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A hairy situation

Published 7:13am Monday, September 24, 2012

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Highland cattle show attracts farmers to Austin

Something was hairy at the Mower County fairgrounds Saturday.

To some, it may have looked like just another cattle show, but the sound from a lone bagpiper filled the arena before the first two shaggy cattle were led inside.

About a dozen families — most from the Midwest — gathered at the Mower County Fairgrounds for the North Central Highland Cattle show this weekend, and the exhibitors had nothing but good things to say about the breed.

“They work well for small farms,” said Jamie Schulz. Jamie and her husband, Mark, own Flatland Farm near Elkton and helped organize the show.

Highlands are a heritage breed largely used the same way they were in their native Scotland.

Jamie and Mark have raised and shown Highlands for about seven years, and Jamie said they liked that the breed can live off grass.

“We wanted to raise our own beef, and we wanted something that was hardy and easy to handle,” Jamie said.

Because they have two layers of thick, shaggy hair, Highlands need little back fat for warmth, so the breed is known for its lean beef, according to Ben Schmidtke.

“You don’t have to pump a lot of grain into them,” he said. “We don’t feed any grain to ours. You get a very fine quality beef on grass.”

Ben and his wife, Mary, brought seven of their 50 Highland cattle from Platteville, Wis. The family has been raising Highlands for about 12 years and showing for about eight.

“They’re extremely docile; they have excellent maternal instincts,” Ben said.

Highland calves are fairly small at around 55 to 60 pounds, so Ben said there are typically few problems with birthing. The calves are also born with a full coat of hair, so they’re insulated if born in winter.

“They’re a very low-maintenance animal; you don’t have to worry about them running through your fences, and frankly, they’re cool.” Ben said.

Highlands may look a hair on the small side because of their short stature, but bulls can grow to more than 1,800 pounds.

“They’re vertically challenged,” Jamie said.

Highland cattle are, however, slow to mature, taking about three years to be ready for beef consumption, while angus and other breeds take only 18 months.

Highlands may not be a very well known breed, but exhibitors hope shows like this weekend’s can help spread the word.

“We’re trying to get the word out,” Ben said.

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