The following is a chapter from the aforementioned book published in 1876. The entire book is presently in the public domain, and can be downloaded from here. (where this chapter may also be viewed.)There is a tremendous collection of Scottish information books presently available to read on line here.
On the West Highland Breed of Cattle
By Thomas Farrall, Aspatria, Carlisle.
Early History.—Beyond the records of history, the Highlands of Scotland have been occupied by vast herds of cattle, which have at length acquired a character suited to a country of high mountains and rough-grown heaths. In the northern parts of the country, the cattle had the name of North Highlanders bestowed upon them, while for ages those inhabiting the western sea-board and the adjoining islands were known as West Highlanders. Owing to the mountainous character, and close proximity of this part of Scotland to the sea, the rainfall is considerable, being from 30 to 40 inches on an average annually; yet the climate, though subjected to violent storms, is not so cold as might naturally be supposed from its northern position, the waters of the Gulf Stream having a wonderful effect in preventing extremes of heat and cold. This comparative mildness and extreme humidity of climate, together with the peculiar nature of the soil, tend to produce a luxuriant growth of coarse grass and herbaceous plants, interspersed with patches of heath, thus affording sustenance to a hardy race of animals such as the West Highlanders have proved themselves to be. The extension of sheep-farming of late years has doubtless been the means of displacing a large number of this breed, but it is questionable whether any class of animals can be found better adapted to the peculiarities of soil, climate, and geographical position than the shaggy Kyloe is. Notwithstanding that the numbers have been lessened, it may be remarked that the breed has been preserved in a remarkable degree of purity; unlike the North Highlanders, which have been so much changed in appearance by the continued ingrafting of shorthorn blood, that it is now difficult to find an animal of the original type, so that a pure-bred North Highlander, if such can be found, may justly be regarded as "a lonely straggler of a vanishing race."
Characteristics of the Breed.—Perhaps no cattle are possessed of more distinctive and strongly-marked features than the West Highlanders. The following marks or characteristics stamp the genuine breed:—Their limbs are short, but muscular; their chests wide and deep; their ribs well developed and finely arched, and their backs as straight as in the pure-bred shorthorn; their neck and dewlap are somewhat coarse in the bull, but this is indicative of its mountain state; their horns of good length, without approaching to the coarseness of the longhorns of the lower country, spreading and tipped with black; and all the other points are what breeders call good. There is, indeed, much in the West Highlanders to arouse the attention and win the admiration of those who love to see animals in an undomesticated state. The beautiful and imposing colour of brindle, dun, cream, red, or black ; the finely-arched ribs and level back; the deep and well-formed chest; the splendid horn; the lively, quick, and fearless eye; the broad muzzle; and the shaggy coat, impart to the Kyloes charms which are not to be found in any other British breed. Their action, too, is of the most graceful kind. Whether seen ascending their native rugged slopes, moving about upon the market stance at Falkirk, or besporting themselves in the nobleman's park, there is a peculiar freedom of motion which is quite foreign to all pampered breeds. Lovers of the picturesque rarely meet with a more gratifying sight than a mixed herd of Highlanders on a Scottish landscape—it is a scene well worthy of the imitative pencil of the artist. The farmers of the West Highlands wish to cultivate the black colour as much as possible, as they think it indicative of hardiness—hence the vast numbers of that colour. Altogether, it may safely be said that there are few breeds of cattle which are so graceful in form and colour, and so majestic in gait and movement as a thoroughly well-bred Highland bull or ox, cow, or heifer.
Districts where found.—It has already been stated that there is a difference between the North and West Highland cattle, although both breeds are frequently spoken of in general terms as "black cattle." The North Highlander has almost lost its distinctive character by repeated crossings, while the pure Highlander is now chiefly confined to the counties of Argyll, Inverness, Perth, and Dumbarton, although there are, of course, solitary herds to be found throughout both Scotland and England. For example, at Greystoke Castle, in Cumberland, a standing herd, numbering upwards of twenty breeding cattle, has been kept for many years, having the range of a large park containing several hundreds of acres. The calves are allowed to run with their dams until the month of October, when a general weaning takes place, the average age being from five to six months, and a very difficult and hazardous undertaking the weaning process is, for the means of offence and defence with which the Highland cow is furnished are not to be lightly considered. After weaning, and indeed throughout winter, the calves have the use of an open shed, wherein they are supplied with a bit of meadow hay at night. The two and three-year olds are also similarly treated ; having, in addition, a few turnips thrown upon the pastures. The heifers selected for breeding are kept from the bull until three years old, when they attain a much larger size than if put to breeding earlier. Bullocks are fed off at four years, either upon the pastures in summer, or upon hay and cake in winter, with turnips supplied ad libitum in the fields. At this age, they attain a weight of from 14 to 15 stones per quarter, the draft heifers making 10 to 12. Of late the bullocks have been fed off at three years old, thus saving a year's keep— a very important consideration in those days of dear provender —and the practice has been found to answer admirably. The colours which the owners admire most are the dun, the brindled, and the red, but since the breeding-in-and-in system has not been sufficiently checked, there is a decided tendency to drift back to the original black colour; this, the owners believe, is a significant fact that deterioration is taking place.
