Photo © Kate Sankey
- Extremely hardy, having been bred to
cope with the often harsh, wet and windy
"They are extraordinarily hardy, the weaklings having died out long ago". — 1912 Herd Bookconditions and impoverished terrain of the Shetland Islands. Historically, during Shetland winters cattle often had to endure what has been called "controlled malnutrition". While such husbandry is (thankfully) a thing of the past, the resilience acquired lives on
- Self-sufficient, they readily out-winter.
Protein blocks stimulate rumen activity — Mike Sandison, Essex Wildlife TrustThey thrive on poor grazing, are good browsers and do not need expensive concentrates. If out-wintered on low protein forage then, like other traditional breeds, they will benefit from access to protein blocks.
- Long lived. Shetlands will continue to breed into their mid-teens, or even twenties in some cases.
- Small to medium size, ranging around 350-500kg
- Calm and easy to handle, they do not require special handling equipment like Highlanders. They can be trained to come to the bucket if required (they were the original house cow of the Shetland crofter).
- Dual purpose breed. Animals not required for breeding are readily marketable, as they produce excellent beef. They are eligible for the Traditional Breeds Meat Marketing Scheme where they command a substantial price premium, and are eagerly sought by TBMMS finishing units. The cows also provide a good quantity of very rich milk, both for their calves and for milking if required.
- High fertility and easy calving. Shetlands have very wide pelvises,
Shetlands are second only to the Jersey in pelvis widthwhich makes for extremely easy calving when bred pure. It also makes them very well suited for cross-breeding with even the largest of continental breeds to produce larger calves. They are excellent and attentive mothers but rarely show aggression to their owners even with new born calves, making them ideal suckler cows.
- One of the faster finishing native breeds, typically ready for slaughter well within 30 months off grass – an excellent economic benefit.
- Aesthetically attractive with black and white or red and white markings and "Viking style" short horns. They are not an aggressive breed: their small size making them non-threatening and the bulls are docile in company with cows. Their rarity and heritage make them a breed in which people are interested.
Photo © Andrew Walter