Smallholders Insurance from Greenlands

Author Topic: Embarking on a Shetland adventure!  (Read 3249 times)


  • Joined Jan 2014
  • Witton
Embarking on a Shetland adventure!
« on: March 06, 2015, 11:23:59 am »
This is the first time I've posted on the cattle forum so ‘hi all’ and really appreciate the great content on here.
Having kept pigs for meat for a few years now it has always been my goal to keep some cattle for meat.  After studying the regulations and helping out a bit with the South Devon Pedigree cattle (beautiful breed) on the farm next door I'm as ready and confident that now is the time.  I'm lucky that 30 acres of grazing land has been offered by a friend so here goes. 
I'm looking at Shetlands as all research tells me they are a great smallholders cow, a hardy breed and good for beginners!  and i love the look of them.
Right enough of that..a few questions…..if you don’t mind.
The land has 2 areas of woodland 3 acres in total.  Both areas lend themselves to sheltered areas from wind and driving rain for cattle to bed down on straw so I wouldn't need to sort out housing for them.  What are your comments?  I was thinking of keeping them out all year.
I'm looking at 4 cows to start off.  About half of the area is very good grazing which I want split up and rotate.  Electric tape should work well for this shouldn't it? 
I've read that Shetlands survived on poor grazing in harsh conditions in the Shetlands.  I have considered making my own hay but there are a number of great local suppliers of hay so I can supplement in the winter if needed.  Would anyone recommend a supplementary feed?  (apart from a mineral lick)  The farmer next door didn't think so for the breed as I'm not commercially finishing cows for slaughter its more for pleasure.
Any helpful tips appreciated.
Soon looking for some Shetlands for a happy life in Norfolk!


  • Global Moderator
  • Joined Sep 2012
  • Llandeilo Carmarthenshire
    • Nantygroes
    • Facebook
Re: Embarking on a Shetland adventure!
« Reply #1 on: March 06, 2015, 12:49:27 pm »
 :wave:  What fun

I have Shetlands out all year ... they just need to be able to shelter from the worst of the weather. (not sure why you would bother bedding on straw outdoors?).   They do like to eat bits of trees so is your wooded area mature? Mine have been having hay or barley straw since the grass vanished, and an energy bucket but nothing else (except for one who was looking rather thin) .  Chose your stock carefully ..... preferable ones which have been handled quite a bit .... and you will soon lov em!

Don't wrestle with pigs, they will love it and you will just get all muddy.

Let go of who you are and become who you are meant to be.
Nantygroes  facebook page


  • Joined Oct 2007
  • Barry, Angus, Scotland
    • The Accidental Smallholder
Re: Embarking on a Shetland adventure!
« Reply #2 on: March 06, 2015, 08:03:44 pm »
We have Shetlands too. Started in 2010 with two heifers; first calves 2012; our two originals are now due their fourth calves in May, along with one of their daughters (second calf) and another daughter calved (unexpectedly last month) plus two 2014 born heifers, a 2014 steer, a 2013 steer and a yound bull, Wharncliffe Kingmaker - so 10 in total.

I love them; we halter train the heifers and they are pretty easy to handle in their second winter (first winter they're typical teenagers  ;D ).

The beef is amazing; I planned to milk as well but haven't got organised (yet).

We inwinter the females, 1) to protect the grazing and 2) to handle and halter train them. We feed mainly barley straw and a bit of hay. The steers get barley straw. All have access to a molassed lick - the cows eat a lot, the boys almost nothing. So far (don't want to tempt fate) they have been very easy calving (see the post in Diary about our recent surprise calf) and very good mums, but not protective of their calves from me (but they aren't that keen on strangers).

Things you might want to think about. They are very rare - about 550 breeding females. The breed needs breeders with commitment to maintain and grow it; the breed was almost lost due to changes in lifestyle and increased crossbreeding. In the longterm, the future for the Shetland has to be as a low-input suckler cow producing crossbred calves for the commercial market; but there needs to be a solid base of purebred animals first. I don't want to sound all ranty and heavy - but I know of a few folk who've bought cows and not bred from them then they end up as burgers. Not good for the breed  :(

Shetland semen is available from RBST via Genus, so AI is an option. Because the breed is so numerically small, inbreeding can be a problem. In selecting a bull / bulls, I'd advise you to consult with the breed society, Shetland Cattle Breeders Association - as a member (£16 a year) you get access to a database that allows you to do projected matings so you can see if the bull and cow are closely related. The Association will help with advice and interpretation. If you want to buy a bull, same advice applies. We bought a bull from Derbyshire this because he has different bloodlines to ours and our bull calf is going to South Wales in October at weaning for the same reason.