The Mainland and Island Cattle contrasted.—The cattle produced on the mainland of Scotland are generally much superior in bone, frame, and general substance to those reared upon the islands, but the latter produce hair and horn, such as those on the inland pastures can never compete with. Indeed, it is a fact worthy of consideration, that the nearer an approach is made to domestication, the heavier is the weight of flesh, although, it must be admitted, that the quality is to some extent sacrificed. It may fairly be asked, How is this? Simply because nature has supplied herbs in the greatest profusion and variety where the least artificial influences have been brought to bear on the soil. It is well known that the sweetest mutton is produced on the unbroken sheep pastures, and the mountain-deer of Scotland have a much more "gamy" flavour than the venison produced in the deer parks of England. The best milk and butter are also obtained from cattle grazing on old laid pastures, so that from these examples a truism is apparent—viz., that domestication and high feeding gain weight at the expense of quality. Amongst those who appear to have taken the lead in the improvement of this noble breed may be mentioned Mr M'Donald, Monachyle, whose bulls were keenly run after; Mr M'Laren, Callander; Sir Neil Menzies of Menzies, and Mr M'Laren in Rannoch, whose united stocks are still kept up by the Honourable Lady Menzies on a large scale; and the Messrs Stewarts in Glenlyon.
The Mainland Herds.—One of the finest herds of cattle to be found on the mainland of Argyll is that belonging to Mr Malcolm of Poltalloch, a name known throughout Scotland as being frequently connected with "ribbons and medals" at the principal shows. As far back as 1844, the three beautiful heifers and four prime steers shown by Mr Neil Malcolm at the Highland and Agricultural Society's Show at Glasgow, were the theme of admiration in West Highland fancying circles. Careful selection in animals for breeding, and due attention to rearing, have raised the character of the herd at Poltalloch to a pitch of excellence which is difficult to rival. In winter the herd is well cared for, ample shelter has been provided, and the times of feeding are noted with praiseworthy regularity. It may be remarked that the Argyllshire Highlanders are in great repute in some parts of England; indeed, so partial are buyers, that they can scarcely be prevailed upon to purchase stock from any other quarter.
The Earl of Seafield has in recent years established a herd at the home farm at Castle Grant, which bids fair to acquire fame. He obtained many of his best cattle from some of the noted districts of Perthshire, and has since made choice selections from other herds of repute. Both bulls and cows from this stock have taken honours at the Highland Society's Show, as well as other local shows.
There is a very large fold in Badenoch, the property of Mr M'Intosh, South Kinrara. This herd is of long standing, and includes many nice animals, although perhaps there is a deficiency of horn and hair in some of the cattle.
The herd owned by the late Marquis of Breadalbane was, at the time of his death in 1862, said to be one of the finest in Scotland. Lord Breadalbane took an active interest in his stock, selecting animals from the most famous herds in Rannoch, Glenlyon, Callander, Balquhidder, and other noted districts. In this he was assisted by one of the ablest judges of Highland cattle in Scotland—the late Mr John Stewart Menzies of Chesthill.
The Breadalbane herd was dispersed during the year succeeding the noble Lord's death. The principal purchaser was the late Duke of Athole, who, in addition to his fine stock of Ayrshires at Dunkeld, was desirous of possessing a herd of West Highlanders at Blair-Athole. His Grace had an able adviser in Mr Fletcher Norton Menzies, now secretary of the Highland and Agricultural Society, who was well acquainted with the Breadalbane herd, and who selected for him a magnificent drove to roam on the fine pastures of Glen Tilt. Various animals from this herd have oftentimes come off conquerors at the "peaceful battles" which are held year after year in the various showyards. Some of the animals shown are said to possess many of the valuable characteristics of the shorthorn as to shape, size, and general contour. A Highland three-year old ox of this stock, shown by the Duchess-Dowager of Athole at Perth in 1871, was considered by eminent judges to be a perfect model of its race. The herd is still kept in good style by the present Duke. The late Mr Robert Peter, Urlar, near Aberfeldy, possessed a very fine little herd, with which he was frequently successful at the Highland and Agricultural Society's and other shows. This stock is still kept up by his trustees.
