Highland Cattle & Grassfed Beef

Calving Kit

March 4, 2018

It's hard to be patient as calving season approaches, even with inclement weather! Our official start date is the 23rd, but we start checking well ahead of that date in case of twins - or hopefully not, premature or slipped calves. We have 42 cows to calve this year, 8 of them heifers. 

In anticipation we're busy making sure calving supplies are stocked. Our calving kit includes:

  • calf book (accurate records are important)
  • check list of cows to calve (we calve out on a fairly large area, so find a checklist handy to make sure we've seen every cow)
  • frozen & dried colostrum
  • esophageal feeders, bottles (water bottles with sheep nipples for new calves, regular for older ones)
  • honey (rub into the roof of the mouth of a calf to stimulate sucking)
  • selenium/vitamin E (injectable for unthrifty calves)
  • disposable scalpels (for castration)
  • oral meloxicam (an analgesic to be used on the advice of a vet for castration or difficult births)
  • electrolytes
  • CCIA tags, dangle tags, tag marker, taggers
  • syringes & needles
  • calf chains
  • rope and halters
  • ob gloves, disinfectant & lube
  • towels
  • udder balm
  • buckets
  • calf sled
  • flashlight & extra batteries

And perhaps most importantly, some way to restrain the cow. With hormones running high, your safety is imperative. It doesn't need to be fancy, but a good chute is perhaps the single most important piece of equipment during calving season. Reasons to intervene when calving Highlands aren't common, but at some point it WILL happen and you need to be prepared. Happy calving!!


October 26, 2017 

It's been awhile since we've brought any new cattle into the fold - when the opportunity to purchase this heifer came up, we couldn't let it pass by. Eliza of Cherry Point made the long trek out from Vancouver Island with a string of dairy show cattle; handling it like a pro. She was just barely halter broke, but jumped off the cattle liner in the dark and lead through the parking lot into our trailer like she'd done it a hundred times before. She's settled in quickly - loving scratches, bread and alfalfa cubes. So very friendly and level-headed. We'll keep working with her on the halter and get her (and couple others) out as display animals next year. Thanks to Wayland Read of Cherry Point Fold for this special girl.

Getting Ready to Wean

October 23, 2017

This year has been a dry one. And while there is still quite a bit of grass left, the nutritional content isn't quite as good as other years. It had turned brown well before the killing frosts. The cows still look good, however, we want them to maintain that condition going into winter - so have decided to wean a little earlier than usual.

Weaning is perhaps the most stressful time in a calf’s life. That stress causes the release of cortisol, which compromises the immune system making them more susceptible to infection, particularly respiratory infection. So, we try to mitigate that stress the best we can – and boost the immune system pre-weaning.  

Two weeks before weaning we bring the calves in to tattoo and boost their vaccinations. They receive two injections – one for clostridial diseases and one for respiratory (BVD, IBR, PI3, BRSV and M. haemolytica). As these vaccines are a booster, their immune response is quicker than the initial dose done in the spring.

We also ensure they are eating hay alongside their mothers, so that when they are brought into the corral they don’t experience a sudden dietary change. We make sure everyone has access to the corral & waterer, so the calves reacquaint themselves with the space.

By 7-8 months the cows’ milk production has dropped off and the calves aren’t getting large amounts of milk. Comfort, however, is another thing. We elect to fenceline wean during a stretch of good weather. This means the cows & calves can visit through the fence, but not nurse. There is a little bawling from both sides for a day or two, but it usually doesn’t take long for the calves to settle down. 


June 18, 2017

Etta’s dam wasn’t able to produce enough milk to sustain a calf, and unfortunately wasn’t cooperative enough to let us just supplement with a bottle. So we pulled the calf and bottle fed.

Zinnia was the last cow to calve, but it was born dead. While bottle highland calves are incredibly cute, feeding gets old – real fast. So, we decided to try and graft Etta on to her.

We skinned the dead calf and tied the hide on to Etta (making sure to get the tail). We also rubbed Calf Claim™ into exposed hair. Scent is a powerful thing.

Then we put Zinnia in the squeeze chute and got the calf on nursing. We’d just fed a bottle, so she wasn’t terribly hungry. We didn’t want to fight with her and make the experience negative, so just let them in a small pen together. Zinnia immediately claimed her. That was her baby. Etta wasn’t so convinced.

We left the hide on for 36 hours, it was uncomfortable and starting to reek. The cow was good, so we took it off in hopes Etta would be more inclined to suck. It took a few more tries in the chute to get her nursing (making sure she was good and hungry). Then today – she latched on to all four teats on her own.

This evening we let them out. So much happy! Bucking and kicking – and thoroughly bonded. Etta is two months old, so quite independent and busy, while Zinnia is still in hovering, newborn mode. It’s entertaining to observe those behaviours mesh.


April 13, 2017

Normally calving Highland cattle is a pretty sweet gig - you have to check regularly in case of calving difficulties, but those are pretty rare. Occasionally a calf might need a quick tutorial with nursing. Otherwise, just counting heads, tagging and castration (if necessary) - easy stuff.

Then along came Ernest. Early. Really early. 

His dam gets fiercely protective with calving and for several weeks after. Highlands normally have a very strong maternal instinct, but she is over the top. Those hormones really take hold - so much so we've always said there is no point risking life or limb if her calf is ever in trouble. Until Ernest.

Augusta went into labour late afternoon on March 25, 2017. We kept an intermittent eye on her to make sure things were progressing normally - from a distance as not to worry her. From that distance everything looked good. The calf was born easily, alive and the weather was warm - so we let her be for a couple hours. Came back and the calf hadn't moved. Upon closer inspection: barely breathing. And oh so tiny.

So, we risked life and limb and managed to get the calf in a sled behind the quad. I drove as quick as I could the long way home and Grant ran a quarter mile home in the opposite direction. Poor girl didn't know who to chase and just stood there, confused.

