Charlotte Campbell loves her friendly and photogenic ‘sexy Scottish beasts
It may not be a 100 per cent PC statement, but still fair to call Charlotte Campbell’s Scottish Highland Cattle ‘sexy beasts.
Charlotte Campbell loves her friendly and photogenic ‘sexy Scottish beasts’
It may not be a 100 per cent PC statement, but still fair to call Charlotte Campbell’s Scottish Highland Cattle ‘sexy beasts.’
“They are, they are absolutely,” laughed the Norwich-area farmer. “If any animal is sexy, these are the ones - sexy and cute.
“Sexy goes for a look,” she continued, “but it also goes for personality, and they have a personality, I’ll tell you.”
Campbell is new to both the country and agriculture, but comes by her affinity for things Scottish honestly, both in ancestry and three teenaged years in Glasgow before a return to Pickering. Her eventual transition to rural Ontario was foreshadowed on her first date with now-husband Mike Rattan, a heavy equipment mechanic who grew up riding circuit horses to one level below the Olympics, confessing his dream of working land and owning livestock.
“And you can’t do that in Pickering.”
Laughing, Campbell says that should have been a warning about date number two, which ultimately led to marriage, two-year-old daughter Nova and the classic mixture of full-time employment (commercial insurance broker with McFarlan-Rowlands in Norwich) and a lot of part-time farming.
“I’m glad I did,” she smiled.
The Highland cattle were in effect part of Rattan’s incentive program to convince Campbell to leave her comfortable ‘concrete home’ for the country’s unfamiliar darkness, quiet and critters.
“You should have seen me trying to take the garbage out at first,” she laughed. “I was afraid something was going to get me.”
Work took Rattan to the Norwich area, an extended two-year consideration of a 14-acre property two miles north of the community and finally, an opportunity they felt was too good to pass up on a property admittedly needing “a lot of love.”
Scottish frugality and a work ethic are evidenced in a new coat of paint on the property’s 121-year-old barn, a chicken coop for their 26 laying hens Campbell constructed out of repurposed skids, and neatly-fenced pastures, corral and loading chutes where overgrown and untended fencerows previously existed. She had originally intended to populate them with sheep, however her time in Scotland had also engendered a love for a breed emblematic of the highlands.
“I just think they are adorable.”
A family photo op with Scottish Highland Cattle at the James Family Farm refreshed her memory and passion for the breed, which she communicated to her husband. Overhearing, Dallas James turned to her and said, “They’re for sale.”
The purchase of the James ‘fold’ (a group of Highlands are the only breed referred to as a ‘fold’, not herd) was completed in January, 2020, delivery following in May of that year.
Native to both Scotland and Scandinavia, Scottish Highland Cattle are the oldest registered breed says Campbell, and a particular favourite of Queen Elizabeth II, whose fold contains some of the most highly sought-after genetics in the world. Their most distinctive features are their horns, straight out in males, curved for the females, unique to each in terms of colour and profile; and secondly, shaggy outer coats. Darker historically, Campbell’s fold ranges through Marlie’s darker profile (so named after Bob Marley for colour and effective dreadlocks) through Thistle’s rich ginger, to Isla’s blond. Passers-by along Oxford Road 59 have expressed concern about the fold during winter weather, which the breed is penultimately able to withstand. Her Highlands turn into the wind in order to mat their hair for an enhanced level of protection, an undercoat proofing their skin against water. They will additionally choose to lay in drifts says Campbell, she believes compressing the snow for additional insulating effect. They do have summer and winter coats, scratching the latter off as spring approaches, however hot, humid 30-degree-plus days are more of a challenge, leading to lazy days in wooded areas on the north side of the pasture.
“They won’t get up.”
She has also received comments on her cattle’s ‘bangs’ and erroneous concerns about impaired vision. She does not trim the ‘bangs’ because, “A, it’s adorable, and B, it’s a style - it’d be like a Dalmatian without spots.”
More seriously, Campbell added eons of evolution have made the cattle’s eyes sensitive to the sun, the hair providing valuable protection against excess rays.
Their young bull James’ birth weight was 65 pounds, eight months later he checks in at around 400 while Isla is estimated to tip the scales at roughly 1,200. “I think Scottish Highland Cattle, like a true Scotsman, they get to a certain height and just go out.”
They calve naturally in September, are great mothers and typically calve easily.
“Like I said, they’re wide - not narrow like a Holstein,” Campbell smiled.
Another endearing trait she has noticed is a different tone of bawling which follows birth for several hours, described by a breed expert as the process of getting to know each other’s ‘voice’ should mother and calf become separated. Eight-month-olds James and Thistle have expanded the original four-member fold, a process intended to be continued through the guest presence of young bull Tamarin McArthur McHaggerty, “The Third.”
Scottish Highland Cattle beef is reputedly best prior to two years of age says Campbell, after which ground beef is a recommended consideration. Naming the cattle might complicate the process, however she would be prepared to step up to the barbecue for a hyper-local burger should the need arise.
“I’d rather eat something I know has had a full life, been fed well and enjoyed its time on earth.”
Her fold’s primary function is not populating the freezer, rather living up to that non-PC reputation as ‘sexy beasts’, hooved, aesthetic agrarian thematic accompaniment for photographers and videographers. Campbell charges $50 per hour, a highly-competitive rate for the genre for those seeking a Scottish Highland Cattle meet and greet, typically but not exclusively backed up with photographic evidence. Those curious about the opportunity are invited to email email@example.com.
“Here’s a little guy and the cows,” she said, scrolling through a phoneful of visitors. “He cried - he was so afraid, but his mom made him do it.”
Her cattle will be featured in a couple of TV shows and a movie to be released in 2022 and appear as backdrops in bridal magazines, Norwich’s On Trend clothing store highlighting its new line and for a variety of brides, grooms, kids, and couples, one who drove in from north of Toronto for their 15th anniversary.
“His wife just wanted to meet them,” Campbell explained. “Some people want to touch them,” she continued, “some just want them in the background.”
Weekends are the most popular times (April, 2022 is already booked), although guests will also come on summer evenings.
The effort is most definitely not a route to getting rich quick Campbell confirms.
“That’s a $90 bale of hay they are eating,” she said, nodding to a feeder surrounded by four contentedly-munching creatures, before alluding to associated capital and labour costs, not to mention vet bills.
“They do pay their way, but they are essentially my pets,” she summed up.
The Highland ‘pets’ are part of a menagerie including the laying hens, two Rideau sheep, a pair of Pygmy goats, a couple of hunting dogs and three rabbits.
“It’s a lot of work, a lot of work,” admitted the self-confessed first generation ‘YouTube’ farmer, learning on the fly amidst a mountain of work and responsibility. “I ask myself quite often, why am I doing this?” she confessed.
The answer lies somewhere in Dallas James’ definition of farming as ‘Brutiful’, a hybridization of choosing to celebrate the beautiful moments, the birth of a calf, a perfect sunrise or the unparalleled flavour of an omelette from your own farm fresh eggs amongst the loss of livestock or crop failures that undeniably come with the territory.
“It’s the perfect combination,” Campbell summed up in conclusion. “It doesn’t make sense at all, but yet it is so rewarding.”