Winter can be rotten. It is dark, it’s one named storm after another and ‘good weather’ means frozen water troughs. Thankfully, as snowdrops arrive it is nearly behind us.

As we collectively dream of summer – Ayr Show is less than three months away – it affords us all the opportunity to think what else the year ahead may hold. Across Scotland Beltie breeders all have cattle in common, but it is interesting to know more about the individual aspirations for 2024. Some people have had Belties for decades, others less than five years. Sharing experiences across the breed can be amusing, insightful, often nostalgic, but hopefully beneficial. Here is a snapshot of what some of the Scottish breeders are up to in 2024:

On the back of Croasdale Rhianna being crowned Royal Highland Show Champion last year, Lisa Wilson is looking to build on this success in 2024. As Manager of Castleton Farm, Dollar, owned by the Biggart family, she has a passion for all things farming and currently has a herd of around 42 Belties at the foot of the famous Ochil hills. Lisa is thankful to all those that helped at the beginning of their Beltie journey.

Lisa said, “In 2022 our aim was to show at the Royal Highland Show the following year. With a lot of hard work, attention to detail and determination put into our team, our first show was very memorable. We were very thankful for all our well-wishes after our RHS 2023 Championship and we simply cannot get over it! It’s been our proudest achievement.

In 2024 Lisa is looking forward to watching their first Castleton calves mature, a whole lot of halter breaking, some new arrivals and the hope to make it to some more shows! Lisa loves to meet like-minded others at events and share their journey and experiences while learning from others, don’t be a stranger. Here’s to a happy, healthy and successful 2024!”

Meanwhile, further north, Mel Quinn shows that location can be everything. Mel, who farms 37 cows on one of the Orkney Isles, is looking to add the natural supplement of seaweed to her animals’ diet. There are plenty of beaches when you are surrounded by water, so with locally sourced seaweed, what could be more sustainable? Mel says “We live on an island 0.5 miles wide and 1 mile long with a population of seven. Everything comes on and off the island by boat, including the cows”. Showing how diverse the cattle and their homes can be, it’s a good reminder that we should be open to trying new things.

Tammy and Colin Russell, who provided the Scottish Club with a wonderful open day at Clanfin, Ayrshire, last year, will have a number of firsts in 2024. They’ve only had Belties for a few years and so these firsts range from day-to-day farming practices such as grazing methods and bullock castration to, more excitingly, aiming to hit the local show circuit.

They said “First, we’re hoping to show this year so we will likely be blogging the preparation for a complete novice. We’ve also experimented with mixed grazing and strip grazing which was quite successful.” As their beef business continues to grow, Tammy and Colin are working on self-promotion along with greater awareness of the Beltie breed and its wonderful offerings.

Further south, we spoke with Hamish Bell who is working hard with the Clifton Herd and sees 2024 as a good opportunity for breed promotion.

“Clifton is undergoing a changing of the guard if you will this year, as we part with a number of fond old faces. We are streamlining the herd with the hope of whittling numbers down to around 10 cows and a little over 10 bulling and yearling heifers from which we will select our replacements. 

It is never an easy task reducing numbers, however, it creates a great opportunity for other breeders as we are forced to sell heifers from our best bloodlines. 

The reduction in stocking density is triggered by efforts to reduce the workload which is currently shared between various family members. We are excited for the end result of this process, and we look forward to seeing a rejuvenated Clifton herd which is as fit and as level as it ever has been!”

With some 20 Belties, Jennifer Taylor sells most bullocks at weaning for finishing elsewhere. She aims to keep a few heifers to primarily use for breeding and hopefully continue to show successfully. Jennifer is passionate about sustaining the success of the Scottish Club and working with other BGCS Council members to encourage young handlers and new entrants to the life of Belties, from breading and rearing, to meat production and showing.

In 2024 Jennifer would also like to be more adventurous with cooking her delicious home-produced Beltie beef, learning from her neighbours. Jennifer is also going to focus on field management, she said, “The increased rainfall over the last few years is saturating my fields in this area of Ayrshire in the south west of Scotland. The fields are more suited to the short seasonal grazing of dairy cattle. I am keen to continue improving my fields by tackling more drainage and rush control using subsoiling, and topping the rushes more regularly. This way, hopefully I can keep my numbers steady and maybe even keep my cattle outside more of the year.”

So what’s the takeaway from the breeders? The Beltie breed is diverse and works well anywhere – whether that be on an island or lowland Ayrshire! As we all enjoy planning out our year, it’s clear we have a bright and exciting year ahead. Roll on springtime!

We’re keen to keep promoting our breed and sharing our breeders’ stories. Let us know if you enjoyed this read or if you have any questions for our breeders or ideas for future blogs! You can contact us at [email protected].

Ray Kirk