SCBA also has a Marketplace with cattle for sale. You have plenty room for four cattle plus many more. As Backinwellies says, make sure they are well handled and be clear about what you need, given your handling facilities. Frankly, I wouldn't want to halter train an adult cow  :innocent:

Also worth thinking about what you're going to do with the beef - our steer was 330kg dw last year  :)

They won't need straw outside so long as there's dry areas to lie on. Never tried electic fence except as a top wire in a stock fence - they are pretty respectful of that after a few blasts. Shetlands do survive in harsh conditions but many crofters on the islands inwinter them, traditionally chained up.

I use sugarbeet as a bribe for haltertraining, loading etc.

Outwintering is fine but you need to think about how you're going to handle the stock, especially the youngsters. I couldn't catch our 7 month old heifers to halter them if they weren't inside.

I love the Shetlands - see the diary posts as proof - you won't go far wrong with them and you'll be helping to save a wonderful breed :thumbsup:


  • Joined Jun 2012
Re: Embarking on a Shetland adventure!
« Reply #3 on: March 06, 2015, 08:21:24 pm »
Hi from windy Moray...

We've kept Shetland since 2008 - lovely beasts and great beef.We have 22 at current count - they have access to a shed in the winter - they get to pick & choose when to go indoors. Tonight for example, they're staying outside - they don't mind the wind if it's not raining.

We don't give ours any extra feed - they eat grass in summer & our own hay in the winter. Up here, we have to feed hay for nearly 6 months and an adult Shetland will eat between 4-5 large round bales each winter.

They get mineral licks at certain times of the year.

Steers for meat  put down a nice marbling of fat on this diet - if you gave them supplements they would produce a very fatty carcase.

The cows shouldn't get too fat when they're in calf - as it can make for large calves and difficult deliveries. Again, our cows do on the grass here. They'll also eat rushes, birch and the universal bribe - carrots.

If you want to see some Shetlands, best to contact the Shetland Cattle Breeders Assoc - they have a nice website (small flag wave for OH there...) and you can see if there are any for sale locally.


oor wullie

  • Joined Jun 2012
  • Strathnairn
Re: Embarking on a Shetland adventure!
« Reply #4 on: March 07, 2015, 01:37:39 am »
We have 3 Shetland cows although this is our first year with them so we are still finding our feet.

Ours are outdoors and we are in a pretty exposed area (300m up a north facing mountainside in the highlands) so this year they have had to deal with quite a lot of snow and wind.  They have a field shelter so that I can give them an area with dry straw to lie in although we have a bit of trouble with poaching (read mud-bath) in-front of the shelter.  Without this I think that some of the really wet and windy nights would be quite miserable.
Their favourite spot does seem to be standing under a tree (even when it is not windy/snowing), despite the absence of trees in their natural habitat, I suspect they quite like woods.

Ours are fenced in with a temporary electric wire.  When one of our cows first arrived she was in a bit of a bad mood after the journey and ran straight through it but since then the fencing has worked perfectly.  Even through the last couple of months where the fence has probably not been working for weeks at a time (mostly due to snow shorting it our) they have never crossed it.  I wouldn't like to trust an electric wire to separate cows from calves or bulls or to keep hungry cows away from your hay store though.

Ours get hay, mineral licks and the occasional nuts (to encourage them to be friendly).  I think that next year I will give them a combination of hay and straw as 2 of them are a bit fat.


  • Joined Oct 2010
Re: Embarking on a Shetland adventure!
« Reply #5 on: March 08, 2015, 11:51:37 am »
 Sounds ideal.
 We have highland cattle which also are quite happy living outside all year and they particularly appreciate woodland for shelter and security. (They like to hide there to chill out.)
 Strawing down stops the ground getting muddy and churned up and also gives them somewhere dry to lie down. Just because animals are outside shouldn't stop them having a  dry bed. As soon as you put fresh straw down you'll find they all go and lie on it. Also, strawing the woodland area will encourage them to go there, and so cut down so some extent the amount by which your grassland gets poached. 
 Electric fencing will keep them where you want them; BUT you must make sure it is kept on at all times. So many people (especially those with horses!) seem to  think that once an animal has experienced a shock they won't go near the fence again. But if you leave it off then they will soon discover that it won't always shock them and that they can safely ignore it. You are therefore teaching them not   to respect the fence. There is, on the internet, some graphic pictures of animals who have walked straight through fencing that was left up, but switched off. They ended up with tape or wire wrapped round their legs and in their struggles to get free the fencing had sawed down to the bone.         
Rules are made:
  for the guidance of wise men
  and the obedience of fools.


Forum sponsors

FibreHut Energy Helpline Thomson & Morgan Time for Paws Scottish Smallholder & Grower Festival Ark Farm Livestock Movement Service

© The Accidental Smallholder Ltd 2003-2023. All rights reserved.

Design by Furness Internet

Site developed by Champion IS