The herd of Mr Stewart, Bochastle, Callender, must be noticed as well managed and possessing very good points, especially as to hair and horn. He is a successful exhibitor.
At Faillie, about seven miles to the south of Inverness, is a large herd of West Highlanders, the property of Mr Alexander Fraser. It was established about forty years ago by the present owner's father, the foundation having been laid by the purchase of three heifers from the famous Dunrobin breed. Bulls were selected from the districts of Balquhidder, Rannoch, and Glenlyon in Perthshire, and the best folds in Skye. The herd numbers about 24. A few of the older cows are drafted off annually, so that the stock is kept in a vigorous condition. The cattle yield a large amount of dairy produce, but they are liberally treated all the year round. When the pastures fail in summer, they have vetches or grey pease ; and in winter they are fed upon hay, straw, and turnips. The stot stirks bring from 9 to 10 guineas per head, and what heifers are not wanted to supply the place of drafted cows also realise high rates.
Mr M'Gillivray has about 20 prime Highland cows at Balloch-roan; and Mr M'Pherson of Invertromie also owns some very nice cattle. Others might be named, as Mr Grant, Inverlaidnan, Carr Bridge; Mr Davidson, Gordonhall; and the late Mr M'Donald, Strathmashie, all of which have the repute of breeding and rearing prize winners. Several very famous mainland herds have been dispersed within the past twenty years, and while this has had a tendency to curtail the aggregate numbers of West Highlanders, it has at least been the means of improving many existing herds, giving as it were, a "pedigree" to several stocks. which were previously quite unknown to fame.
Island Herds.—In the western islands there are also some nice herds of this breed. Indeed, the West Highlander is the type almost exclusively reared, and no other variety seems to be so well suited to the surroundings. Commencing with Islay, the herd at Lossit, the property of Mr M'Neill, claims first attention, as it is the largest in the island. Several of the cows have from time to time been prize-takers at the Islay, Jura, and Golonsay Agricultural Society's exhibitions, and many others not included in this category are undoubtedly animals of merit. The stock here are by no means pampered. Indeed their lines are not cast in pleasant places. The heifers for breeding are turned upon the bleak moors, and produce the first crop of calves when they are about four years old. In-breeding is loudly deprecated, and the strain is from time to time renovated with fresh blood through sires from other noted herds. In the younger animals, there are some perfect beauties, both in style and coat, the latter being of the finest texture.
Mr Webster of Daill has a herd consisting of between 40 and 50 cows. The young cattle are fed upon the hills or moors, and when they attain a riper age, they are brought down to the richer pastures below. Here they thrive rapidly, and prove, by their marked progress, the capabilities of the breed. A few years ago Mr Webster used a yellow bull from the Jura herd, and it was curious to observe how he impressed his likeness upon the calves. Although bred chiefly from black cows, they were mostly of a yellow or yellow-dun colour, showing but little variation from that of their sire. This says much for the influence of the bull upon the progeny.
The Jura herd has been mentioned in connection with Mr Webster's stock. It is owned by Mr Campbell of Jura House, and the strain is held in great repute by West Highland breeders. High, if not fashionable prices, are paid both for sires and heifers for breeding purposes, the fame of the herd having gone abroad long ago. The pastures in Jura seem well adapted to the Highlander. The hills are covered with luxuriant heather, and the red deer and black cock share with the cattle the range of these open pastures. Here and there are well-wooded declivities and ravines overrun with bushwood, where the cattle can shelter during the occurrence of the western gales.
In the island of Colonsay, until a few years ago, a splendid herd of West Highlanders existed; but this has been dispersed. Several accounts of it have been published, giving interesting details of the superiority of the stock. Upwards of 40 years ago a bull was purchased from a fold of note in Rannoch, Perthshire, at the then high price of 120 guineas, which did much service in improving the existing strain. This herd was the property of Lord Colonsay, who evinced a deep interest in the breeding and management of his stock.
Mr John Stewart of Duntulm, in the Isle of Skye, owns a fold consisting of about 100 head, which are indeed difficult to rival. Most of the cattle are true types of the West Highlander, and seldom fail to come off in flying colours when entered for competition at the Highland Society's shows. Although well cared for, they are by no means pampered. The in-calf cows alone are laid in during winter; the remainder run upon the rough pastures, and have a little hay given to them when a snowstorm occurs. For bulls of fine quality the Duntulm herd is celebrated, Mr Stewart upon one occasion having realised the large sum of L.250 for a magnificent animal. The Duntulm herd was descended principally from one of the finest folds ever seen in Scotland. This was the joint possession of Messrs Donald and Archd. Stewart, in the Isle of Harris, who spared neither pains nor expense to bring their stock to notable perfection. With this view they obtained animals from most of the ever-faithful districts upon the mainland, thus combining the bone and strength of the interior with the horn and hair of the islands. It is said that when their finely-moulded cattle, with hair like goats and horns like buffaloes, were being driven to the market at Falkirk, they were the theme of admiration in every district through which they passed. The stock is still well represented by that at Duntulm, which fairly lays claim to be the oldest in Skye. A moderately large herd is kept at Waternish in Skye, being the property of Captain M'Donald. He usually sells his surplus stock at Portree in May, for which there is a good demand.
