Hairy herd’s wide appeal

HIGHLAND cattle have always been admired with the Scottish breed renowned for its friendly nature and photogenic appearance.

A venture that started 10 years ago has seen one family raise and care for many Highland cows and having a presence at big events around the state.

Craig and Alison McSwain and daughter Hessie operate Craggy Island Highlands Cattle Fold on their 40ha family-run property in Penna in the state’s South-East, where they have about 20 Highland cows.

The past few weeks on the farm have been busy with calving, with about six born so far and a few more to come.

When Mr and Mrs McSwain bought their land 20 years ago their plan was to breed horses.

While Mrs McSwain grew up on a hobby farm Mr McSwain was a city boy from Melbourne and they did not expect they would end up having Highland cattle.

“We wanted to get another species to rotate the pasture and help for parasite control, we just wanted to get a handful of cows,” she said.

“We found some highlands on Gumtree with no known breed or anything. When
we got those, we started researching them a bit more and we kind of got the bug.”

“The horses took a back seat and the cows sort of took over.”

She said it was a steep learning curve early on as the temperament of the cattle wasn’t great.

Being in a low rainfall area, it is hard to manage pasture on Craggy Island farm and their Highland herd has provided a huge advantage to the farm’s maintenance.

“They’re good size, they’re good doers and so they do well when we go through droughts and they’re pretty hearty animals,” Mrs McSwain said.

“If you pick the temperament lines right they can be really docile and easy to handle.”

“We also breed for our own beef supply. It’s the only beef we eat.”

She said they could not allow meat processed on the farm go off the property.

“The beef has more flavour, it’s had time to develop over time with age as opposed to that commercial steer that’s 18 months old,” Mr McSwain said.

On top of the demands of senior years in high school, daughter Hessie has been an integral part of looking after the cows on their farm.

“My parents buying them in got me into it, hooked me too. Now I just love having them in the paddock and especially having them handled. It so easy to go in there and give them a brush,” Hessie said.

She loves to help where she can, assisting with handling the cows with daily checks, bringing them in for vaccinations and training up the young calves.

“With the little ones, we usually leave them until about six months old and then we wean them off their mums,” she said.

“We get them used to us and gradually used to brushing and taking them for walks until they are ready to either keep or sell.”

The temperament of the breed makes Highland cattle easy to manage animal.

Interest for Highland cattle has steadily increased among hobby farmers and breeders.

When the McSwains bought their first cow 10 years ago it cost a few thousand dollars but now prices are as high as $20,000.

Mr McSwain said their main aim was to breed good-quality stud stock, selling to registered breeders where possible.

“We have a lot of hobby farmers but there’s also a lot of serious breeders that are up and coming.”

He said the number of breeders had doubled since they started in 2013 and now there are about 20 registered breeders in the state.

“There’s quite a lot of cattle in the state because Highlands have been in Tassie since the mid to late 1980s. But when we started there were only around two registered breeders.”

Craggy Island has done a lot of breed promotion over the years and the family are happy to have played a role.

With some farms around the state getting visitors to mingle with Highland cattle and a continued exposure on social media, the popularity of the breed looks set to grow.