He weighed only 35 pounds, no teeth, thin hair coat, very soft feet. First off was to get him into the warm garage and warmed up. We started with drying him vigorously with towels. An IM injection of Selon-E which is a vitamin E/selenium solution. Honey rubbed into the roof of his mouth (first course of action for unthrifty calves in this house - a trick passed down from my parents). He didn't have a suck response at all, so we fed him a litre of colostrum via an esophageal feeder. He warmed up fairly quickly and was able to maintain his temperature, which was a good sign. But, was still struggling with breathing. Over the course of the next few days we hit him full guns. A long-acting antibiotic to cover any possible infection. Metacam for any pain or inflammation. And dexamethasone, a corticosteroid, for lung development as research shows it can help stimulate surfactant production. 

By the fourth morning he was getting up on his own and sucked back the bottle. So fixed up a small pen for him and put him in the sled and went to see if Augusta was still interested. Four days later - and she was as maternal as ever. Sometimes "super maternal" means crazy "witch" - sometimes it means "best cow ever". Often in the same sentence. He still wasn't strong enough to stand for long, so we milked her out and fed him with the bottle. After a couple more days and we got her in the chute and helped him get on - the little turkey did great.

Over the course of the next week we supplemented with a bottle, as he tired easily. As his stamina improved, he starting refusing any extra milk. So, we decided to let them out with the rest of the fold. Jumped the gun a bit there. We ended up bringing them back in, he just couldn't quite keep up and then lacked the energy to nurse.

Fast forward to this week. Ernest is living up to his name. They are back out with the cows - he's keeping up to his dam, playing with the other calves and walking up on all his feet properly most of the time. He's still a bit of an odd duck - and who knows how well he'll do - but for now we'll call him a win.

It's Go Time!

March 23, 2017

Finally - the first calves have arrived! With spring calving comes spring storms - and this year was no exception. Luckily, despite the freezing rain and snow, the temperatures and wind stayed mild. As long as the cows get their calves dried off right after birth and they've nursed well, there is little to worry about. We keep a close eye on them, but only intervene when absolutely necessary. So far, so good!

Baby Bumps

March 11, 2017

Just one more week until the official start of calving season! With a harsh cold snap, we're hoping the cows hang on to those calves just a little longer.  We've been checking diligently and bedding them down with extra straw just in case one decides to make an early exit. Highland cows are tough - cold, wet newborns born in extreme temperatures, not so much.

Winter Magic

January 20, 2017

 We love the stillness of winter; the cows seem to quiet down even more than usual, and you get a real sense of their individual personalities with daily chores. This winter has for the main part (a few tractor breakdowns aside) been smooth sailing. Weaning went really well. Apart from a couple cold snaps that the cattle handled well - we've had beautiful weather. The calves are growing steadily and the cows are entering the final stage of pregnancy. We moved our calving start date up a bit - we ran 4 bulls last year (3 of them new) - so are very excited to see how the calves hit the ground. Oh, and we bought some new yearling and weaned heifers late last year - another beautiful group from Highland Heritage Farm.

Growing Up

October 2, 2016

The yearling heifers have spent the breeding season in the pasture right next to the house (away from any bulls), along with the bottle calves and cull cows. So they have gotten plently of attention and are turning into "in your pocket" cows. We kept back eight for our breeding program and couldn't be happier with them.


Lazy Days of Summer

August 23, 2016

Lazy? Well, not quite - but we definitely enjoy the slower pace of summer on the farm. There's still water to be hauled, fences to fix, mineral to top up and cattle to check. And bottle babies to feed - they don't let you forget about them!

We've been lucky to get a good amount of rain, so the grass has done really well - as have the mosquitoes! We've only had a few really, really hot days, thankfully. The Highlands retreat to the shade &/or water on those days to seek reprieve. While they are able to sweat (however inefficiently) and regulate their body temperature via their horns - they really do better in cooler temperatures. Grazing is limited to dawn and dusk in extreme heat.

We snuck away for a few days to Owen Sound, Ontario for the Canadian Highland Cattle Society Annual General Meeting. It's always the highlight of the summer. A great time connecting with old friends and new - sharing information - and enjoying good food & drink. If you have an interest in Highland cattle and have an opportunity to attend a CHCS AGM - do!

The calves are really growing  - and potential abounds! Here's a few of our favourites.


Bull Power

May 18, 2016

Well, it's more like baby bull power this year. We have a young, promising group of young bulls that we are very excited about. 

Cadence-of-My-Heart Heritage 17C 
Calum Seoladair Dubh 2nd of Killochries x Ye-I-Adore Of Pollok Heritage

We adore this bull bred by Ian & Barb Proudfoot (Highland Heritage Farm) and are very grateful to them for entrusting us with him. He is handsome, of course, but also has the sweetest personality - and a pedigree on both sides to die for. We expect him to add a good dose of vigour and heartiness to the fold.


Caithream of Highland Heritage 8C
Uallach Dubh 6th of Pollok  x Clachan Glas Yamelia

Another handsome bull bred by Ian & Barb, from another AI sire.  Caithream is a friendly, vocal bull - already hollering to the girls across the way. He is a chunkster - we have been looking to improve upon the beefiness of the fold - this guy is just the ticket.


Conall of Willow Glen
Pine Acres Apache x Zenobia of Tatlayoko

We only have enough space for 4 breeding bulls in the summer months - but have really fallen for Conall. We had originally offered him for sale, but decided to see how he grows up first before making a final decision. He is an outgoing, friendly guy - with solid conformation - well suited to first-time calvers. He is spending the summer with some neighbourhood girls we sold last year. A lease situation was a win, win for us - we get to retain ownership, save on space and see what he produces with cattle from our lines.


Carney of Willow Glen
Raymond of High Land Ballaugh x Glen Chester Willow

Carney was our pick bull from 2015 from day one. Grant had originally said we would only sell him for a million dollars. So he was named after Mark Carney ... who doesn't love a financial rockstar? He's going through a bit of a growth spurt right now, but we have been consistently impressed with him both conformation and temperament wise. We expect him to throw slightly bigger calves, so we'll try him out on a few of our bigger, mature cows this year.


