First generation farmer, John Cooper, believes he has ‘struck gold with his fold’ – scooping 21 show trophies in 2019 while also proving that Highland cattle are one hardy breed to be reckoned with.

In search of a new venture, after travelling north to Inverness and purchasing Tordarroch Estate in 1991, John fell in love with the native breed and founded the Tordarroch fold in 1994, with help from successful stockman and breeder, Donald MacDiarmid.

“Highland cattle really are a beautiful looking breed, with such a good temperament and they thrive in the moorland hills that surround the estate,” commented John.

“They are excellent foragers that graze every inch of the hill and considering the majority of the ground is poor quality moorland, they seem to put on flesh easily.”

John’s foundation fold was made up of five heifers and a long, lean, young bull in the shape of Dalriada of Ballyheather, from Northern Ireland.

“I had very little farming experience and had to learn from the people surrounding me,” said John. “The Dalriada bull didn’t catch my eye at first, but Donald could see the potential and told me to buy him, so I did, for 1900gns.”

With the help of Donald and John’s stock team at that time, Andrew and Sheena Cameron, the Tordarroch team produced a bull that went on to win 13 championships and a UK show championship with record points.

“After the success with the Dalriada bull, I caught the ‘bug’ and became fully committed to breeding and showing pedigree Highland cattle.

“The Dalriada of Ballyheather bloodline has gone on to be hugely successful – not only gaining awards in the UK but has also produced male champions in Germany and Finland, and a female champion in Switzerland!” added John.

The fold now runs a herd comprising of 13 select breeding females, four bulls and 27 youngstock – all of which remain outdoors all year round and are managed by current stock attendants, Bryon MacNaughton and his partner, Sarah Noble.

The experienced duo brought out cattle to win 21 trophies for Tordarroch, and the prestigious Culloden fold, which they manage, in 2019. Sarah also became the first female to secure the stockperson’s trophy for showing cattle at the Black Isle Show, in 2019.

“Bryon and Sarah are both very experienced with Highland cattle and I find myself regularly relying on their knowledge, rather than the other way around!” commented John.

The farm is self-sufficient when it comes to feeding thanks to 20 acres of ground which are rented to make silage and hay, which helps keep feed costs to a minimum.

The Tordarroch Highlanders are all out-wintered on the lower hill ground and fed hay and silage, with cows and heifers receiving a mineral supplement before and after calving due to the poor quality moorland ground.

“Our cattle calve in March, and are all calved outdoors. We find the calves are quick to get up and suckle, and due to their thick coat, they can bear the colder conditions better than other breeds,” stated John.

With John and his team primarily producing breeding stock to sell at pedigree sales, he has a simple but strict culling policy to ensure his cattle are of the highest standard.

“Any bulls that do not meet the breeding or selling standards are reared as steers and sold for beef,” commented John.

“Bryon and Sarah are always on top of dosing and jagging. We believe prevention is very important and this has resulted in our fold having a high proportion of healthy, older females – we don’t believe in culling an animal just because of its age.”

The fold breeds it’s own replacements, retaining around four per year, however John also believes new genetics are a positive attribute and therefore tries to buy in the ‘best of the best’.

“We don’t tend to buy in many animals unless they are high quality, proven and will introduce some quality breeding into our fold,” said John.

“When buying an animal, I’m looking for a good temperament and quality of cow that can produce a good breeding or show animal.”

There are two bloodlines that have stamped their mark on the herd and has produced some of the fold’s best cattle.

“The Alice and Heather lines are probably my favourite for breeding. They’ve had the most success in the show and sale ring and I’ve never had a bad cow out of them,” John stated.

His most recent success from these bloodlines was Heather 12 of Tordarroch. This three-year-old heifer stood champion at her first three shows before being rested and returning to the show ring to be crowned supreme at Oban last year, then selling for 5500gns to a German breeder.

Whilst maintaining a small but quality pedigree fold of Highland cattle, for sale and showing purposes, John’s constant aim is to maintain and improve the quality of his cattle whilst also driving innovation and promotion of the breed.

Tordarroch is also working alongside the Scottish Agricultural College Consultancy in an environmental and conservation project to help educate the next generation about farming and the environment.

“I believe the future of agriculture lies within education, especially in this day and age when issues like veganism and global warming are becoming a problem,” said John.

Commenting on the issue of Brexit, John concluded: “This is only the beginning of the matter and I can understand why farmers are worried about the future. However, leaving the EU will be an exciting challenge in my view and Tordarroch is ready and able for it.”

Business relies on 13 breeding females and one stock bull.

Two full time stockmen – Bryon MacNaughton and Sarah Noble.

Farming 45 acres of moorland and pasture for cattle at Tordarroch, as well as an additional 40 acres at Easter Blackpark and 20 acres of rented ground for hay and silage production.

Heifers calved at three-years of age.

Diversification in holiday cottages.

Constant improvement policy of all land and property.

1. Biggest achievement – Championship wins with first bull, Dalriada of Ballyheather and UK fold championship.

2. Best advice – Ask lots of questions and listen intently – you learn something new every day!

3. Worst mistake – Impulse buying something that hasn’t been previously used or proven.

4. Favourite restaurant – Rocpool in Inverness or Kitchin Restaurant in Edinburgh.

5. Favourite hobby – Sailing around the West Coast.