Highland cattle making their mark with new peninsula home

Overall Supreme Interbreed Champion in the Cattle Section  at Gosford was won with a Highland Cow and calf jointly owned by from left Charles Quinn, Charles Drumgoole, Damien Gilmore and Gerard Gilmore being congratulated by Brian Hunter Chairman of the R.B.S.T.N.I.

Overall Supreme Interbreed Champion in the Cattle Section at Gosford was won with a Highland Cow and calf jointly owned by from left Charles Quinn, Charles Drumgoole, Damien Gilmore and Gerard Gilmore being congratulated by Brian Hunter Chairman of the R.B.S.T.N.I.

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Four unusual new residents of the Ards Peninsula have been turning heads following their recent arrival from Scotland.

In fact, the quartet have also been making their mark in the show arena much further afield.

Charles Drumgoole, Portaferry takes the Any Other Native or Traditional Breed Champion. Included Judge Frances Brigdale.

Charles Drumgoole, Portaferry takes the Any Other Native or Traditional Breed Champion. Included Judge Frances Brigdale.

Charles Drumgoole, from Bangor, has only been in possession of his four Highland cows - two heifers and calves - for around five months, but already he is collecting silverware in rare breed sections of some leading agricultural shows.

However, the story might have been a very different one, as Charles explains: “I travelled over to Oban earlier this year after agreeing to purchase two Highland cows from a breeder following the popular show at Oban Mart.

“The animals were to have been halter trained but when we saw them it was clear they weren’t ready - so the deal was off.”

Not to be deterred, Charles along with his cousin, Charles Quinn, and friend Damien Gilmore attended the show eventually purchasing two prize-winning in-calf heifers from the renowned Pennygown Farm on the Isle of Mull.

So with the heifers bought and paperwork completed it was off to the boat for the journey home - and this is where the plans began to unravel.

Charles continued: “We got to the boat and drove on without issue, however once in Belfast we were informed by DARD officials that the paperwork was incorrect, we couldn’t bring the cows into the province and there was a real risk that they could have been put down.

“We had no choice but to turn round, get on the boat again and head back to Scotland.”

This, as you can imagine, left Charles and his friends with a problem - what could they do in Scotland, with two Highland cows and nowhere to go?

A few frantic phone calls followed and it was arranged that the animals could be returned to market at Oban where the owner would return from the Isle of Mull to collect them.

This solved the initial problem, however as the two heifers were in-calf and fast approaching calving time it was agreed that they would remain at Pennygown until the calves were born and the necessary paperwork put in place for their transportation in Northern Ireland.

Charles continued: “To be honest, I was just glad to get the calves safely delivered and bring the four Highland cows back home.

“It was a worrying time but eventually after a delay of several months we were able to collect them.”

Charles’ cousin, Charles Quinn, and fellow farmer Damien Gilmore take to do with the day-to-day needs of the animals.

They have very quickly become accustomed to the animals, describing them as ‘cautious, but friendly’.

Damien explained: “They are a hardy breed of cattle and being used to the highlands of Scotland they have had no problems settling in here.

“They are often cautious when they see different people but they quickly come over to see what’s going on.

“They have proved to be popular with many passing walkers and motorists stopping to take a good look at them.”

Over the summer and into autumn the four cows have been staying in a field right on the shore of Strangford Lough belonging to the National Trust.

They have built up a close working relationship with local National Trust area warden Hugh Thurgate, who is extremely pleased to have the four ‘unique’ residents on the trust’s land.

Hugh explained that the field, which is on the lough shore near Kearney, had previously been used for horses but when the agreement lapsed it was decided to try a different option.

“We weren’t really sure just how useful the land was in terms of natural plant species and had been seen by the trust as an agricultural let,” Hugh explained.

“The botanical value of the field was being under-valued a little by the trust. I walked the area and noticed it wasn’t a bad field at all and felt we could encourage the botanical diversity that existed.

“Most of our land is on the coast and with that we look to encourage and improve biodiversity and encourage plentiful wildflowers.”

Hugh explained that the time had come for a change of management and when the chance to have Highland cattle on the land came about the trust were delighted to accommodate them.

He continued: “The Highland cows were a great addition and we should soon see improvement with the land’s biodiversity. Highland cows are ideal for conservation grazing - they do very little damage to the ground and can maintain themselves with the grass that is there and not a lot of supplementary feeding.”

This was a key point as adding silage, slurry or other fertilizers to the land is definitely not an option.

In fact, a cut of traditional hay was taken before the Highland cows arrived therefore spreading further the native wildflowers that were already developing.

Hugh continued: “We were looking for something that was mutually beneficial for ourselves and the farmer - in this case the Highland cattle are a great fit for us.”

For Charles and his partners the hard work of buying the cattle and bringing them to Northern Ireland has already yielded silverware with success at the Castlewellan Show and Rare Breed Show at Gosford Forest Park.

Charles continued: “We have been delighted with the success so far and are looking forward to becoming more prominent next year.

“We would like to show the Highland cattle at more shows and develop further our relationship with the National Trust, bringing these wonderful and extraordinary animals to an even bigger audience.” he added.