Am Bratach No. 251
September 2012


 Marion MacDonald.

Around the Lairg Crofters’ Show
by Donald MacLeod

Come rain or come shine, the crofters of Lairg will not be deterred. The rain, a deluge early on, forced the livestock judge to abandon the field for the tea tent for the duration of an uncommonly heavy shower. Happily, the sun was never far away after that and all went according to plan.

Jeff Norrie of Achfrish, Shinness, showed some good looking North Country Cheviot gimmers, winning a first for a single gimmer and another first for the best pair. The single, pictured here with its owner, is out of an Achentoul-bred yowe and a Torrish tup. Achentoul hill farm, situated between Forsinard and Kinbrace, is managed by Stuart Henderson, while Torrish, down the Strath of Kildonan, is managed by Dennis, his brother. Both hill farms figured prominently in the early lamb sales, just past.

“We only run a couple of dozen ewes for working young collies on,” explained Mr Norrie, who sells the collies as pups. “The dogs that we are keeping at home, I need to keep them going and keep them schooled; so I have sheep for that.”
Though you won’t see them at the show, rearing cattle is another Norrie speciality. He keeps a small herd of pedigree Luing beef cattle.

The Luing cattle breed was developed on the Argyllshire island of that name after WWII by three brothers from a well known East Lothian farming family. Said to comprise three-quarters Beef Shorthorn and one-quarter Highland, the breed was officially recognised in 1966 by Act of Parliament.

“They do very well,” said Mr Norrie. “The hardiness has proved itself in Shinness. They’ve done well and we have been retaining the heifers for cows and they suit the climate and conditons of Shinness just first class.” As you would expect of such a hairy breed, they’re out-wintered.

“There’s more meat and a better carcass on a Luing and they’re slightly quicker growing,” said Mr Norrie, and they come for the bull regularly, something the Highlander is not noted for. “They are actually very regular. We calve them first at three-years-old. We have cows in the herd that are sixteen-years-old and still rearing calves.”

The Luing, which looks similar to the Highland, but without the horns, also produces very good beef, an important attribute for which the Highlander is famed. But according to Jeff Norrie, the Luing is even better. “Not that I’m biased,” he says with a glint in his eye, “but I would say the Luing a good bit better than the Highlander. It’s slow enough growing and it’s naturally finished off the hill or off grass and it’s very, very good eating, with a bit of fat through it, just to give it flavour”.

“No fat, no flavour,” he reminds me.

I wondered why Mr Norrie didn’t compete in the cattle section. He said: “Traditionally, the Luing breed haven’t been competing in shows so as to stay away from fads and fashions — we’re trying to keep them as natural as possible”.

When not attending to his livestock, Jeff Norrie works in animal health for the Scottish Government rural directorate. Of some concern these days is the spread of a disease which causes severe birth defects and miscarriages in sheep and other livestock that could spread across Britain this year. Spread by the Highlands’ least-favourite insect, the midge, the Schmallenberg virus was first noted in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. This year it has also been found in southern and eastern England.

Mr Norrie said: “The only risk would be from some irresponsible producer importing something from a high risk area at a time when the midgie burden is high. We would be very much advising people to be responsible and if they have to import, do it when the risk is at its lowest”.

Dominating the cattle ranks was Marion MacDonald, 101 Torroble, who took home the Lady Mary Grosvenor Cup for the overall champion with “Poppy”, an October-born black Limousin-cross quey calf, fathered by an AI bull. She was also awarded the Mrs Mackintosh Cup for the best cow (“Nancy”) (also reserve champion), the Susan Maudsley & M Barker Cup for the champion calf and the Rutherford Cup for the “best beast in the show”.

Mrs MacDonald, a widow since her husband John died in 1973, has been a crofter since 1960 and has been competing with her cattle at the show for a remarkable fifty-one years, without a break, except for the period of the last UK foot-and-mouth outbreak when the cattle section was dropped.

One of six children of the village blacksmith, she was raised in Pittentrail. Marion Mackay, as she then was, had an early introduction to cattle: at the tender age of eight she often hand-milked the family house cow before setting out for school in the morning!

One of Mrs MacDonald classmates in primary school in Rogart was our crofting columnist, John MacDonald, from Little Rogart. She is an avid follower of “View from the croft gate” and, when finished with her Bratach, passes it on to her brother, Duncan, who still resides in the old home.

Other notable results from the well-attended show included the Lady Mary Grosvenor Cup for overall sheep champion for John White from Rosehall for a top quality Cheviot lamb. Mr White, a native of East Lothian who has lived in Rosehall for thirty years, keeps 200 breeding yowes and a few Highland cattle on his croft, while his son, also John, keeps a similar number of sheep in Shinness.

Please click here to viiew trophy winners

Please click here to view show results


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