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28 Apr 2020

Meet the Culloden cows

Written by Raoul Curtis-Machin, Operations Manager at Culloden
Two Highland cows, with thick shaggy coats, graze in a fenced-off paddock at Culloden.
Highland cows at Culloden
This last month has been amongst the toughest of my professional career. It’s been weird to shut down the visitor centre, just when we were getting all fired up for another busy season.

The current COVID-19 situation is posing challenges to how we manage the site at Culloden, but we’re working together to meet these challenges. For example, Rosie, one of our Highland ponies, had an emergency operation recently and we’ve adapted her stable and paddock so she gets the rest she needs and can be safely looked after.

For those of you who’ve not had the pleasure of meeting our livestock friends, and for those of you who know them well, here’s a wee update on some of them.

Our Highland cows

A National Trust for Scotland staff member stands in a fenced-off paddock with two grazing Highland cows. Culloden Visitor Centre can be seen in the background. It is a lovely sunny day.
Raoul getting to know Primrose and Mungo

Primrose McKechie II is the youngster of the group and the most curious. Her horns are flatter than the others, which reflects the ancient breeding line. There’s definitely an air of royalty about her!

Stoical and determined, Mungo is a strong calming presence in the field. Don’t be deceived though, because she’s light on her feet and quick when she needs to get to the feed first!

Mungo and Primrose McKechie II are doing well and enjoyed what was mostly a mild winter in the Scottish Highlands. Back in November, we had an icy blast that turned Primrose into an international rock star cow, when a picture of her in the snow went viral and was covered in the Scottish press. The current wildflower pasture is very nutritious for them and they’ve quickly made Culloden their home.

A Highland cow faces the camera, standing in a snowy field. Her coat is covered in a layer of snow.
Primrose McKechie II in snow, November 2019

With spring in the air, it’s time to move them to new pasture, but this is easier said than done. No matter how much we tried last week, we could not persuade them out of their field. Just when I thought I had Primrose cornered, she gave me the slip and shot past!

A Highland cow runs past a man in a field.
Primrose on the move!

Very sadly, our third Highland cow, Rick Ross, died this year. The vet believes that she was poisoned, but we could not identify it without a full autopsy. The field was checked for poisonous plants like ragwort, so we’re confident that this wasn’t the cause. Dog faeces can make cows ill or she may have been fed something inappropriate by visitors – we’ve improved our signs to tell visitors not to feed the cows and to keep their dogs on a lead in this area.

Our Shetland cattle

A close-up of a black Shetland cow, with another seen in the background. It has a yellow tag in one ear, and short sharp horns. It looks directly at the camera.
A close-up of one of our Shetland cows

With her striking brown and white hide, Mairi is a strong mother, with a very calm presence about her. She’s the champion tree eater of the battlefield, helping us keep the scrub under control.

A bit of a daydreamer, the young Delfina is the most laid-back cow of the lot. She’s happy to chew on the birch leaves all day long, without any concern for anybody or anything.

From impeccable breeding stock, our young bull will be in demand amongst Shetland cow breeders. Alexander is already showing strong, determined character.

A Shetland cow eats a large shrub in a field of long grass.
One of our Shetlands doing what they do best!

We’re really thrilled with these fabulous animals! And we want to say a massive thank you to the National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA for their ongoing funding support, as well as the fantastic names they give our animals. Our grazers are doing exactly what we want them to: eating the birch, willow and rowan scrub and helping keep the battlefield look like it should. This means that we can control the vegetation growth whilst keeping the use of machinery and chemicals to a minimum. Mairi, Antonia, Alexander, Gwendolyn and Delfina have been joined by another four Shetland cows (names please!) to form the key frontline bovine grazing unit. The human visitors to the battlefield love to hear about this ancient breed of cattle and about the fantastic conservation grazing job they do.

Our goats

Three goats stand together on the battlefield, in an area with tall scrub and small trees. Two are grey and one is black.
Some of our goats at Culloden

There’s excitement brewing in the Culloden goat herd because the gang will be on the move soon. Their job is done in their current location, clearing the scrub in the middle of the battlefield, and we now need them to head out west, and get control of the area beyond the Jacobite line. The scrub here is reaching small tree height and our crack troop of goats is needed! We hope to receive more goats this autumn, if the virus allows.

Our Highland ponies

Glen and Rosie are two lovely old traditional Highland ponies which came to Culloden from Mar Lodge Estate several years ago. They’ve been quietly grazing in the field beyond the car park up until now, but we’re starting to train them to walk with visitors on the battlefield. This will hopefully be a new initiative at Culloden, offering visitors the chance to experience the joy of walking with horses, whilst learning about the role horses played in the battle as well as the role of the ancient Highland pony breed in Highland culture. Rosie recently had a bad case of dehydration and colic, and had to have an operation at the Royal (Dick) Veterinary Hospital in Edinburgh. We managed to get her back up the road to the battlefield, and she’s now recovering in the newly adapted stables we have made for her.

A man builds a fence in a stable area. He is hammering a wooden plank to a wooden post. A large trailer is parked behind him. He wears shorts and a t-shirt, and the sky is bright blue in the background.
Building a restricted paddock for Rosie to convalesce in after her operation

Barring one tragedy, the animals are doing really well. We really appreciate all the help members and donors have given us to build up our Culloden livestock herds. On behalf of everyone here at Culloden, thank you so much to everyone who has supported this project.

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