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Great Scots

Scottish Highland cattle accent Lake City-area acreage

By Darcy Dougherty Maulsby - Farm News staff writer | May 11, 2021



It all started so simply. When Stephanie Wisdom saw a photo online of a person holding a Scottish Highland calf, she showed the picture to her boyfriend, Jonathan Wetter.

“That calf was so cute,” Wisdom said. “It was easy to see why that photo went viral.”

Before long, Wisdom and Wetter began purchasing their own Scottish Highland cattle. They had plenty of room for this heritage breed, since they’d bought an acreage in October 2020 with 20+ acres of land south of Lake City, northwest of historic Rainbow Bridge.

They found their first Scottish Highland cow through Craigslist, a website of classified advertisements.

“We didn’t have to go far,” said Wetter, a Rockwell City native who purchased the cow from Clint Deardorff, owner of Deardorff Highland Cattle at Yale, Iowa.

Within a matter of months, Wetter and Wisdom had more than 20 Scottish Highland cattle, which are distinguished by their rugged good looks. Their thick, shaggy hair lends an exotic and almost prehistoric look to them. Even people who can’t remember a Holstein from a Hereford say, “Oh, those are the shaggy ones with the big horns, right?'” when they refer to Scottish Highland cattle.

Drivers passing by Rainbow Raccoon Ranch can’t resist slowing down to look at these photogenic bovines with their just-jumped-out-of-bed hairstyles. It’s a plus that Scottish Highland cattle are docile.

“They can be affectionate and like to be around people,” said Wisdom, who is working with Wetter to develop agri-tourism opportunities on their acreage near the Raccoon River.

The couple is remodeling a 100+-year-old cabin and plan to list it on the Airbnb lodging website. They’ve also registered on Hipcamp, an online marketplace that offers outdoor stays and camping experiences. Rainbow Raccoon Ranch has the added allure of history, thanks to its location near the former Rainbow Resort, which included a baseball diamond, horseracing and auto racing track, dance pavilion, “air dome” outdoor theater and more a century ago.

“We’re a ‘hobby business,'” said Wisdom, a Missouri native and director of animal welfare for the National Pork Board. “We want to put our own twist on agritourism and share these stories connected to agriculture, wildlife, nature and history.”

Fun facts about Scottish Highland cattle

Raising Scottish Highland cattle has been a learning experience for the couple. While both are knowledgeable about pork production (Wetter manages two wean-to-finish swine barns), they’ve enjoyed getting to know more about these beautiful bovines.

– An ancient breed, Scottish Highland cattle have withstood the test of time. They’re also one of the oldest registered breeds of cattle, dating back to the 1880s.

– One of Scottish Highland cattle’s most distinctive characteristics is their impressive set of horns. While not as long as those of Texas Longhorns, Scottish Highland cattle’s horns can reach up to 3 or 4 feet from tip to tip. Both the bulls and cows have horns.

– Scottish Highland cattle have a long history of living in close contact with humans. These animals tend to be docile and calm, do not stress easily and are easy to work with, despite their long horns.

“We’ve fallen in love with the breed and enjoy the cattle’s personalities,” Wisdom said.

– Scottish Highland cattle are a hardy breed that originated in the mountainous, cold, windy, wet region of Scotland known as the Highlands. The cattle’s distinctive long hair keeps them warm in winter and protects their eyes from flies. The fur gives Scottish Highland cattle their distinctive “wavy” appearance.

– Scottish Highland cattle’s coats come in a variety of colors, including red, black, yellow, white, brindle, silver and dun. (Dun results from a genetic link that dilutes red and black coats and can result in a variation of colors.)

– This medium-sized cattle breed is versatile enough to find a use on just about any farm. Highland cows average 900 to 1,200 pounds when mature. Bulls average 1,500 to 2,000 pounds, depending upon forage conditions.

“We’ve had a 1,700-pound bull,” Wetter said.

– Scottish Highland cattle require little in the way of shelter, feed supplements or expensive grains to achieve and maintain good condition. Wetter and Wisdom’s cattle eat grass and hay. Highland cattle are browsers that are capable of supplementing a traditional pasture and forage diet with other edible plants. They’ve even be used to help clear property of dense brush.

– Scottish Highland cattle are slow growers. It takes 24 to 30 months to get them to market weight, which is 1,000 to 1,200 pounds, Wetter said.

– Scottish Highland cattle are raised primarily for their meat, which is lower in cholesterol than other types of beef. Studies by the Scottish Agricultural College have determined that Highland beef is significantly lower in fat and cholesterol and higher in protein and iron, compared to other beef breeds.

“Highland cattle are about 38 percent leaner than a typical Angus,” Wetter added.

– A group of Scottish Highland cattle is called a “fold,” rather than a herd. The British Royal family maintains a fold of Scottish Highland Cattle at Balmoral Castle and considers them their beef animal of choice.

∫ Besides their natural hardiness, Scottish Highland cattle are a long-lived breed, staying productive later in life. Mother Scottish Highlands are known for often breeding beyond the age of 18 to 20 and raising 15 to 18 calves in their lifetime, said Wisdom, who frequently posts pictures and videos of the cattle at Rainbow Raccoon Ranch on social media, including the farm’s Facebook page.

–“https://ogden_images.s3.amazonaws.com/www.farm-news.com/images/2021/05/11201253/Scottish-Highland-cattle-Jonathan-Wetter-April-28-2021-5-667×500.jpg” alt=”” width=”667″ height=”500″ class=”alignnone size-medium wp-image-543318″ /> Scottish Highland cattle have caught the attention of the Livestock Conservancy, an organization devoted to protecting endangered livestock breeds from extinction. The good news? When the Livestock Conservancy released its 2019 Conservation Priority List, it announced that Highland cattle had officially “graduated” off this list.

While the breed has always had a small but loyal following, it’s only recently that Scottish Highlands have started achieving their greatest popularity.

“Social media has been a huge plus for the breed,” said Wisdom, a member of the Heartland Highland Cattle Association. “People think Highlands are cute, and this sparks more interest in the breed.”

Wisdom and Wetter enjoy helping people learn about Scottish Highland cattle. The couple is hosting an informal “Lazy Sunday with the Cows” on May 16 from noon to 6 p.m. at their acreage on Harris Avenue. The public is invited to meet the cows, enjoy outdoor games, kayak or fish on the Raccoon River (bring your own equipment), visit nearby Rainbow bridge and Rainbow Bend park and enjoy a bonfire that’s ready for hotdogs and s’mores. The FEED SHACK by Harley Ball & Feedshed Catering will also be on site to sell food. Find more on the Rainbow Raccoon Ranch Facebook page.

“We look forward to sharing these experiences with people of all ages who want to learn more about agriculture, livestock production, ecology and local history,” Wisdom

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