BALANCING full-time and part-time jobs alongside your farming enterprise is never easy, but with good stockmanship and relying upon the hardiness and strong maternal instincts of the Highland cattle breed, Stephen and Rosie Hunter, and their daughter, Laura (18), are doing a pretty good job.

And, while many consider Highland cattle as a hobby breed, the Hunters can, in fact, prove that they not only have a pedigree worth, but a strong commercial value too.

"People need to get away from thinking that Highland cattle breed are cuddly pets – they're here to make money, just like any other breed," said Stephen, who was a lorry driver with Davidson Animal Feeds for 20 years and has now been the company's transport manager for the past seven years. He is also a past chairman and council member of the West of Scotland Highland Cattle Club.

"I look at the Highland bullocks we buy in for finishing as pounds per kilo and I see them as walking money. Although they maybe don't fully match up to other commercial counterparts, Highland cattle certainly have the ability to be stack up commercially."

Backing up those statements, Rosie, who works part-time with TSB Bank, said: "A lot of people think that the commercial side in cattle is a by-product but it in actual fact, it should be seen as a basis. You need to breed commercially to make it worthwhile, as for some, the pedigree sales can only be a bonus."

The Hunters fold, which is run from the 60-acre Barnhill unit, at Allanton, near Shotts, was founded in the year 2000 when six heifers were purchased from Richard Bennie's Bencreuch fold, at Denny. Two of those, along with another six 18-month-old heifers which were bought the following year, were beefed and sold direct to Chapmans at Shotts, achieving prices between £700 and £800.

A further two cows were then bought from the Earn fold, along with a stock bull to put the two cows and original heifers in calve to and get the fold up to where it is today. It now numbers 12 breeding cows.

"Originally, we used to be all sheep but found we needed something to eat up the extra silage we always had. When we bought our first Highlanders we still had 150 ewes at the time, but then the year after foot-and-mouth we got the chance to sell the sheep. By 2008, all the ewes were away.

"Highlanders are so easy managed and their mothering nature is second to none. We are very strict on temperament, though and all ours cows can be halter led, which is a big advantage at calving time if there are calves struggling to sook.

"You could just about get away with two types of Highlanders. There's the smaller cow that can survive out on the hill and the bigger one which can produce good, growthy calves for finishing," said Stephen, adding that their cows survive on silage, along with a mineral lick which is changed to a pre-calver lick on the run up to calving.

The Hunters have also focused strongly on finishing all home-bred bullock calves, bottom-end heifer calves and bullock calves which are bought in from the West Coast straight off the hill at six-months-old. Home-bred male calves, which are all born in the spring, are weaned off their mothers at the end of October and brought inside to be dehorned and cut. They thrive on ad lib silage, 2kg per head per day of Davidsons Beef Bloom and then finish off grass the following year at 29-30-months-old – likewise with the calves that are bought in.

Although the stock for finishing are housed inside, they can only access their feed outside.

All backs, bellies and hips are clipped to avoid sweating when the calves come in for the winter and receive Trodax for fluke and Dectomax pour on.

"When it comes to marketing the Highlander, we can be restricted due to their horns and hair. Breeders need to realise by taking off the horns, the Highlander is then recognised and treated the same as any other breed and you'll no doubt receive similar margins," commented Stephen.

Sold direct to Scotbeef, having originally sold their own beef in freezer packs off the farm, the Hunters have seen a significant increase in their margins since working this system.

"You can easily finish these animals at 30-months-old and they don't need a big ration," commented Stephen.

"I don't deny that the flavour may be better in a Highlander that is four-years-old, but the harsh reality at this age is, you get them away at good value.

"In the past, we have bought in 18-month-old Highland bullocks at £552 and then sold them at 30-months-old for £1060. How can you argue the case for further keep when you almost double the price of an animal in just one year with very little input costs?"

Rosie added: "Highland cattle are good converters. They can easily put on a bit of weight, whereas with some continental breeds you've to pile the feed into them to get the weight on."

Aiming to hit 300kg deadweight, last year's progeny sold to Scotbeef included 17 bullocks which averaged 286kg and £1047, with the heaviest at 314kg and all achieving R4L and R4H grades. The three heifers averaged 257kg in weight and levelled at £919, with the heaviest weighing 268kg.

In an experiment to see how the bullocks would react to hard feeding, the Hunters pumped up to 6kg a day of Davidson's finishing nut into seven bullocks. Impressively, they achieved 1.2kg daily liveweight gains and killed out at 49% deadweight.

"This year, we'll be putting some of the lesser quality females to a Simmental bull in the hope of a quicker finishing process and the chance to make a few more pennies," explained Stephen.

Top-end heifers from the fold are either retained for breeding, sold privately or at the Oban Highland cattle sale, usually in October.

"Oban is a great platform for Highland cattle but cattle have to be of a high standard to sell there. Even though there wasn't really the export market at Oban last year, it was good see a strong British market. There are certainly more people coming into the breed," Stephen said.

Although the Hunters' heifers at Oban haven't yet hit the headlines, there has been plenty success in the show ring there, having produced the heifer champion twice and reserve once. More impressively, in 2015, the Hunters team picked up 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th prize tickets in one class. All these heifers were daughters of Gregor of Grae Brae, a son of Stepdancer of Glengorm, bought privately from Douglas and Hilary Crane.

On two occasions, the fold has attracted interest from overseas, including the sale of a heifer calf to Belgium in 2014 and the bull calf, Dalmore of Hunters, which sold to breeders in Denmark. He is out of the show cow, Capleadh Proiseag 3 of Broomrigg, an eight-year-old cow bought from Dougie Fountain's Broomrigg fold at Dumfries. This year, she scooped two champion and two reserve tickets.

"Showing is such a great advert for your fold. It's our shop window," said Rosie, who along with Stephen and Laura (who studies hospitality management and works part-time at Hugh Black and Sons butchers) compete at nine shows each year, kicking the season off at Neilston in the first week of May and finishing up at the West of Scotland Highland Club's show, in August.

"After picking up two seconds, two thirds, best group of three and reserve junior male at the Highland in 2014, we sold six cattle from home and they weren't even at the show. It just goes to show what a bit of showing can do," Rosie added.

The Hunters have also found Facebook a great advert when it comes to promoting the breed and has even managed a bit of online shopping on the social network when they purchased the bull calf, Jura of Thaggnam from Alan Garton in October, 2016. By Kyle of Earn, Jura was bought at just seven months of age and has been bulled to three of heifers.

Unfortunately, due to work commitments and the time of year, the Hunters fold does not have entries forward for the upcoming sale at Oban but will certainly be in attendance. After all, the Highland Cattle Society is one of the most sociable societies out there!