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A Shetland Cow (Part 1)

Why a Shetland cow? Well I just fell for one at Suffolk show on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust stand; I kept going back to look at the beautiful small black and white cow. That was in the 1980s I day-dreamed of owning one and visited the two herds in Suffolk, one at Baylham the other at the National Trust farm at Wimpole Hall (both well worth a visit).

Then in 1997 our day dream actually came true when Julian and 1 bought a smallholding in Holystone.

An article in Country Smallholder magazine about a small herd of Shetland cattle being rescued and needing a new home drew us to the Shetland centre near Airdrie. John and Linda McCaig are both very knowledgeable about all Shetland animals. A tour round the farm was an education and we eventually bought an in-calf cow called Pepsi.

The Shetland is a crofters cow, thrifty, long lived, with wide pin bones allowing easy calving even with continental calves, who often calve in the day time. They have large feet so cause less damage to pastures, are hardy, able to recover condition quickly from a hard winter, good milkers, giving creamy milk with high CLA (reduces the risk of cancer), easy to handle, a beef animal and in the past also a draught animal. It is a category 1 rare breed with less than 150 registered breeding females. There are three colours: black and white, a few red and white, and the lost grey blue.

The negative element of the breed is that they are naturally horned and that is how they are tethered on Shetland. Some prefer to be lead rather than driven. Due to the few numbers it is difficult to find a bull but the RBST semen bank has a good selection, adding to the cost of getting a cow in calf.

On 18th June ’97 a small cow arrived in a large lorry. The only fenced piece of land was our proposed vegetable patch and orchard. So we had our very first farm animal and friends and anyone who called had to be shown her. One friend who is a vet, having got over the shock of seeing a cow with horns, declared that for a cow due to calve in a few weeks she was too fat. Hastily the junk and dirt of several decades was cleared and cleaned from part of the stables, there Pepsi was fed straw and only allowed a few hours grazing. She was happy having us drive her into the stables and to be handled and brushed to get to know one another. Every day we expected our herd to double as we had no calving date and had been told that Shetlands don’t always show all the normal signs.

On 3rd July she was restless and pacing around, so we let her out in her field. In the afternoon she started; we reread the book on what to do, panic setting in. With no fuss and a very short space of time a damp calf was wriggling on the grass struggling to find its feet. I went to check that the nose was clear of mucus, put antiseptic on the cord and checked the sex. Fred in no time was up and having a drink, his blue coat licked dry by mum. His Dad was a shorthorn not the lost grey colour of the breed!

Then…… wait till next news letter.

The Philipsons