Beauregard of Willow Glen 
Raymond of High Land Ballaugh x Lauriston Robin

Beau is a two-year old this year, from one of our most consistent breedings. So far, he is everything we'd hoped for out of this pairing. He is masculine, powerful and moves beautifully. His calves on the ground are spunky, independent and growthy. He'll be put to a larger group of cows this year - very excited to see the results.



May 18, 2016

We went bull shopping a couple weeks ago - and these two stunning girls just happened to make it on the trailer, as well. Many thanks to Barb & Ian Proufoot  (Highland Heritage Farm). Love those Raindancer daughters!

Bumps in the Road

May 14, 2016

Calving season is our absolute favourite time of year, and generally things roll along smoothly. Highlands, as a rule, calve easily and are exceptional mothers - but eventually you'll run into the occasional problem.

You need to be prepared for possible emergencies - this includes having proper handling equipment - it doesn't have to be fancy, but you need to be able to restrain an animal safely. You also need to have emergency supplies on hand. During calving season, the following are our essentials:

  • ob chains
  • surgical soap
  • lubricant
  • disposable gloves (ob & regular)
  • bottle nipples (we prefer the smaller "sheep" nipples for newborn calves)
  • esophageal feeder
  • honey (we use a little on the roof of their mouths to stimulate suckling)
  • colostrum (either frozen or powdered)
  • syringes & needles
  • udder ointment
  • pain relief medication/antibiotics (used under your veterinarian's advice)
  • towels

 Educate yourself on proper calf positioning - and the various malpresentations. Some malpresentations are fairly easy to handle yourself; others will require the assistance of your veterinarian. When in doubt, always call your vet. Utilize the calf recovery position after difficult births. See more here: http://www.beefresearch.ca/blog/tips-to-improve-the-health-and-vigor-of-newborn-calves/ 

Ensure calves are up and nursing within 6 hours of birth. It is essential that calves receive colostrum as soon as possible. As each hour passes, the intestine becomes less permeable to the large molecules of immunoglobulins so essential for immunity.  Colostrum also has higher concentrations of fat and vitamin A, D & E - necessary for a good start. We always try to get the cow on the calf before giving a bottle. Frozen and dried colostrum are godsends, but are somewhat degraded. Nothing beats fresh colostrum from your own herd. 

We thought we'd share a few of the more "exciting" calves this year:

This pretty heifer decided to make her appearance backwards. It is important that backwards calves are delivered quickly. Once the hips pass through the birth canal, the umbilical cord can become shorn off and the calf suffocates. Within 10 minutes of  spotting her back feet out, we had babe out on the ground. Then right out with mom (in the recovery position). If her dam hadn't immediately started licking her vigorously, we would have rubbed her down with towels to help stimulate breathing. She was up and nursing within 1/2 an hour.


Dicer's dam must have had sub-clinical mastitis at some point, which went unnoticed & untreated. Her teats are completely scarred over - so is unable to feed her calf. We feel if the cow is able to otherwise care for the calf - it is important to leave them together. Calves are kept clean (important in preventing fly-strike), protected and learn normal cattle behaviour. The first few days are a little challenging, the cow has a rush of hormones and her bag is full (she is protective, uncomfortable and a bit grumpy) - so safety is paramount. It didn't take long for this cow to settle - now she normally pays no attention at feedings. In the photo above, someone new was feeding Dicer - so she had to make sure all was on the up & up.


Dolly was born in the middle of an intense heat wave. She quickly became dehydrated and  just didn't have the gumption to continue to look for lunch. She spent the night at the vet's - received 6L of intravenous fluids, a NSAID and antibiotics. The next morning she chugged down 2L of colostrum. She needed a little help getting on the cow upon her return, but caught on quickly. She still needs to put a little meat on her bones - but is doing great! 


This handsome steer was just a little slow on the uptake. Occasionally you just get some dumb calves that don't know where exactly the milk wagon is. This guy was particularly challenging - it took 5 days of fighting with him, coupled with some imprinting on us and the squeeze chute - before something finally clicked and he was able to nurse unassisted.  He is one of the biggest and busiest calves out in the pasture now. Hard work does pay off!

Baby, Baby

April 8, 2016

Calving is going well this year! 

Out to Grass

May 14, 2016

Last week we vaccinated the steers and hauled them across the road to summer pasture. We vaccinate for two things specifically - BVD & Blackleg. Other diseases are included in those two vaccines, but those are the ones we are most concerned with.

Blackleg is a clostroidal bacterium that lives in the soil that can be ingested as cattle graze. The spores can remain dormant in the soil for years. Young, healthy growing animals aged 6 months - 2 years are particularly susceptible. Blackleg runs a quick, painful course - with death occurring 12-48 hours after the first onset of symptoms. Very few animals survive. Blackleg is not contagious.

 BVD (Bovine Viral Diarrhoea) is a contagious, complex disease - the etiology is very interesting. Normally, healthy animals infected with BVD experience sub-clinical symptoms. Where things get "ugly" is when a pregnant animal is infected. Depending on the stage of pregnancy conception failure, abortion, premature births, still births, congenital defects, stunted weak calves, and the birth of persistently infected calves can occur. PI calves shed copious amounts of the virus  - so much that it may overwhelm the immune systems of other cattle. It is good practice to implement biosecurity measures and a vaccination program to prevent the development of PI calves. 

We like to haul the steers short distances - to places that are "fun" - even if it would be simple to call them across the road on foot. It helps make that final ride a little less stressful if they are used to transport. 

Easter Surprise

March 27, 2016

The best kind of Easter surprise! Rebekke had this pretty heifer today!

Those Bellies

March 20, 2016

Less than two weeks until #CalfWatch16 starts!  

One Bad Day

March 18, 2016

Typically farmers who direct market beef like to claim that their cattle "have only one bad day" - meaning the day they are slaughtered. However, we like to think that butcher day really isn't all that bad. We've accustomed our cattle to interaction with people, moving through handling systems and being hauled in a trailer well before that final day. Generally they hop off the trailer eager to explore a new place and new cattle. They don't realize what is actually happening to them until its all over. It's more a bad day for us.

