By Mary Cook–20 Oct 1976, Wed • Page 2
If Scottish Highland beef is good enough for the Queen’s table, it’s good enough for Louis Irwin of Clayton. He went into the business of raising “the beef of royalty” about five years ago and now his herd numbers more than 70. The Irwins are accustomed to passers-by slamming on their brakes when they pass the farm pastures, because the animals resemble something between a buffalo and a long haired sheepdog. They are covered with a profusion of long and gracefully waved hair, which will grow up to 13 inches.
The cattle are various shades of brown, but the breed also comes in black, brindle and red. At first glance it’s hard to believe the animals are cows. The long hair gives them a primitive look and they are short-legged, long-bodied and with horns that grow sweeping out from the head with a back curve making them look ferocious and wild. Superior meat However, Mr. Irwin says, they are a docile, contented animal, which is partly the reason for the excellent quality of beef they provide. The animals live outdoors all year, another reason the meat is superior. While other breeds are kept inside from the winter elements, Mr. Irwin says layers of fat build up on their bodies.
The Highland breed needs no fat insulation from the cold as its long hair develops an underrating of thick down, which insulates the animal from the severe weather. In fact, the breed originated in the Highlands and the west coast Highlands of Scotland both areas where severe climate is the rule rather than the exception. Highland cattle are usually smaller than other breeds with much less fat, so the consumer can buy smaller weights for freezer lots. Mr. Irwin said the average weight of his cattle is between 800 and 900 pounds. They are raised as beef cattle only. “It’s less expensive getting into Highland cattle than any other breed,” he says. “Because they are an outdoor breed, no barns are needed, and they are foliage eaters and eat anything that grows. Feeding the animals is really no problem.”
The Irwins use no additives in the animals’ food for the winter. Mr. Irwin doesn’t believe in all the things beef producers add to bolster weight and produce larger animals. “I like to know exactly what I’m eating,” he says. There are few breeders of Highland cattle in eastern Canada. A few farmers have a small number “to dress up the barnyard,” Mr. Irwin says, but the big Highland breeders arc usually in the western provinces where the first Highland bull was bought in the 1880s by Lord Strathcona of Winnipeg. Balmoral Castle in Scotland raises Scottish Highland cattle for the Queen’s table, and other royal families have favored this breed as its choice of beef. ; In some parts of Scotland the fine wool which grows under the outer coat of hair js often sheared and spun for clothing just as one would use the wool of sheep. This unique animal has another endearing characteristic.
The mothering instinct is prevalent and abandoned calves are unheard of. A Highland cow will not leave her new calf even to feed herself until that calf is old enough to follow. i Safeguard to calves ‘ This protective attitude is a safeguard to new-born calves, many of which would otherwise be lost to predators. The calves arc hardy and grow rapidly to maturity. ! There is only one drawback to raising Highland cattle. Mr. Irwin calls all his cattle by name and they readily come when called. “It’s hard to prepare such a friendly, trusting animal for the slaughter house,” he says.