On the farm things change. Sometimes you do things that you said you would never do. Meet Sven, something I said I would never do.
Our new bull Sven
There are some realities of living on the farm. One of them is that if you would like your heard to grow, you are going to need a bull. The truth is that I never wanted to purchase a bull. I was happy to borrow one from the farm that rents our pasture in the summer. He would come for a visit, do his job, and then leave. Just how I like it.
I didn’t grow up on a farm. So while I am happy to go out and do the work that needs to be done, bulls make me nervous. Rightly so, they are BIG. Some of them are too big. We’ve had a couple of those around before.
Every time we discussed our breeding program here on the farm, all I could think about is those big bulls. The almost cartoonish looking ones. All muscled up, with a big hump on their shoulders and that look in their eyes. The one that says, ‘I’m going to chase you’.
Why we choose Highland Cattle
Lucky for me, cattle comes in a variety of sizes. Highland’s happen to be on the smaller end. They also have their distinctive bangs and horns. Which for some can be a deterrent. I happen to like them. We have all seen the popularity of highland cattle in the last couple of years. Many versions of the photograph of the close up of their face are floating around the internet. So I would garner a guess that I’m not the only one who likes the way they look.
Besides their good looks, highland cattle have many other desirable features for the small scale cattle owner.
The breed originated in the Scottish Highlands. They are known for the long horns, shaggy coat and red colour. They have a double coat of hair (just like some dog breeds). They have a thick, downy undercoat to keep them warm. Then they have a long, well oiled outer coat to help shed rain and snow. They can shed and regrow their coat depending on temperature.
We live in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Our weather is extreme and can be unpredictable. Knowing that Sven will stay warm and dry in the winter is a big relief. Having a double coat means that he won’t have to work as hard to stay warm on the really cold winter days. Not having to work as hard means that he won’t need as much feed. If you haven’t fed a cow, you might now know that cows eat A LOT. They are big animals and need to have a constant supply of feed given to them all winter long. Bulls are even bigger, and knowing that he isn’t going to need to eat more just to stay warm is a big bonus.
Other considerations for highland cattle
Highland cattle are known for their high level of resiliency. This means that they have a greater ability to survive or thrive in difficult conditions. The breed had adapted to graze in poor and abandoned pastures.
While our pastures are neither poor nor abandoned, we do live in the forrest. Which means there are a lot of different plants competing for space. Bulls can be a very large investment. Some cattle are surprisingly delicate and can loose condition quickly if they are on poor pasture. Knowing that this guy will be able to thrive out there give us peace of mind.
Lest you thing we are doing something new and exciting here, you should know that highland cattle were first brought to Canada in the 1880’s by settlers.
If you have read about all the pro’s of this breed but are still wondering about why we decided to purchase a highland bull it all comes down to one main reason. He seemed easy. I don’t want anything on this farm that is too delicate or that I have to worry about too much (except for my milk cow, but that’s a future project. haha!).
A small bull will also produce small calves. Small calves are easier for the cow to birth than big calves. It seems obvious, but I don’t want to have to worry about helping a cow give birth. Having a smaller bull on the farm should alleviate that problem.
We aren’t selling our beef into the commercial market. It is for personal consumption and to help keep the grass down. Because of that, we aren’t concerns about breed standards that feedlot buyers are looking for at auction. Farming is also not our main source of income, so if we do sell at auction, getting top dollar for our livestock isn’t our main concern.
Bringing Sven home
Sven is a young bull. He is only 2 years old. He isn’t even as big as our largest cow. In fact, he’s barely bigger than one of the yearlings.
When he came to the farm, and we got hime off the trailer, he made a bee line right for the heard. After a few minutes, one of the calves got too close and soon they were all running for the trees. And there is stayed, for almost a week. If you have been following along on Instagram you’ll have seen the photos of him hiding in the trees. Spruce trees seem to be a favourite.
He seems to be slowly coming out of the trees and is spending more time with the rest of the heard. They are off, exploring the forest together. Hopefully doing all the things that you require a bull for. So far he seems to be a quiet, but curious bull. He’s easy to handle and move, and definitely not interested in chasing me.
Only time will tell if Sven was truly the right choice for our farm. On paper he checks a lot of boxes. We’ll know in the spring what the calves are like and how the winter went for him.
Do you have a bull on your farm? Tell me in the comments what you like/dislike about him…