Our steers on the other hand, do have one bad day - the day they are castrated.  It is a necessary evil, and certainly not something we take pleasure in. Reasons we castrate:

  • Preservation of the breed. This is foremost - we take being breeders seriously. Only those animals that demonstrate a strong adherence to the breed standard should be used as breeding stock. Strong conformation, including good udders, feet and movement are important. Longevity in the breed is well known - and the cattle need to stand up well. Temperament plays into consideration as well. An unpredictable horned animal only belongs in the freezer. 
  • Management. We just don't have the space to securely contain groups of non-working bulls on grass. We castrate to prevent unwanted breedings - and angry neighbours.  Hormones are powerful things and fences are often merely suggestions. Both bulls and cows in heat can be awfully insistent. 
  • The beef. Bulls tend to fight more than steers.  Steers are all about the groceries. Fighting can lead to bruised meat which is not palatable. Our end product is beef and we need as much of it as possible. Lower levels of testosterone lead to a better grading of beef - more marbling and increased tenderness.

All research indicates that early castration is best. So, we castrate most bulls calves at day 2 to 4. We prefer to cut over banding - we find it quicker (it can be difficult to get both testicles under the band with tiny Highland testicles and thick hide). Recovery is comparable - and we know for sure we aren't ending up with any retained testicles. We use disposable scalpels to ensure they are sharp and clean. This year each calf will also get a dose of Meloxicam. Meloxicam Oral Suspension is a low volume, long-acting NSAID; recently approved for use in all ages of beef cattle for pain control. Usually the calves lay quietly for a while after being castrated - it will be interesting to see if the Meloxicam makes any difference in their down time.

We are so very grateful for the research being done in regards to pain mitigation in cattle. The BCRC has an excellent webinar on Practical and Effective Methods of Pain Control.

We usually have a small number of yearling bulls that need castrating each spring. We hold back the top calves as breeding stock - if they don't make the cut - they are, well - cut.  Yesterday we took a group of five down to the vet to be castrated. They are run through the chute and given a local anesthetic and a dose of Metacam® (long-acting NSAID). Once the anesthetic has taken effect, they are run through again, surgically castrated and given a preventive antibiotic. They are then observed to make sure any bleeding has subsided.  Our vets do fantastic work.

In the past we have tried banding older calves, but were very unhappy with the result. Surgical castration is certainly not as pretty - but we feel the overall stress and pain is much less. Some of our beef customers are initially hesitant about the extra medications used, but in the end animal welfare is paramount for them and us. It will be another 18+ months before slaughter - withdrawal times will have passed very generously. 

As you can see from the pictures below, the boys were unimpressed with us upon return to the pasture. Today, they were back to their friendly selves.

Yearling steers just before loading up to the vet.

Upon their return back to the pasture.

Winter Wonderland

January 20, 2016

Winter continues to be easy this year. With mild temperatures and little snow cover, purchased feed is going much further than expected.  There is very little actual work to be done other than feeding and topping up mineral.

We pulled DNA on the bull calves we'll be offering for sale soon, just waiting on the kits to arrive.

The hoar frost has been incredible the past few days - makes for pretty pictures.

Bale Busting

January 3, 2016

Winter has been rather quiet this year. We weaned a little earlier than usual ... in November this year. Things went well - fenceline weaning makes for smooth sailing.

Otherwise, we've just been feeding. With mild weather, the cattle have enjoyed an extended grazing season. We've been supplementing them with hay, but they prefer to head out to the hills for the stands of old praire wool.

Feeding cattle in the winter is one of our favourite chores. A fresh bale garners excitement - especially with the bulls. We try to spread feed around as much as we can, to help rejuvenate pastures - but always leave the initial bale busting to Raymond. It is amazing how he can throw a 1400 pound bale around with ease.

Everybody Loves Raymond

November 10, 2015

It's the big lug's birthday today! Raymond of High Land Ballaugh turns 10!!  

Structurally, Raymond  is a bigger bull - and throws quick growing calves. He has the most perfect feet - the best you'll ever see on a bovine. He still moves like a cat. From what we can tell, so far, his daughters have nice bags.

He has the perfect temperament. Calm, friendly - but respectful and easy to work with. Comes when he's called - and if with the girls, makes sure they do, too. He is definitely not a pet, we prefer our bulls to maintain a healthy respect of personal space - but we do bend and hand feed him corn husks in the fall.

Before coming to the farm, Raymond lived with his girls year round. Not so here - we prefer a defined calving season, so he is only out with the cows from late June - early October. The poor boy spends an awful lot of time pining for them, but is respectful of fences. That alone is worth his weight in gold.

His work isn't done in the winter, though. He manages the yearling and two-year old steers. Highlands can be rather rowdy as young animals and it is important that they learn to behave in a group. He insists they tow the line.

This last year he still managed a large group of cows for the breeding season, but over the next few years we'll give him fewer as the younger bulls take on more work.

We aren't blind to his faults (every animal has them) - but it's his birthday, so we'll just celebrate what we love about Raymond.


October 1, 2015

We're very pleased with this year's calf crop. They are growing quickly - here's a few of them.

Teenage Girls

October 1, 2015

The yearling heifers pastured next to the house this year - and they have been so much fun (and trouble)!  They are goofy, curious and somewhat brazen. They were especially pleased with themselves during a recent breakout into the yard! We are so pleased with how they are maturing - and are already starting to plan their breeding groups for next year.

Last, Last One

June 18, 2015

And #CalfWatch2015 is finished. A nice end with this handsome bull calf.  Lots of white calves this year!

The Last of the Calves

June 17, 2015

Other than a few hiccups, calving has been going well. Here's a few of the most recent ones. Just one left to go!


May 10, 2015

We've got a soft spot for Sunapee. She's obviously a stunner - a beautiful, feminine cow. But, she is also quiet & curious - sit down in the pasture and it won't be long before she's right there licking you.

The evening before Mother's Day she looked like she would probably calve that night. Away from the others, full bag - but still grazing.

I checked first thing in the morning, she was fast asleep - I had to wake her up. There was a tail emerging from her vulva. A breech is an emergency, a true breech even more so.

