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SCBAShetland Cattle Breeders Association

Shetland Cattle in Commercial Beef Farming

For your Multi-suckling or Crossbreeding Herd

Commercial Shetland crosses Photo © Steve Richards
The Shetland is an excellent and attractive multi-purpose cow suitable for a variety of farming situations. While it was the mainstay of a lifestyle on the Islands that is now past, its versatility is proving it has a future in modern farming, not least of all through its strengths as a cross-breeding cow. There is some debate about the wisdom of cross-breeding a rare breed whose numbers are low, but increasing numbers of farmers are proving that it will help secure the breed because demand will increase as their usefulness
Simmental cross Simmental X calf weighing 40 kg at birth, born to a 350 kg dam. Photo taken at 5 months old. Weight at 7 months – 300 kg. Photo © John & Linda McCaig
becomes more widely demonstrated and better known. It is no secret to the breeders on Shetland. They know full well the capacity of the cow to produce excellent cross-bred calves to both native and continental bulls such as Hereford, Aberdeen Angus, Simmental, Limousin, Charolais, Salers, Blonde d'Aquitaine and British Blue. An increasing number of mainland breeders are also now cross-breeding, both to produce saleable calves and to impart hardiness, thriftiness and easy calving to cross-bred heifers to be used as breeding stock. And they thrive in a multi suckling herd. A farmer in the Midlands who has used terminal sires including Limousin, Charollais & Simmental on Shetland cows told us they always breed pure from maiden heifers to preserve the easy calving ability which is then maintained when a large continental bull is used. They find that they calve more easily because they are low birth weight calves (approx 40kg) with lots of energy. High growth weights are recorded whether pure or crossbred. With the crossbred calves there is more profitability and a bigger
Commercial Shetland crosses Commercial cross-bred Shetlands Photo © Steve Richards
margin per calf due to the lower costs to produce and keep the Shetland cow. They also make the point that a lot of suckler cows' udders are nowhere near as tidy as the Shetland's. A crofter who used a Charollais bull in 2011 on his mixed herd reported how much more quickly the calves from his Shetland cross cows got up and got going. Others comment on the small amount they eat in comparison with commercial cattle. One breeder in Shetland has just wintered his two year old heifers outside on rough grass with nothing additional except glucose tubs. Others note the quick and easy births and lively, fast-growing calves. An accidental Salers cross bullock, born to a small Shetland heifer, topped the sale at Stirling Mart. Others talk of the cross-bred calves that weigh as much as their mothers by eight or nine months of age. On a Scottish severely disadvantaged farm, impressive daily liveweight gains are being recorded. Simmental cross calves out of Shetland cows achieve average gains of 1.42 kg/day for males and 1.3 kg/day for females. 200 day weights are 324 kg for males and 290 kg for females, all from grazing rough pasture with no creep feeding. This demonstrates the Shetland's outstanding foraging ability and conversion efficiency. A typical cow, weighing only 450 kg, and therefore with a food consumption far lower than most suckler breeds, is producing a calf that is 65-70% of its own weight at 200 days from sub-optimal forage.

The secret is out — use Shetlands on your farm