In the small island of Barra Dr M'Gillivray owns a very promising herd, containing some nice specimens both of cows and heifers.
One of the largest folds in the county of Inverness-shire is at Balranald, in South Uist, the property of Mr M'Donald. This herd numbers from 90 to 100 cows in addition to the calves and young stock. The fold dates back about fifty years, and although it is generally admitted that the cattle are not large, yet the blood is pure, and the animals are altogether symmetrical and well-shaped. Of late years, fresh blood from the best Perthshire stocks has been introduced, so that in time the animals will doubtless attain heavier weights than they do at present.
In Mull and Jura also are to be found some nice cattle of the West Highland breed, but the herds are not so large as in some of the other islands and on the mainland.
It is generally conceded that there is a marked improvement in the cattle found upon the islands during the past twenty to thirty years, the infusion of fresh blood from the stronger animals of the mainland having given stamina to the weaker of the islands. With the exception of a few noted herds in Perth, Argyll, and Inverness, it is, however, a generally received opinion that the cattle of the mainland are slightly falling off, but this perhaps refers more to a decrease in point of numbers than to any deterioration in the cattle themselves.
Former System of Management.—Up to about forty or sixty years ago, very little attention was paid to the management of stock. As the bulls and cows were never separated, the latter calved at all seasons of the year, and thus it often happened that great losses were sustained through the winter and spring months. These losses decimated the herds in a serious degree, but as there was not a very good "offgate" for young stock, little attention was paid to the circumstance; occasionally, in very stormy weather, a farmer might have been seen wending his way through three feet of snow, with a bit of coarse hay for his famishing stock, but the rule was, to let the animals cater for themselves. Of course, the aged cattle withstood the rigours of a severe winter better than the young ones, their coats being thicker, and as their systems were thoroughly developed, they were able to withstand greater privations in scarcity of food. In summer, it was, as it indeed still is, quite common to see the cattle ascend the high hills in fine weather, cropping the meagre herbage as they proceeded, but in the case of a storm they instinctively made for the valleys and lower grounds. In winter, sheer necessity forced them into straths and ravines, where they dragged out a miserable existence upon the rough grass which they found upon the meadows or in the wooded declivities that were so common at that day. Sometimes a kind of disease was brought on by exposure to cold and lack of proper nourishment, which now and then carried off a few animals; while not unfrequently scores of even the strongest cattle succumbed to actual hunger when the winters proved excessively severe. About a hundred years ago it is said that a farmer in the district of Rannoch, in Perthshire, lost over one hundred animals, all told, which no doubt might have been saved by the timely arrival of a supply of rough hay or oat straw. However, as prices, compared with present rates, were merely nominal, and rents easy to make up, very little was thought of the loss of a few animals during winter. In the spring of the year, the surviving remnants which had braved the elements, were as lean as wolves and as hungry as hackneys, their hair standing on end like "quills upon the fretful porcupine," their sides almost clapped together; the only visible improvement being in the length of the horn. Yet in April and May, when the lowland grasses began to spring, their progress was remarkable; and in about three months some of the better-class varieties were quite plump and fleshy, and, owing to the beef being all newly laid on, it was remarkable for its tenderness, juiciness, and general fine flavour. In course of time, farmers began to see the necessity of providing shelter for the cattle during the storms of winter. When a hurricane was seen to be approaching—and it may here be noticed en passant that a Highland farmer is generally pretty well skilled in weather prognostics —the cattle were driven into an enclosure under the shelter of a hill or wood, and there a scanty pittance of hay or straw meted out to them, wherewith they might sustain life until the storm was over, when the animals were again allowed their liberty.