I called my parents to come help, and I started bringing her up to the corrals. She lollygagged, stopping to graze - certainly not in any physical distress. A breech doesn't put pressure on the cervix like a normal presentation does, and labour often isn't strong. We were almost into the pasture next to the corral and she spooked.

Long story short, it took a long time to get her in. She had been shown as a yearling (she's now 5) in the States - so we finally managed to get a halter on and lead her in to the chute. It was kind of remarkable how well she remembered. 

My dad was able to push the calf forward to reach in and pull the back feet out. Then attach the ob chains to pull the rest of the calf out - she was dead. With breech presentations, often the umbilical cord shears off before the calf's head is out to breathe. But, Sunapee is fine and made a full recovery.

It is devastating to lose a calf, but it is especially heartbreaking to watch a cow grieve. Whenever possible, it is important to leave the calf with the cow until she leaves it on her own accord. You want to give her that time, but you also don't want her to associate it being gone with you. We let Sunapee clean off her calf and spend the next day with it. Within 36 hours she wasn't returning at all.  

This is her third calf, so we don't have any reason to believe this was anything but a fluke thing. As with any tragedy, lessons were learned. We make sure to check extra close now. A breech presentation just doesn't give you the same signs of labour as a normal one. We'll also halter break all the yearling heifers - if we had gotten her in a little quicker, perhaps the outcome would have been different. Perhaps not.

Hello Again, Clarice

May 8, 2015

We spoke a little too soon about Clarice coming for the bottle again. That happened only once. She has perfected the art of stealing and does so from several cows. She's growing well and is a busy little turkey. We're trying to pin down exactly who she steals from the most, so when we break the cows into breeding groups in mid-June she is with them. 

But, when there's any sign of trouble or she's in need of a bath - there's no mistaking who her mama is.

New Beauties

May 5, 2015

We brought home some new heifers the beginning of May. Two 2-year olds and five yearlings from Ian & Barb Proudfoot of Highland Heritage Farm.  So hard to choose - such a high quality group to pick from ... we may have brought home a few more than we had originally planned! 

We introduced them to the main fold through the fence for  week - and they mixed without any issues at all.  They settled very quickly and are a very friendly, curious group. Couldn't be happier with them!


April 27, 2015

Highlands are generally exceptional mothers - maternal instinct is very strong in the breed.  Occasionally, there are bound to be hiccups, though.  We had a three year old heifer calve on April 8, 2015.  She had a really nice heifer calf in the middle of the night, and by the time we went out to check in the morning - the calf was trying to nurse off of other cows.  We thought perhaps she was just a little dumb.  Her mother hid her away from the rest of the fold for the next day.  Baby was bright and was nursing.  All looked well.

The next morning they returned to the rest of the cattle and the calf immediately ran from cow to cow trying to nurse.  We offered a bottle, she drank a little, but wasn't too interested.  We kept a close eye on her over the next few days - she started to exhibit some odd behaviours.  

Most people know that cattle have four "stomachs".  However, a newborn calf has only one functioning stomach, the abomasum.  Sucking bypasses the other stomachs, so the milk goes directly to that stomach where it can be digested properly.  If the calf drinks from say, a bucket, the milk goes into the rumen where it curdles.  That is why orphan newborn calves are fed via a bottle until their rumen develops properly. 

This calf was trying to drink water from the pond - normally calves won't start drinking water until they are 1-2 weeks old.  She also started licking her nose nervously, it got quite raw.  And continued to try and nurse off of random cows.

He mother's udder looked normal, but with quite small teats.  We got them in and tried milking her.  Nothing.  Not a drop.  So we started the calf on the bottle.  She was a bit reluctant at first and we had to catch her to get her started.  Whenever she finished the bottle she ran to her dam and tried to nurse. She had no interest in us at all. We kept them in the corral alone together until the calf was coming reliably for the bottle. 

We named the calf, Clarice.  In appreciation of her tenacity and drive (a Silence of the Lambs reference). Never mind it's fun to call her in our best Anthony Hopkins impression. We turned them back out with the rest of the fold.  She came for one bottle - then reverted back to stealing from several different cows.  Stubborn little bugger she is, but she did well being a moocher.  

Then out of the blue, a week later, she has decided she wants the bottle again.  I think she's tired of getting just enough and the cows are catching on to her antics.  Smart, funny calf.  


April 27, 2015

In the past years, we've missed most actual calvings - this year has been the opposite.  So today when I noticed Robin was about to calve, I decided to film it, so we could share the excitement.  Of course, the battery went dead just before the calf hit the ground - but here's a glimpse of the front feet and head emerging.  

Signs of impending labour include a loosening of the vulva (cattle folk call this springing) and relaxing of the ligaments to either side of the tailhead. If you have a quiet cow you can feel them go soft, if not you will see a hollowing out.  You may see an increase in mucous. Udders may develop well ahead of calving, but the teats usually don't fill until 24 hours before the start of labour.

Early signs of labour may include:

  • the cow heading off by herself
  • not eating
  • restlessness - they may kick at their bellies or pace

And often they give you no signs at all.  Robin was grazing this morning, lay down to chew her cud and then had this lovely red bull an hour later.  Never any fast and hard rules with cattle, that's for sure!  She's an old pro, though, so doesn't get too excited about things. 

If you notice the position of his feet - that is normal.  You want the calf to look like he's diving out of the vagina.

Right after the camera died, baby hit the ground.  He had a little membrane covering his nose, so helped clean that off.  And he was a little twisted up upon landing, so a quick pull of a back leg straightened him out.  He was up immediately, and by the time I had walked back to the house he was nursing.  Then mom and babe down for a good nap. 


April 14, 2015

...are taking over the hills. Calving is going well, only a few minor hiccups - we'll talk about those later on.  In the meantime here's a few pics of the calves - dry this time!  

And We're Off!

April 4, 2015

#CalfWatch15 is on it's way! The first two heifers calved today - a beautiful heifer for Baby Pearl. And a spunky as all heck bull for Zanzibar. You always want to keep an extra close watch on first time calvers, but these two handled it like old pros.  

