Beef farmer Alastair Fitzsimon had a surprise Silver Wedding present from his wife Margaret and the rest of the family - two yearling Highland heifers.
This was the start of their Tregallon fold of Highland cattle which in only just over three years has earned them numerous prizes, including the breed championship two years running at the Great Yorkshire Show.
“It came as a complete surprise,” said Alastair, who with his brother Iain also runs 180 crossbred suckler cows on 400 acres at Tregallon, Lochfoot and Sunnyhill, Holywood, both near Dumfries.
“We had talked for years about getting Highland cattle but I was pretty shocked to find out Margaret had bought some for our anniversary in October 2007!”
Alastair and Margaret run the cattle as a hobby at Tregallon Farm and the number of cattle at 20 head have already reached their optimum to run alongside the mostly Limousin, Simmental and Angus crosses, the progeny of which currently mostly are sold store. The herd now includes 13 breeding females, eight of which go the bull this year.
“We have relatives on the west coast of Scotland with Highland cattle and they are easy going cattle, easily fed and wintered as well as being nice to look at and full of character,” said Margaret.
“We were originally just going to have a handful but we were going to have to wait another three years for the yearling heifers to have calves at four years old so we bought another two in calf heifers and a two year old at the Oban sale the following year,” she added.
Alastair and Meg with their collection of rosettes from only two show seasons.With virtually no experience of showing cattle and Highlanders in particular, the couple embarked on their first season in 2009 with help from cousin, and very good friend, Angus MacGillivray.
Their three year old in-calf heifer Smeorach of An Sidhean was female and reserve senior champion at the Sheffield Highland Fling and then went on to win the female championships and breed championships at the Great Yorkshire Show and Dumfries Show.
Her dam Sally 3rd of Gallanach at 16 years old is the oldest cow in the herd and still producing calves.
Amid tough competition at the Royal Highland in 2010 she took first prize in the young cow class. She collected a first prize at Glasgow City Council’s Highland cattle show in October and her eight month old calf, Smeorach 2nd of Tregallon, was junior reserve champion.
At last year’s Yorkshire Show another three year old in calf heifer, Scarlett of Hellifield lifted the breed championship for their second year running. Earlier in the year she was reserve senior champion at the Highland Fling in Sheffield. She also went on to win the reserve breed championship at Dumfries. The heifer was bought at Oban the previous year and she sold privately at the Yorkshire Show.
The most recent trophy and rosettes were won at the Sheffield Highland Fling in 2011, with Smeorach 2nd of Tregallon taking the reserve junior championship and best home bred award as yearling heifer.
Another two red rosettes were won by Dossan Lurach 12th of Coirefuar in the three year old heifer class and Neoinean Bhuidhe 27th of Achnacloich in the two year old heifer class.
As well as enjoying being part of the show circuit and the new friends they are making, the Fitzsimons are keen to fly the flag for the breed and recognise that exhibiting their stock and winning major prizes in particular, is an excellent way to put their fold on the map.
The Highland cattle have lived up to their easy care reputation. The cows are outwintered and fed silage with those near to calving being fed some concentrate. The calves are creep fed at grass.
The cows are also proving fertile, having a calf each year, and Sally in calf once again to produce in June. They are also easily calved, take little looking after and generally have good temperaments.
The herd’s original stock bull, Allan of Glangarnock is seven years old and is still working, with his progeny among the prizewinners.
Calves not suitable for breeding are culled and finished for the freezer. “The meat has excellent eating qualities, it’s healthy as it has lower cholesterol than other beef because the animals don’t carry as much fat,” said Margaret.
While the herd has always been intended to be run as a hobby, the cattle have been paying their way in the numbers of animals already sold.
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