This week, I caught up with Andy and Debbie Duffus to see how winter is going and to look at their plans for building a herd of out-wintered cows.

“This winter, we have split our cows between our 73 housed Simental cross cows and 42 out-wintered Highland and Shorthorn cattle,” Andy said.

“The vision for the farm is to increase the number of out-wintered traditionally bred cattle to provide breeding stock for ourselves and to sell.

“Plus we will be able to make better use of, and improve, our 1,300ha of hill ground (all region three). The cattle on the hill will improve the grazing which in turn will better the forage for our sheep. “

But managing Highland cattle on the hill brings its own challenges compared to keeping cows in the shed.

Highlands on the hill

The Highland cattle and Shorthorns are currently split into two parks with 22 and 20 in each batch. At the moment, each field gets three bales for three days but this can increase depending on the weather. The cattle also get buckets of Grays pre-calving minerals along with each field getting a 5gal drum of pot ale every second day.

“I also pour out some bruised barley on the ground, to get them used to folk and make them easier to shift between parks,” Andy said.

“As we continue to push numbers up, we will look to build some corrals on the hill ground for keeping cattle.

The out-wintered cows which have all been put to a shorthorn bull will be calving down in March and April.

Andy and Debbie's Highland cross Shorthorn calves.

“This date might move into early summer if we put the number of cattle calving on the hill up significantly. The plan is to keep the calves for 18 months before selling the steers store.

“We could get between £400/head and £500/head selling them as weaned calves but keeping them another winter and summer should double their value.

“ The heifers we will use to build the herd for the hill. These heifers will again go to a Shorthorn bull to create three-quarter Shorthorn calves.

“The three-quarter-bred females will then join the winter housed herd and be put to a terminal sire likely to be a Charolais.

Aiming for a dozen calves per cow

“We thought about buying a Highland bull to breed pure stock for the hill but buying Highland cows and heifers is currently good value. Their popularity with smaller farmers and crofters makes buying a decent number in a batch a challenge at times,” Andy said.

“We don’t plan to buy too many as we hope to get between 10 and 12 calves per cow before replacement. The breed also offers the chance to get one or two of the steers contract-killed at the abattoir to provide boxed beef for the tourists visiting our glamping pods.

“Our 73 housed cattle are currently split between 41 spring-calving and 32 autumn-calving. Our plan is to move the entire housed herd to autumn-calving and with the out-wintered cattle calving in the first half of the year.”

The housed cows are fed on a diet of 500kg of draff, 150kg of straw and 2,650kg of silage which is mixed in the wagon. The straw bedding for the cattle has fallen from £15/bale to £5/bale this year, which has saved them £3,000 on the year.

Feeding on £1/day

So as winter wears on and snow appears on the farm we are seeing how well suited the Shorthorn and particularly Highland breeds are to the hill ground. The benefits are we can feed them on £1/day over winter, improve our grazing for our sheep and create quality replacements for ourselves and selling. So the future is looking a bit hairier at the moment.