The Ties That Bind

March 30, 2015

We officially start calving April 2nd, but had two heifers lose calves early last month - so we have been checking for a couple weeks now.  This year we're using Google Keep's checklist on our phones, so once a checklist is refreshed - cows are listed in the order they were checked off during the previous check. The neat thing about it is, it reaffirms the relationships we observe between our cattle. 

Cattle relationships can be somewhat fluid and as the hierarchy in the fold changes, so can those friendships. Introducing new cattle and younger cattle maturing both serve to cause a bit of upset in the order of things. But, some bonds are quite strong - like the two heifers below, Zanzibar & Zodiac. They are half-sisters (sire side) and  grew up in the same fold. You rarely see them more than a few feet apart, it will be interesting so see how that changes when they calve in the coming weeks.

Familial lines often gravitate to each other - sisters on the dam side, even though not raised together will often be inseparable.  Heifers that were pasture mates as calves will also form strong bonds.  Highlands often move from fold to fold, so even cows that do not normally like each other will stick together when coming to a new farm - often for many months until new relationships are formed. Then you never see them together after that.  And then there are some cows just don't seem to fit in what so ever. It could be they have an especially nervous personality. Perhaps they were a younger calf in that year's calf crop - so weren't able to establish themselves physically, so always stay around the edge of the fold.

We haven't noticed the same bonds in the steers or bulls.  It seems to be entirely random who they graze, roust or sleep with.

Often the language we use with our cattle is embarrassingly anthropomorphic.  But, we  try very hard to not let our affections impede on the actual care of our cattle.  So why even talk "cow friends"?  It actually is important to observe your cattle and recognize those bonds. We have to break our cows up into separate breeding groups over the summer, with one bull per group.  Keeping those cattle together makes for a content cow and therefore a healthy, productive cow. And if you do separate them,  they'll be trying to get through fences to be together if you don't. Never underestimate the ties that bind.

Biding Their Time

February 23, 2015

Just a little over a month till we start calving.  We have a really nice group of three year old heifers and are noticing the start of udder development.  First time calvers can start to "bag up" up to six weeks before calving, especially on dry feed.  Cows usually don't have much udder development until much closer to giving birth. Once the actual teats start to fill - a cow should calve within 24 hours.  

Winter chores are the same thing day everyday - so any little change is exciting.  Very anxious to see what these girls produce!

Winter Grazing

February 15, 2015

The cattle are fed hay through out the winter months - a mix of alfalfa/grass hay and some greenfeed.  But, as soon as a warm breeze blows through, they head for the hills for some of last year's prairie wool.  

Time to Wean

December 7, 2014

We hadn't planned on weaning quite this early, but the weather forecast of mild temperatures bumped up our plan a bit.  Weaning is a stressful time for both cow and calf.  Both usually bawl a bit for a day or two, so warmer weather is essential so they don't freeze their lungs. Having to deal with inclement weather can also make them susceptible to illness, such as pneumonia. 

To reduce that stress, we fence-line wean.  This means that the cows & calves can visit through the fence, but calves can't suckle. The cows have a harder time than the calves, especially with their full bags - but it usually only takes a day or two and they are off back in the hills.  Calves just seem happy to munch on hay without bigger animals pushing them out of the way.  

The calves will stay in the corral for 6-8 weeks.  The boys will go out a little earlier - as they go out into the pasture with the older steers & bulls. Our main herd sire, Raymond, does a fantastic job keeping teenagers in line.  The girls stay in a bit longer to make sure they are good and weaned before returning to the main fold with their mothers.

While somewhat stressful initially, we quite enjoy weaning as it give us a chance to spend time with the calves in a smaller space.  They get a bit of grain at this time, so they learn to come when they see that bucket - and alfalfa cubes from our hands.  Not all will become "pets" - but habituating them to our presence makes for easier cattle to work with.  Genetics play a huge role in temperament, but anything we can do to minimize stress a good thing.

Here are few of the lovelies just before weaning.

Calving Season - A Wrap!

November 26, 2014

We are now officially, officially done calving season! Calving in November proved to be a little more work that we expected.  Two of the calves needed to be warmed up - and were given a boost of honey & colostrum.  Didn't take long, though, and they were back out with their mamas - spunky as all heck.

A Little Spring in November

November 9, 2014

The first of the three bred cows we bought this summer calved.  A nice big, red bull for Briar. It was a pretty chilly night - but he was up, dry and had a belly full of milk first thing this morning.

The Boys of Summer

September 25, 2014

There is a bunch of promising bull calves out in the pasture. Here's a few of them. 

The Girls of Summer

July 31, 2014

We had a few new girls arrive last Saturday. Two yearling heifers - Pine Acres Awray & Pine Acres Awinifred. And three bred cows - Turtle Mountain Amber, Turtle Mountain Azlyn & Turtle Mountain Briar. They are due to calve this fall - so I guess our calving season for the year isn't quite finished!  

All are settling in well - the yearlings  join Silver Willow Amelanchier (Amie) in the new heifer pasture.  Ideally, Highland heifers aren't bred until after they are two years old to ensure proper growth. The black girls joined the larger cow herd.  They mingle with them a bit to graze, but prefer to sleep apart for now - cautious as new cattle usually are.

Thanks again to Shane Fielding of Pine Acres for making the long trek out to deliver them.  

For the Love of Silverwillow

July 17, 2014

We have a love-hate relationship with silverwillow on the farm. Silverwillow is also known as wolfberry or silverberry - and more correctly Elaeagnus commutata.  It is a strange shrub - sometimes beautiful, other times kind of unsightly. Even when in flower, its scent is sickly sweet.

It covers a good portion of the farm - some thick patches are extremely hard to even walk through; let alone the damage it does to the quads when we need to get through it quickly.  It makes spreading bales in new areas difficult.  Nothing eats it - not willingly anyway.   Highland cattle are browsers and eat a wide variety of vegetation, but silverwillow is only ever eaten accidentally. It can conceal a small group of cattle; never mind a newborn calf. Many, many hours have been spent hunting for hidden calves in its stands. 

