Highland Cows are regal beasts, icons of Scotland. Recently we underwent a Highland Cow experience at Aberdeenshire Highland Beef. Highlights include brushing the coos, and eating stew! As the name suggests, this isn’t a petting zoo, it’s the passion of a quality beef farmer in Royal Deeside. She is proud of her herd and of the meat she produces. It graces many four and five star hotels in the area, including Meldrum House and the Chester.
Before you get excited about taking your kids to meet the cows, this may fall into a ‘No Tots’ experience because there are no concessionary rates for children. Adults and children pay the same. Kids are totally 100% welcome and included in the experience, don’t get me wrong, so it’s up to you how much you wish to pay for a family day out. Ticket prices are here, and I’ll describe a day out with the coos below.
Every Sunday at 2pm, guests are invited to participate in a Farm Experience. After introductions from farmer Grace and her Stockman Iain, the trip starts with a ten minute march down to the fields where the animals graze. Grace talks about the animals, their lifestyle, and the advantages and disadvantages of rearing them. Folk can ask questions en route.
Meet the Herd
When we arrived at the field there were no cows – AWKWARD – but then Grace called them and they came running over the hill at the sound of her voice. Kids and adults alike melted. We heard how the animals can live outside all year round and calf outdoors- they’re truly hardy beasts. We then retraced our steps back to the shed.
Here we were introduced to some of Grace and Iain’s prize animals, and learned the relevance and importance of showing your animals at the likes of the Oban Show. Iain’s cow, Frangag, was a majestic, fearsome creature, and we met heifer Una and her adorable calf.
Grooming the Cattle
Una was taken out of her pen and we all got the chance to groom her. The tots were invited to go first. The cows are used to grooming, they are show animals and get their fur washed, combed and coiffed relatively regularly. Of course, we were still cautious around large animals. Also housed in the shed were cattle taken indoors for ‘finishing’. As mentioned, this is a working farm, not a petting zoo, and the cattle are ultimately sold for meat.
The farmer doesn’t slaughter her show animals or her breeding heifers. It’s mainly the male calves that are reared for beef. In the last six weeks of their life the cows are taken indoors to be fed a diet of silage, potatoes, and draft from a local brewery. This gives them the layer of fat that the chefs and the market desire.
I want my kids to know where their food comes from, so we explained everything to Mr Tot and he took it on the chin. We were also shown a freezer full of fresh beef. Grace explained that her butcher visits once a week. A pop up shop is open every weekend for folk to swing past and pick up meat that they know the provenance of.
We were shown a contraption that secures these huge animals, be it for vaccinations, weigh-ins, or even occasional emergency c-sections.
We all guessed the weight of Frangag- admittedly I was nowhere close. The talks aren’t aimed at children, but we found there was enough to look at and discuss to keep them occupied.
The afternoon wrapped up with a small pot of stew. The meat was slow-cooked and tender. The boys quaffed squash, the adults had tea or coffee accompanied by shortbread and Grace’s own home-made tablet.
The day ended with my husband buying beef shin. I don’t buy vast quantities of meat but, when I do, I’d prefer to know its origins. It looked like the cows had a grand life on the Cairn o’ Mount hills.
We drove from Aberdeen to the Aberdeenshire Highland Beef farm at Lochton of Leys near Banchory in Aberdeenshire. Private transport is certainly the easiest method.