Buck Palmer had lived around Angus cattle for 30 years before realising he could “cuddle a bull”.
- The highland breed of cattle originally comes from the rugged, remote Scottish Highlands
- In this country, they are the oldest registered breed of cattle, the first herd dating back to 1885 (Australian highland cattle)
- Today they are popular on hobby farms and across the nation’s beef industry
“A lot of old school guys would go, ‘You can’t do that. You’ve gotta watch your back’ type of thing,” Buck said.
“[But] the nature of the Scottish highland cattle is very quiet, what I’ve found anyway.”
Buck bought his first Highlands a year ago, after stumbling on the “cool and placid-looking” breed on Facebook.
He drove with his daughter to a farm near Warrnambool where they picked up Coconut, Thelma, Tilly, Manny and her calf, Neddie.
More than just some novelty pets to add to his chooks and goats, Buck said the highlands had added something special to his family.
Part of the family
Buck has lived on his parents’ 121-hectare (300-acre) cattle farm at Gorae, in Victoria’s south-west, since he was 16 years old.
While he could have managed his fabrication business in Portland, a 15-minute drive from the farm, the 45-year-old stayed in Gorae.
“I built my home on the farm because I wanted to bring my girls up in the country life,” Buck said.
Now his daughters have left home, he’s enjoying watching his two-year-old granddaughter, Mia, take to the farm — and to the Scottish highlands, of which she is a big fan.
“If you said, ‘Go and kiss Coconut on the nose’, she’d do it.”
Unlike the Angus Buck grew up with, the highlands are pets, live by the house and receive daily love and affection.
“I didn’t buy them to make money off them, or anything like that. I got them to add to our animal collection,” Buck said.
Buck has always been around animals. Before cattle farming, his father was a professional shark fisherman before going into professional deer-hunting.
But it was not until the highlands that Buck’s appreciation of cows — and the relationship you could have with them — was realised.
“Across the board with cattle, the more you go and see them through the day, the quieter that cow’s going to get,” Buck said.
“We’ve hand-reared plenty of calves over the years [but], in the cattle industry … you really don’t have that connection any more once you’ve finished a feeding cycle with them.
Highs and lows
Buck intends to breed the cows and sell the bulls to others who are doing a similar thing as him — hobby farmers and the like.
The first highland calf he bred on the farm — to Betsy and Coconut — unfortunately did not live long.
“There was something obviously wrong with her and poor little Winnie died about a week after, which I was devastated about,” he said.
Fortunately, little Taco came along not long after.
Buck has partnered his bull and two heifers with some highlands from a nearby farm.
“Hopefully, touch wood, that in February some time we’ll be able to have three mums give birth,” Buck said.
Buck said he was “no expert” in highlands, so had turned to online forums to learn more about the breed.
Unlike other cattle, Scottish highlands cannot have their horns removed or cut back.
“They’re the only breed of cattle in the world that has a bloodline going to the tip of the horn and then back,” Buck said.
Initially, he had concerns about the shaggy cows in the heat, but later found out that they shed their winter coat in the warmer months.
Great place to grow up
It makes Buck happy thinking of the memories that Mia is getting on the farm.
“It’s an advantage for her to be able to grow up around animals and to get in the tractor and help me feed and all that kind of stuff,” Buck said.
“Unfortunately, not every child gets to do that.”
Buck is talking to a school in Portland about bringing a busload of children living with disability out to the farm in summer.
“Their eyes will just light up to see a big cow walk up to them with a great set of handlebars hanging off their head.”