eddie and Ben Lynch, Co Cavan, with the first crop of cows impressing the Ewings.

A hearty breakfast awaits us in the farmhouse. After it, myself and Robert chat about the changes in exporting.

Changes to exports post-Brexit

Even with an export test, cattle that are sold through a sale in the Republic of Ireland and are exported to the mainland UK must go back to a farm in the Republic for 40 days and be retested for TB. The issue this presents is that the purchaser then needs to organise this accommodation for their newly purchased stock.

Quite often, the seller will take them back to their own farm, while Andrew also has a select number of farms that will hold bulls for the 40-day period for him if needed.

It’s a similar case for stock coming from the UK to Ireland, with Robert holding cattle for the 40 days when needed. Cattle that are being sold from farm to farm between the UK and Ireland do not require a residence period; a valid export test suffices.

"It's an obvious disadvantage for the Irish breed societies and their sales, as it used to always be on the day of export. Many’s the time we had between 10 and 20 bulls and heifers coming out of Irish sales and exported that day, and that has been greatly reduced since.

"We used to do about 100 cattle coming from three pedigree sales [in the south]. The rule change has knocked that on the head and we are now doing about 10 to 15.

"If we were to bring them bulls from Roscrea over the border and into Northern Ireland the evening of the sale, the residency period is only 30 days.

"The real issue is for breeders from Northern Ireland, who in the past came over to Scottish sales with their top end bulls. The situation since Brexit is that these bulls are on a one-way ticket, as if they are not sold in the sale, they must remain in Scotland for six months after which is unfeasible for breeders.

Buyers know the bull is on a one-way ticket and the price reflects this. It’s discrimination the Northern Ireland breeders, as they pay the same fees as those in the mainland UK, but do not have the same market opportunities. We don’t know why its six months and no one can explain it. It’s put everyone in Ireland at a disadvantage."

Myself and Robert make our way for the 4pm ferry. It’s been a manic two days in my eyes, but another week in the office for Robert.

When we cross over into Larne, Robert then has to get all the cattle and sheep on board checked in the lairage. Depending on how busy it is, he could be there several hours.

I thank him for the use of the passenger seat and with a final few Whatsapps to Michelle, the Highland journey is over.

The writer wishes to extend his thanks to Michelle Shaughnessy, Robert McCreery, Dochy Ormiston and the Ewing family for their time and generous hospitality.