Present System of Management.—The present system of management varies very much in different districts, and with the size of the herds; indeed, in the same district, and under the same climatic and local influences, the modes of managing the cattle in winter are somewhat different. Some of the small herds in Argyll and Perth are divided into two sections, the breeding cows being placed in one fold and the young cattle in another. The latter are supplied with straw and a little meadow hay, and a few turnips when the crop is plentiful. The breeding cattle are somewhat more liberally treated, receiving a larger proportion of hay of superior quality, and more turnips. Other occupiers, chiefly on the more extensive holdings, prefer to allow the yearlings and two-year olds to roam at large in the fields, where they have a few turnips thrown out upon a piece of clean lea-ground, with a rack of hay or straw in an open shed at night. With this fare and the rough grass which they pick up in the woods, it is surprising how well they keep up their condition, a fact which at once stamps the hardy character of the race. At three years of age, the heifers are selected for breeding purposes, as it has been found that they are not mature enough at a younger period of their existence. In the winter and spring months, that is to say, in January, February, March, and April, the calves are dropped. Here may be noticed another diversity of opinion which exists. Some farmers keep the calves separated from the dams until the periodical turning out to grass, allowing them to be together for a short period three times a day; others keep them in a fold together, and although the latter system has many advantages, yet both the dam and her young become very wild, and almost unapproachable when allowed full liberty. In the beginning of October, the calves are weaned, and as the temperature at that season is generally low, the cows seldom suffer from sore udder, the milk having become almost dried up, on account of the failing pastures. It may here be remarked that some farmers of the present day give cake to the growing calves as well as to the cattle intended for the shambles. This ensures bone and rapid growth in the one case, and early maturity and a highly finished state in the other, but the plan can scarcely be called a judicious one in the case of calves which have afterwards to be turned upon the bleak moors, and there to subsist upon the scanty fare which nature has provided for them.
Several extensive graziers do not breed their own cattle, but purchase them when three or four years old, removing them to finer pastures in different parts of the country for the purpose of feeding. The following account of the management of West Highland bullocks was furnished by Laurence Dalgleish, Esq., on behalf of his brother John J. Dalgleish, Esq., and himself, the details of which will doubtless be found interesting. He says:— "We always, if possible, purchase privately, and not in a market, to save the risk of disease, though occasionally we have to purchase at Falkirk or Doune markets in October and November. The number wintered and fed off upon grass in each year varies from 150 to 200, and consists entirely of three or four-year old bullocks, costing from L.12 to L.14 for three-year olds, and from L.17 to L.18 for four-year olds. We never purchase heifers, as they do not come out with us the same as bullocks, while there is considerable risk of their turning out in calf. For nine years, we have purchased in one lot, and all from the same party, 100 four-year old bullocks, and in order to show the rise in price since we first got this lot, I may mention that in 1864 we paid L.12, 15s. per head; last year (1872), L.17, 15s. per head for 100; and this year (1873), the price for 140 was L.17. Such a prime lot is rarely to be got, and we pay more than actual value to secure it.
"Our system of management is:—We get the cattle home about the middle or end of October each year, and put them upon the pastures which have been grazed previously and left rough on purpose, allowing them to remain there until the 1st of March, when they are confined to one or two parks. Up to the date just named, the greater part of these cattle get no hay nor other feeding substance save what the pastures produce, except during a storm.
"On the 1st of January about 60 of the best, however, are selected, and are allowed a little hay daily, with 1½ to 2 lbs. of undecorticated cotton cake. From the 1st of March the whole of the herd get a full allowance of hay, and part of them cotton cake as before, until the 1st of May. Soon after this date the cattle are drawn or lotted for each park, the lots varying from thirty downwards, according to the size and richness of the pasture. There the cattle remain undisturbed or unchanged until the 1st of September. No dogs are allowed with the herdsmen, so that the cattle are as quiet as possible.
"After the cattle have been lotted for each park we generally give about 40 of the best of them an allowance of 2 lbs. of cotton cake up to July 15th, and then give these, and about 30 more, 3 to 4 lbs. of mixed cotton cake, linseed cake, and sometimes, for about one month before selling them, 5 lbs. of mixed cotton cake, linseed cake, and bean meal, in equal proportions. We occasionally give a much larger number of the cattle cake on the grass both in winter and summer, but this depends entirely upon the seasons, whether the cattle be lean or otherwise, and the pastures good or comparatively bare. We use nothing but undecorticated cotton cake, and the best home-made linseed cake, while the hay used is bog or meadow, grown entirely on our own meadows. The greater portion of the cattle are never in a house winter or summer, while a few which chance to be near the onsteads have the use of sheds if they choose to enter, which they seldom do. We at one time tried the wintering of cattle in houses, but found that they were for the first three months so wild, and perspired so much, owing to their thick coats, that we lost more than we gained by such treatment, so that now we never think of keeping them in a house. We have plenty of natural shelter in our grazings, and the cattle are all so healthy and strong that they thrive much better when in a state of freedom. We seldom or never lose a beast except by a mishap, and out of about 200 we have had for the last twelve months we have only lost two, and those by accident.
