You've purchased your mini highland, you're anxiously awaiting their arrival, and doing all you can to learn about how to care for your mini highland once they reach your farm. Congratulations, you're off to a wonderful start! Learning all you can before your new friend arrives will serve both you and your highland calf well in the coming weeks. At this point, many hours have been invested in the training and development of your calf. However, the first hours and days will be the foundation for your relationship for the rest of their life. A few hours, love, patience, and vigilance on your end will pay dividends down the road, and they will continue to thrive in their development.
Preparing For Your Calf
Scottish Highlands were bred and developed in the hills of Scotland at high elevations where the temperature is cold, the wind is brutal, and the vegetation is barren. Imagine with me for a minute, living in an environment like that then moving to a climate like yours. Only in our case, we couldn’t take off our coat and hat. It would stand to reason that we would get warm very quickly and possibly even dehydrated. While this is an extreme example, these majestic cows are unable to shed their coats overnight when moving from a cool climate to a hot one. It takes days, if not weeks, for them to acclimate properly. The same applies for them moving from a warm climate to a cool one. Keep this in mind when preparing a space for your fluffy friend. Give them plenty of shade, easy access to fresh water, and readily accessible food. Just as you would invite a dear friend to your home, ensure that they have all of their basic needs met and are comfortable. For highland cows coming into a cold climate from a warmer climate you’ll want to have adequate area for them to rest out of the wind and snow. As they become accustomed to your weather, they will likely prefer to be out in the cold and snow.
The space you have prepared must be large enough for them to not feel trapped, but small enough for you to be able to interact with them. A small corral style pen inside of a larger pasture is an ideal setup. The smaller pen is used initially to help get the calf used to your smell, the farm sounds, and the new environment. Another great setup is a small stall in a barn or shelter. Limiting the sensory overload will help your new calf adjust more smoothly.
It goes without saying that clean dry bedding is an essential part of a healthy environment for your calf and your family.
It has been said that transportation is likely the most stressful event cattle will face in their lifetime. Things like trauma caused by loading, poor conditions inside and outside of the trailer, limited access to feed and water, crowded compartments, traveling with unfamiliar animals, weather conditions, and temperature are all contributing factors to the toll that shipping can have on cattle. No one knows our cattle better than us, and for that reason when shipping is needed, we do our best to take care of it ourselves. This ensures that your cattle are being loaded in a gentle way, they are starting with a clean trailer that has been checked for any issues inside and out, they have plenty of space to move around, they are provided with fresh water and feed at each stop, they are with other cattle they know, as well as a familiar face. When that is not possible, we have a wonderful team we work with that understands how important hauling livestock is, and our practices when it comes to shipping cattle. Again, only transporting cattle within our own herd on a single load.
At Cyrus Ridge farm we take great care to make sure our cattle are at their prime before they ever leave our farm for their new homes. Our top priorities are clean fields, lots of shade, access to free choice water & mineral, proper rations of feed, low stress environments, and up-to-date cattle handling equipment and more. We do this because we love our cattle and also because there is evidence that there is direct correlation between great husbandry and decreased stress levels in cattle even before shipping begins. You can administer every vaccination available, but with the wrong living conditions and lack of attention to care, there will be no marked benefit, especially during transportation.
The trailer we use at Cyrus Ridge Farm has been designed with your calves’ best interest at heart. The trailer can be fully enclosed in colder weather, allowing proper ventilation while avoiding unnecessary exposure to cold wind. In warm months we can open select sides to give them a cool breeze while in transit. The flooring is a thick rubber pad with a heavy layer of soft bedding. This reduces the stress on their feet and encourages them to lay down while the vehicle is moving. The bedding is identical to the bedding we use in all of our shelters on the farm. The familiar smell / feel is just another step towards reducing their stress levels. A camera system helps us keep a close eye on the calves as we travel and helps avoid any shenanigans they may attempt while “mom and dad” aren’t around. All the moving parts on the trailer are designed to fit tightly with rubber stoppers to keep the rattles and banging to a minimum. Bottom line, we want your new friends to have an environment that exceeds their normal living conditions during this transition. They deserve to be pampered a little. Don’t you agree?
When Your Mini Highland Arrives
Now it's your time to shine!!! If you bought a calf from Cyrus Ridge, you’ll have already received the New Calf Care information. The next few days and weeks are critical in keeping your mini highland healthy. Cattle can have a 1-8% shrink from time of loading to time of delivery. Diet and stress play a huge role in the shrink, and usually comes back pretty quickly once they are back on regular feed and rehydrate themselves. You will want to make sure they have access to free choice water, and plenty of shade. Especially in those summer months. Even with all of the right precautions taken it is not uncommon for Highlands, especially calves, to show signs of the transition. The fact that you’ve followed the steps before your calf arrived will make this introduction so much easier on you and your calf.
Think of this like bringing a new baby home from the hospital. You’ll want to avoid loud noises, tons of visitors, and harsh environmental exposures. Let the calf learn to know you first, develop a level of trust, then do the introduction to all your friends.
There are some health concerns to watch for after a long trip. One of the most common transportation concerns is respiratory complications. Cattle in transit experience a constantly changing environment (temperature, barometric pressure, constant wind, dust, exhaust fumes, cow butts, etc). You’d probably have a cough and runny nose after that too. In some cases, they will develop what is known as Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD). This is easily treated with a quality antibiotic.
A few other things to watch for are bloat, pink eye, scours, and depression. These symptoms are all caused by a change in diet and environment. Don’t allow your new highland calf to have free access to hay or grain. They may be hungry from the trip and over-indulge on a food that is unfamiliar to their body. When grass isn’t available, ration the hay or feed to allow their fluffy bellies to digest the new food properly. Rich grasses like alfalfa and Bermuda grass can be dangerous in unregulated quantities. Depression in cattle looks a lot like depression in humans. They will distance themselves from the rest of the herd, keep their head down, sleep more than normal, and experience a loss of appetite. These health concerns are typically easy to correct when done so within the proper time frame. It is for this reason we strongly recommend scheduling a vet visit 48 - 72 hours after their arrival. A relationship with your vet will be worth its weight in gold. The small investment of a vet visit when the calves are not critically ill is an excellent time to make that connection.
Whether your new fluffy highland friends come from Cyrus Ridge or another farm, we want to see you and your calves do well. It is important to develop a relationship with the farm of origin for your cows. Buy from a breeder who is willing to walk the ownership journey with you and freely share of their experience. The old adage “good service ain’t cheap and cheap service ain’t good” applies to the cattle industry as well. If it’s too good to be true, it’s probably too good to be true. Visit the farm, call the breeder, feel comfortable before spending a dime.