It does have its advantages.  It is an excellent place to hide newborn calves.  It is a great place for cattle to escape from insects - and the Highlands spend a lot of time in the thick patches in the spring when scratching off that old winter hair. It prevents erosion and catches the snow.  But, most importantly, it fixes nitrogen and with having a narrow canopy it lets the light through.  Grass grows well beneath silverwillow in soil it might not otherwise.  And for those reasons it stays.  

Introducing Apache

June 28, 2014

We've been neglect in properly introducing Pine Acres Apache.  He's still very young, but we're very happy with how he's grown so far - and even more pleased with his temperament.  Extremely easy to handle and deals with new situations calmly.  And love, love his colour! We've given him a handful of heifers, and are excited to see what he produces.

Happy Day...

June 24, 2014

...for Raymond!  And the other two bulls, Andrew and Apache.  The ladies were happy to see their men, too.  The cattle were broken into three separate breeding groups - giving us a calving start date of April 2, 2015.  And by limiting the number of cows to each bull, we hope to compress our breeding season somewhat. 



May 3, 2014

Placentophagy is simply the act of mammals eating the placenta of their offspring after giving birth.  Most of our cows do eat it; if not they usually move off from where they've given birth fairly quickly.

There are a few theories as to why:

  • The placenta is a source of energy and nutrients. And the hormones may help the uterus to contract and assist in milk production & let-down. Some research indicates that it may provide mild analgesia and promote mental well-being, as well.
  • Since most cows go off to birth away from the fold - removing anything that might attract predators is a likely reason.
  • Some people suggest it helps the cow bond with her calf.  I'm not convinced this is the case.  When the water bag breaks, the smell of amnitoic fluid seems to trigger more obvious maternal behaviors.  When they are eating placenta, they often ignore the calf.

 We don't discourage our cows from consuming afterbirth, but if we happen to catch them - we keep a close eye.  It is pretty chewy and can be a choking hazard.  

Just how fast can a cow eat a placenta?  This fast.

Calves, calves, calves!

May 2, 2014

The  girls have not disappointed - we've had several calves the last couple days.  Here's a few pics!  

Another One...

April 24, 2014

I had decided that this year we wouldn't post every single calf that was born, but... it's just the beginning of calving season - and it feels a little bit like X-mas morning with new calves. And Easter - they are calving out on just over a quarter section, so sometimes finding them is a bit of a hunt.

Eleanor calved bright and early this morning - spunky, big baby. She was up nursing all four quarters right away. Eleanor is a bit of a protective mother, so we'll give her a few days to let the rush of hormones subside before doing anything with the calf.  


Introducing Andrew

April 30, 2014

Generally Highland heifers aren't bred until they are two years old. Highlands are slow growing and that extra year gives them a bit more time to mature.  This year we have 15 heifers to be bred, and 23 cows - so we needed an extra bull to cover them all and shorten up our calving season.

This is our new heifer bull - High Country's Saint Andrew.  He is a shorter bull with nice length of body and  hair coat.  And a perfect temperament.  I think he will work nicely with the girls that will go out with him this summer.  We also have a yearling bull, Apache, that we will try on just a handful of our smaller cows and heifers. Our main herd bull, Raymond, will cover the majority of the mature cows.

Andrew is spending a few days in the corral, so he & Raymond can work out most of their differences through the fence before we try introducing them in the same pasture.  

Thanks to Con-Mon Highlands for selling us Andrew - we're excited to see what he produces!

Baby Brynn

April 20, 2014

As  expected, Pandora's calf had a bit of trouble latching on.  There are several reasons that a calf may have trouble nursing: a hard birth, cold temperatures, large teats or a pendulous bag.  And sometimes you just have a calf that is a little dumb.

We brought them in to the corral and gave the calf two doses of colostrum from the bottle.  It is extremely important that a calf gets colostrum within the first 24 hours after birth.  After that time the intestine becomes less permeable to the large molecules of immunoglobulins so essential for immunity.  Colostrum also has higher concentrations of fat and vitamin A, D & E - necessary for a good start.

We are lucky to have my parents living just down the road, my Dad came down and helped me milk out Pandora and get the calf on the better teats. My milking technique was somewhat lacking and having someone with experience to help was invaluable.  The calf got a good belly full in the afternoon, but needed quite a bit of help finding and staying on. 

Later that evening, I got Pandora in the chute again and tried to get the calf on again.  No dice - she just fought.  So, we left her until the next afternoon when she was good and hungry.  Worked like a charm, she needed a little help at first, but suddenly something clicked and there was no stopping her.  Ten days later she's spunky and growing like a weed.  Highland milk  has a high cream ratio. Calves are generally born with  low birth weights and that extra fat helps them grow quickly.

And since she's doing so well, she gets a name: Brynn of Willow Glen.

And It Begins...

April 10, 2014

...calving season!!  Pandora spent all of yesterday off by herself, and with her bag reaching its limits - we were sure a new calf would arrive by morning.  And it did!  She actually returned close to the fold to deliver, her three-year daughter Yax has been keeping close watch.  Babe is doing well, but we will be keeping a very close eye on how well nursing goes.  Pandora has some rather large teats that might be a little hard to latch on to.  Exciting!!

New Additions

March 19, 2014

Some exciting new additions!  No babies yet, but four new cows and three yearling bulls.  Special thanks to Shane Fielding (Pine Acres) - not only for the Highlands, but for delivering them - can't beat service like that!

Here's a few pics of the girls.

All The Pregnant Ladies...

February 26, 2014

Calf Watch 2014 is coming up fast!  Had to share a few of the bigger "baby bumps"!  Crossing fingers they hold off until the weather warms a bit, though.


January 31, 2014

Winter on the farm is running pretty smoothly.  It's our favourite time of year to take photos - there's something special about a Highland in full coat.   

More New Cattle

September 10, 2013

We brought home some new cattle the beginning of September - 24 highlands.  Such a lovely herd and extremely quiet.  A mix of ages with two steers ready to butcher, so we were able to offer some beef early than expected. Thanks so much to Silver Willow Smallfarm - wishing you nothing but the best on your new adventure!