"We generally keep these cattle for one year only, selling in September. The prices obtained range from L.17 to L.22 for three-year old beasts, and from L.23 to L.29 and L.30 for four-year old cattle; 100 of the cattle purchased in last year at L.17, brought this year an average of L.25, 17s. 6d., the respective prices being L.29 each for 33, L.25, 15s. for 11, L.25 for 7, L.24, 5s. for 22, L.23 for 25, and 2 were kept for showing, at say, L.32. As we purchase privately, so we sell to butchers in Edinburgh and the country surrounding the districts where the cattle are grazed.
"The cost of the year's keep of course varies very much according to the quantity of hay and cake consumed, but it will not be less than L.6 to L.7, so that taking into account interest on capital invested, and expense of management, there will be a very small margin left for profit, even in a year like this, when beef is so very high. We could, however, probably make more by purchasing coarser beasts, which would bring the same price per stone when fat as the finer-bred cattle, but the latter are more easily fed, and we like to see good animals, caring less for great profits than what will please the eye."
When and where Cattle are Sold.—The usual practice is to sell off all aged cows and surplus young stock at the end of the year. The former go off at 6 to 10 years, and the latter at about six quarters old. Higher prices might certainly be obtained in the spring, but the majority of feeders have little enough fodder to keep up the ordinary or stationary stock, without entailing additional expense in providing for those animals intended for sale. An exception is, however, made with respect to choice heifers, which in some of the districts are kept over until June, those from Argyll being usually consigned to Dumbarton for sale. In fact, the great markets for Highland cattle are Dumbarton, Falkirk, Doune, and Portree, although now and then an anxious jobber or shrewd breeder thinks proper to send a lot to salesmen in Dumfries and other marts. Choice lots, too, are often picked up at home by graziers, who scour the most faithful districts in the autumn for the purpose of obtaining their usual supplies for winterage. The great staple of the Falkirk Tryst used to be cattle of the West Highland breed; but the extension of sheep husbandry within the past thirty or forty years has rendered the trade in the woolly tribe scarcely less important than that in grazing cattle. Every isle and holm, and every mainland glen at the time referred to, poured in its interesting droves, shaggy and black, or relieved only as to colour by a sprinkling of reds, and of duns, graduating from mouse to cream colour; and notwithstanding that the breeds and crosses exhibited at Falkirk were exceedingly various, the carefully-bred West Highlanders were still the flower of the show. They attracted every one's attention, and engaged every one's conversation; every individual beast was a delight to the eye of a connoisseur, and a study to the eye of an artist. What made the market more interesting to strangers was the fact that many of the cattle were brought to the tryst by their breeders, and it was not an uncommon sight to behold the neatly-formed stots and queys driven to the market-stance by a kilted laird from the Hebrides, whose language was to Lowlanders quite as curious as the dress he wore.
To speak generally, every one of these animals had its predestined course; the choicest of the duns, the creams, the reds and the brindles were bought up by agents to grace the parks of English nobles, where the great variety and contrast in colour had a grand and imposing appearance. Many dealers perferred the black type, as being more hardy, so that there was generally a sufficient demand for all colours. The young six-quarter was destined to clean up rough pastures and eat a little straw in Clydesdale, Dumfriesshire, Cumberland, and the neighbouring districts, and well it throve on such fare; the older of the small cattle were taken to Brough Hill in Westmoreland, a very important fair with dealers, because it was said to be attended by more gentlemen's bailiffs than any other in the United Kingdom; the finest West Highland heifers found their way into Yorkshire and the Vale of the Tees, where the shorthorn had its origin; and what steers were not required by graziers in the home districts of Argyll, Perth, Dumbarton, Ayr, and Fife, were usually consigned to Leicester, Northampton, and Buckingham.
In the bygone times alluded to, Joseph M. Richardson, Esq., land-steward to Sir Henry Ralph Vane, Bart., of Armathwaite Hall and Hutton Hall, annually bought a splendid drove in the autumn months and brought them to the Cumberland estates. There they were allowed to run upon the rough pastures, and had a daily allowance of sweet meadow hay and turnips thrown upon the lea-rig. Their progress was most marked; they soon made prime fat, and there was great demand for them to grace the tables of the wealthy. But prices have gone up very materially within a few years, a circumstance it must be confessed which has had a serious tendency to prevent English buyers from entering into transactions so freely. The glory of Brough Hill, so far as Highlanders are concerned, has almost, if not entirely departed, and the shaggy coats have long ago disappeared from the margin of Bassenthwaite Lake. In the present autumn, (1873) the demand for Kyloes is very good, buyers being well represented at the various markets. Highland stirks make L.6, 10s. to L.8; two-year olds, L.10 to L.14; three and four-year olds, L.15 to L.19; and some choice animals, as far as L.21 and L.22. Before the extraordinary rise in the price of cattle, from L.10 to L.12 was thought a high figure for the choicest descriptions. In 1849 the rates were:—Stirks, L.3 to L.5, 10s.; two-year olds, L.7 to L.8; and three and four-year olds,L.9 to L.10, 10s. So much for the change in the times.
