By Jacqueline Pettigrew

Highland cattle breeders from all over the Europe will shortly descend on Oban for the annual February Highland cattle sale and exhibitors the length and breadth of the UK are excitedly getting their cattle prepared.

None more so than at Cladich – a fold which enjoyed a great October sale and where stockman, Stuart Campbell, is busy preparing two young bulls for the February sale.

Owners of the fold are Jon and Queenie Strickland, who farm the 1500-acre estate on the shores of Loch Awe, near Dalmally. The couple, when chartered accountants based in Edinburgh, purchased the land in 2001 from the late David Fellowes, and then went on to acquire the Cladich fold of Highland cattle, one of the oldest in the herd book, dating back to 1882.

Having always been in awe of these majestic creatures as a child, it was Queenie who wanted to buy a hill farm and a few Highlanders – and the remote farm at Cladich could not be more different from the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh, from where the couple still commute.

Five Cladich cows, plus followers, became the foundation of Jon and Queenie’s fold and after that more females were purchased privately, being predominantly selected for their Cladich bloodlines.

From those early beginnings the fold has continued to develop and go from strength to strength and stocksman, Stuart Campbell joined the couple in 2011 following the departure of previous stocksman, Tom Sample.

Stuart is no stranger to Highland cattle, or the Argyll area. His father, David, managed the Keilbeg fold of Highland cattle, near Tayvallich, when Stuart was growing up and Stuart then went on to work at Ormsary Estate under the watchful eye of Archie McArthur, a former breed president and an astute judge of both pedigree Highlanders and commercial cattle.

“When I arrived at Cladich, there were 25 breeding stock and now we have 40 head,” explained Stuart. “Queenie and I like the same type of cattle. We prefer sweet, feminine heads, well suited for our European customers in Germany, Finland, France, Denmark, Austria and Luxembourg. Her passion and enthusiasm for the breed makes my job a pleasure.”

Queenie’s favourite animals are out of the Frangag and Lady Jane bloodlines. Frangag Donn and Frangag Ruadh were junior champions at the Great Yorkshire Show, while Frangag Dubh and Lady Jane’s progeny have sold well in Oban.

In 2016, two-year-old bull, Campbell of Tilbouries, was purchased in Oban for 9000gns. Stuart said: “He is a more modern type of bull, with size and power which we knew would suit our cows. He is also very good on his legs, with great locomotion, which is essential to get about the hill, and his pedigree goes back to some great Leys and Millerston lines.

“The West Coast cattle are not known for their size and we have always liked more compact and deeper bodies, but with the modern perception of ‘big is best’ we have had to breed bigger and rangier animals, having concentrated previously on other traits.”

The Tilbouries bull has been quick to leave his mark, with his first crop of calves selling in Oban for 3000gns and 1500gns, with an all-round great average.

More recently, in Oban in October, 2018, a Campbell daughter, Sonasag 2 of Cladich, sold for 4000gns, a breed record, matching the previous record set in 1994 for an Auchnacraig heifer.

“Queenie is a great believer in supporting the society and buys and sells through the society sales in Oban when possible and that’s something I admire and agree with,” added Stuart.

“We have some very loyal customers who come back year after year to buy our Highland females. Some go on to cross with other breeds, but all thrive when they go from our hills onto better ground.”

The bullock calves also sell well. “We sell the bullock calves privately to Skipton at the beginning of November each year for around 180p per kg. However, we want to be calving between January and March to allow us to concentrate on lambing in April and May,” Stuart explained, as he is also tasked with caring for the 350 hill ewes that run at Cladich.

Of those, 200 are pure hill Cheviots, while 150 are cast Cheviots, put to the Bluefaced Leicester to produce Cheviot Mule lambs, which Stuart pointed out are highly saleable. “The Cheviot suits our ground here and our Mule lambs sell well through Dalmally.”

The fold has two bulls entered for the forthcoming society sale, both sired by Campbell of Tillbouries. Monadh Mor 2 of Cladich is a February, 2017-born bull, out of Molly 37 of Cladich, a daughter of Eoin Mhor 2 of Torloisk, while the second, Ben Mor of Cladich, is March-born and out of Furan Magaidh 5 of Glengorm, a daughter of Scott of Muingairigh.

“Both bulls have been semen tested and the results are excellent,” said Stuart. “We enjoy welcoming breeders to Cladich where they will see the cattle in their natural environment.” And there's no doubting the fact that the Cladich fold calls its home one of the most scenic areas of Scotland, with views out over Loch Awe.

Stuart despaired at the recent talk and possibility of the society sale moving to Stirling. “It doesn’t bear thinking about,” he said. “Oban is a unique and a special place for the breed. Stirling may provide easier transport links, but Oban is more accessible to breeders, both selling and buying, including many who come from the islands.

"Also, for buyers, exhibitors and society members coming to Oban, it is the one of the social highlights of the year. Oban is the home of Highland cattle sales – it has a huge history there – and it should remain that way.”

As for what the future holds at Cladich, Stuart is optimistic: “I believe the future for the Highland cattle breed is very bright. Here at Cladich, we want to maintain quality genuine hill cattle that breed the type of cattle we like and that keep our buyers coming back”.

“I often look at other breeds and crosses and many of our heifer customers do incredibly well by crossing them to a Simmental and shorthorn but for us we can’t see past the pure Highland cow.

"We have a great range of customers – from the smallholder, to the commercial farmer and right through to the export market for a genuine hill cow – and we are delighted to be able to keep producing those.


Sizeable entry for sale

The 128th Oban spring show and sale has attracted a total entry of 125 pedigree animals from all parts of the UK, and a total of 57 bulls, 48 heifers and seven steers plus the 13 draft heifers will be on offer on sale day, Monday, February 11.

“A feature of this year’s female section will be a draft consignment of 13 in-calf heifers from Iain and Sheena Graham’s well known Killochries fold,” said breed president, Gordon McConachie.

“They will go through the ring at the end of the sale in the un-haltered section and will give not only pedigree breeders an opportunity for some new genetics but should also attract breeders who focus on the production of highly popular cross Highland heifers.”

Judging on Sunday, February 10, will be in the capable hands of Fife’s Alun Haydn Garton.