The New Girls

June 21, 2013

Grant & I drove out to BC the end of June to pick up 5 new heifers from Tatlayoko Fold.  We had a fantastic trip - the girls exceeded all our expectations - beautiful farm and perfect hosts.  They handled the very long drive home like pros, and settled into the fold perfectly. Thanks so much Eliza & Dave!

Alfred & Archer

June 16, 2013

Tiggy had a red, large-framed bull this week; and Wildrose a really nice dun bull.  We'll leave both these boys intact for now, and see how they grow up.  Just 3 more cows to go!

Introducing Ally

June 11, 2013

June calved this morning - a pretty, rather big heifer.  The black girls are really proving themselves to be excellent mothers.  Abby has been staying right with them all day, new calves are exciting for everyone.

Introducing Abby

June 4, 2013

Mae is one of our unregistered blacks that was bred to Craigy last fall - she had a beautiful black heifer this morning. The calf was up for a good nurse right away, then down for a good hard sleep.  Mae is staying right with her, and they were out grazing apart from the herd this evening.  I expect them to be back with the rest of the fold in a day or two.

Introducing Abraham

June 3, 2013

Xantha calved last night - a sturdy, light red bull.

The cows are out on pasture - right now on about 2/3 of a quarter with quite a bit of brush. Calving this past winter was a little easier to keep track of newborn calves; the snow was so deep, the cattle didn't stray off their paths from water to the feeding area. Both Xantha & Xanadu calved this spring and have been experts at hiding their babies the first few days. Cows often hide their newborns for the first couple of days away from the remainder of the herd until they are strong enough to interact with the other cattle. They will hide them in tall grass or in the trees - some mothers will remain quite close by, while others will leave them there all day only returning in the evening to give them a drink.

These girls have both hidden their calves and returned to the rest of the fold to browse and seem entirely unconcerned - you wouldn't have known they'd had a calf from their affect. The calves are fine, and once they are a bit more rambunctious, they'll be in the thick of things. While we try to keep an eye on the calves - especially with first time mothers, it is important not to move them.  Cattle have well-developed spatial memory, and moving the calf only serves to confuse the cow.

All that said, it doesn't stop you from worrying until the calf is integrated into the herd.

Introducing Abner

April 30, 2013

Xanadu calved early in the morning on April 30, 2013.  Despite one (hopefully) last snowstorm and some wicked wind, this deep red bull was up sucking quickly.  Thankfully, the snow stayed only briefly!

Introducing Amaury

March 5, 2013

April had a heifer on March 5th.  She calved right amongst the rest of the fold.  As soon as she started to dry off Amuary - Rebekke, Xantha and Abel were in like dirty shirts lending a hand.   


Introducing Abel

February 13, 2013

Rebekke surpised us with our very first calf this morning! She had him just before the worst wind/snow storm of the year hit.  We bedded them down well and crossed our fingers.  When I went out to check the next morning,  I couldn't find him anywhere.  A little more searching and found him buried deep in the hay and Rebekke was standing right over him.  Snug as a bug! 

New Year's Day

January 1, 2013

A breezy New Year's Day - Xanadu decided she'd come for a walk with us.  Alberta beautiful.


December 19, 2012

Grant is really getting good at this gift thing.  He had orginally surprised me with 3 weanling heifers - he even researched pedigrees.  We drove down to Moose Jaw to pick them up, and somehow came home with two more red heifers and a cow.  Special thanks to Reese Klindt for these new additions.

Introducing this time was a bit of a rodeo.  Several of the cows, challenged the new girl, Pearl.  She held her own, but soon almost everyone was fighting with everyone else.  If you have never seen Highland cattle fight, it really is something to see.  Perfectly normal, and a necessary part of establishing order in a social system.  Once that order is established, serious fighting is rare, while "play" fighting is a daily occurance, especially in younger animals.

Finally Home

November 3, 2012

We picked up the new girls on November 3, 2012.  We had some bales out when we let them out of the trailer, but like most cattle - they immediately started walking the perimeter fence.  They ended up on the far end of the of the pasture, but had found some long prairie wool on the hills to eat and were content to stay there.  After we had gotten some more snow, we went out to try and get them in closer to where we feed - as soon as they saw us, they came on the run.  They mixed with the black cows without any issues.  

Thanks again, Barb & Ian!

A Very Special Birthday

October 10, 2012

I turned 40 this month - and Grant really surprised me!  He contacted Barb & Ian Proudfoot (Highland Heritage Farm) and convinced them to part with a few of their girls.  We drove down to their ranch near Dorothy, Alberta on October 10, 2012.  Barb had a binder ready when we got there with  pedigrees and information about each of the cows she was willing to part with.  It was hard to pick - the quality of the cattle was impressive.  In the end we settled on 3 bred cows, 2 bred heifers and 2 heifer calves. The cattle were still out in pasture, so we waited until November to pick them up.

We couldn't have asked for a better day. An afternoon driving through the badlands looking at and talking Highlands - there was even pumpkin pie! 


Introducing Craigy

August 24, 2012

Since we had found our girls, naturally we needed a bull.  Luckily we found the perfect gentleman at Con-Mon Highlands, just 1/2 an hour to the south of us. Con-Mon 2Y Craigivar is young, quiet red bull with an excellent pedigree. He is a extremely calm, nothing gets him ruffled at all.  After the customary jousting when introducing him to the girls, Craigy fit in perfectly. 

New Highlands

August 20, 2012

We brought home our first Highlands in August 2012 - 4 two-year old heifers and a cow/calf pair. They settled in quickly and were soon coming on the run when called.

These girls are all black. Originally there were two types of Highlands. Kyloes, which were small and black in colour were associated with the West of Scotland and the Islands while the larger red haired cattle grazed the Highlands. The size difference was probably due to the limited resources in those areas, rather then actual genetics.  Today they are known collectively as Highland Cattle and come in all colours and the size difference is now negligible.

Special thanks to John Rodgers of Dog Ridge Highlands for these very special girls.