The West Highlander as a Milker.—Great diversity of opinion exists as to the milking properties of the West Highlanders. Some farmers aver that, as a rule, they do not yield a large amount of dairy produce, while others are quite sanguine in their belief that they excel as pail cattle. Of course, the circumstances under which the test is applied may have considerable influence either one way or the other. Notwithstanding their extreme hardihood, the roughness of their coat, and the length of horn which are characteristics quite opposed to those possessed by the pure-bred shorthorn, they have so many points in common with the breed alluded to, in the short legs, the level back, the symmetrical trunk, the broad chine, the expansive chest, the well-arched ribs and breadth of loin, that they can scarcely fail to produce a good supply of milk when properly treated. An eminent breeder says:—"In breeding for the dairy, the Kyloes have now the preference to every other breed. This superiority they have no doubt attained by judicious selection and breeding exclusively from such animals as secreted the most milk, as well as by persevering experimental observations. Good judges can now pretty accurately point out a profitable dairy cow from the development of certain points in her conformation." The Highlander is justly noted as a breed inclined to carry inside fat, and it is an established fact that the better the milking qualities of any breed, the more fat the animals are calculated to carry inside and vice versa.
The West Highland as a Breed for Crossing.—The crossing of Highland heifers with shorthorns is a subject which is often discussed, but has probably never been thoroughly attended to; yet there is no doubt that by careful and judicious crossing, a useful race might be propagated, combining the early maturing, the fat forming, and the milking properties of the shorthorn, with the hardihood, the fine quality of flesh, and the noble appearance of the West Highlander. Where crossing has been tried, it has often been done injudiciously, with animals far too young; thus the offspring would be quite diminutive. But were fine three-year olds from some of the herds already named, crossed with sires like "Ignoramus" or "Edgar," there is no doubt that a race of cattle would be produced, as the auctioneers say, "fit for anything"—breeding, feeding, or dairy, and calculated to withstand the vicissitudes of almost any climate. Occasionally an English breeder buys a pure-bred Highland heifer, which is crossed with a shorthorn bull, the offspring being again crossed with a shorthorn, and the progeny are not only splendid milkers, but very quick growers, and are everywhere favourites with the butchers when fat. Crossing the Highlander with other breeds than the shorthorn has been tried with a certain amount of success in some instances, but it has been generally found that no cross produces such satisfactory results as that with the shorthorn, as the two breeds have so many points in common, and others so widely different, that mixing the blood seems to inculcate qualities in the offspring, wanting in both of the breeds from which they are descended.
Improvement and Conservation of the Breed.—-Much has been done in late years with the view of improving the West Highlander, as evidenced by the fine animals which sometimes grace our Christmas and other shows. This improvement is particularly noticeable in the Western Islands, where strength of bone has been combined with hair and horn, while in some of the mainland herds there has been wonderful improvement. Much more, however, might still be done, both in the improvement and conservation of this valuable breed. A few years ago sheep farming encroached so much upon the districts in which the cattle are reared, that it was feared that the shaggy-coated Highlanders would become almost extinct; and had prices not become very much higher, there would have been good reason for being alarmed, but from the very fact of the comparative scarcity and the great competition throughout both Great Britain and Ireland for cattle for feeding purposes, in order to supply the increasing demands of the meat-eating population, value was enhanced so rapidly, that breeders were encouraged to pay more attention to raising bovine stock for the market.
It is a matter of some difficulty to lay down rules for the improvement of the West Highlander, inasmuch as it is the creature of a certain locality, which is bleak, wild, and barren, and in which most other breeds, if exposed to the privations the West Highlander has to endure, would succumb. Therefore, any treatment tending to pamper the breed would to a certain extent destroy its usefulness. The more artificial influences that are brought to bear on the feeding and management of any animal, the more tender will such animal become. Still, there is a difference between pampering and actually starving—a difference which should be borne in mind by those who have the management of hardy animals. Severe privation tends to disease ; this should be carefully guarded against by the breeder of West Highlanders. The winter quarters ought to be sheltered either by natural ravines and declivities; or belts of plantations may be reared where natural means of shelter do not exist. Housing has been tried, but the system has been found wanting, as beasts which have their liberty invariably turn out better in the spring, that is, if their pasture has afforded sufficient shelter from heavy storms.
When winter snows occur, hay or even straw should be liberally supplied, for it is at such times that the animals need the support their own "niggard plains deny." It is an indisputable fact that animals need more food in extremely cold than in moderately cold weather, as the quantity of feeding substances necessary to keep an animal in a healthy progressive state is usually proportionate to the degree of cold which has to be endured. The breeder of stock should therefore make himself thoroughly acquainted with the descriptions of food best calculated to attain the object in view, and these should be meted out at the exact time when they are needed.
In-and-in-breeding should be at all times avoided, for it is the opinion of many experienced breeders that it is detrimental to the stock, as deterioration soon sets in, and the progeny of blood-related parents become stunted and dwarfish. The infusion of fresh blood from herds of repute has quite an opposite tendency, and where this is judiciously effected the results are marvellous.
Where improvement guides the actions of the breeder, it is quite evident that conservation will naturally follow; for the interest which he has in his stock will cause him to keep up the numbers. Moreover, although sheep-breeding has for years been encroaching upon the native heaths of the West Highlander, there is a limit even to this, and it is the general opinion that the level has at length been attained. There is a brisk demand for cattle for grazing purposes, and West Highlanders must ever be held in the foremost rank. Their flesh is of the sweetest, and there is a freedom from disease in the whole race which causes the beef they produce to be sought after by epicures and those who understand the influence which pampering has upon the flesh of fattening animals. In furtherance of the improvement and conservation of this hardy and picturesque race, it may be noted that there are certain external signs which may serve to guide the breeder in selecting animals calculated to produce healthy offspring capable of early maturity. The touch is known by the thick loose skin, which yields to the least pressure like a piece of thick chamois leather. This indicates hardiness of constitution and capability of carrying plenty of muscle as well as a sufficiency of fat, and also of withstanding the rigours of a cold climate. The ears should be tolerably fine, thick ears being a sign of coarseness. The horns also ought to be fine, without, however, sacrificing either length or strength, coarse and thick horns indicating ill-bred animals. The eye should be bright and lively, and the muzzle well defined.
Concluding Remarks,—In bringing this report to a close, it may be well to reproduce the most prominent points requiring attention in the improvement and conservation of the West Highland breed.
1. Attention should be paid to secure the best blood whereon to found a stock.
So long as the present standard of perfection is kept up in the noble breed under consideration, and beef remains at a high price, there is no fear that the farmers in the West of Scotland will allow the numbers to fall off seriously, for so, long will both the breeder and rearer be amply remunerated for their outlay.
NOTE BY THE EDITOR.
In an article published in the "Transactions of the Highland Society for 1803," there is a paper on the state of the Highland cattle during winter. In that paper great stress is laid on the losses sustained by the death of cattle in the spring season from want of food and the diseases that are engendered by starvation.
It is stated that in summer they are sufficiently fed, but that in winter they have nothing to support them but the decayed gleanings of the herbage of the former summer. In many districts of Scotland it is feared the same treatment still continues, and that in the spring time the cattle are so poor that they fall victims to the anthrax fevers which are unfortunately now so prevalent. I have thought it might be useful to draw attention to a suggestion in the paper above alluded to, as I have for many years adopted it, and have found it to be most beneficial to my stock.
On all hill farms there is a considerable extent of rough Rashie grass such as deer's hair, bents, spret, &c., which neither cattle nor sheep will eat in summer or autumn, and which yearly is killed by the frost. Great quantities of hay might be made from this grass, which, though coarse in quality, if slightly heated, like English hay, will be greedily eaten by cattle in winter; and though not affording sufficient sustenance to fatten the animals, will keep them in a healthy growing state, and prevent that great mortality in spring which so frequently happens from starvation and weakness. The plants from which this hay would be made decay and fail upon the ground in winter, and in this decayed state are the support of many herds of cattle. It cannot, therefore, be doubted that if made into hay in August and September, when fresh and succulent, they will afford a supply of most useful provender in winter. This hay should be preserved for use till the month of January, unless snow covers the ground, when it should be at once had recourse to, so as to prevent a starve. Highland cattle with their thick winter coat and hide can stand out a great amount of storm and cold, if they have sufficient nourishment to prevent actual starvation.
Hay on many farms is cut only on the very best of the grass, and that perhaps all given to the breeding cows, and the other cattle left to shift for themselves as they best can; whereas if a little more labour was bestowed in turning some of the coarse grass into hay, the cattle would be in better condition in spring, and perhaps more stock might be kept on the farm.
Some farmers object to cutting this coarse grass, thinking it useful food in its decayed state early in spring, when the fresh growth begins to come up amongst it. It has been found, however, that when eaten by sheep in this state it is very indigestible, and if taken in any quantity, forms into small hard balls in the stomach, very frequently resulting in death.