Farming in the Scottish Highlands can be classed as one of the more challenging environments to make a living, but results can be good when the land and livestock work in harmony.
Scott Renwick is quite a busy farmer running his beef and sheep farm at Inverbroom in the northwest of the country while also managing a neighbouring estate farm and carrying out contract sheep gathering and shearing.
Together with his son Farquhar and nephew Gavin MacDonald, Renwick runs 35 Luing cows, which are a cross between the famous Highland cattle breed and the Beef Shorthorn.
He also runs 2,000 North Country Cheviot ewes and sells the lambs as stores (not fattened) to lowland farmers for them to finish on the better-quality grasses.
Renwick’s farming area extends to 20,000 acres of hill land rising from sea level to a height of 3,275 feet. It includes some very hostile land for managing livestock. He has 300 acres of better-quality land as well.
The Luing breed was founded by the Cadzow brothers on the Island of Luing in Argyll off the west coast of Scotland in 1947 when they crossed the Beef Shorthorn, well known for fleshing qualities, and the Highland Cattle, regarded for ruggedness and hardiness.
After almost 20 years of breeding evolution, the British government officially recognized the Luing as a breed in its own right in 1965.
Hardy environment, hardy breed
The breed’s hardiness and adaptability make it perfect for Renwick’s farm and his cattle are in big demand on sale days.
“We run 35 Luing cows in our Lochbroom pedigree herd to produce offspring for sale,” says Renwick. “As we are very busy during the summer shearing sheep we need a cattle breed that can be left on its own on the hill. The Luing fits that bill perfectly.
“The temperament of the Luing breed is very good. When the cattle come off the hill they can sometimes be a little nervous but that’s because they are not so used to human contact.
“Mostly, though, they are very calm and do grow well on the hill. We sell the females at pedigree sales and they can make around £2,600 (C$4,200) each at two years old as bulling heifers.
“We also rear and sell the young bulls which can sell for over £5,000 (C$8,100) each depending on the animal. We have two young bulls in the herd at the moment which should do quite well,” he adds.
Relying on dogs
This year Renwick achieved a 115 per cent lambing rate from his flock of North Country Cheviot sheep, which is ideal for him given the conditions of the terrain.
“Some of the ewe lambs are kept as replacements,” says Renwick. “The remainder are sold as store lambs for fattening and usually sell for £50 (C$8) per head at that stage.”
With all that land mass to cover to collect cattle and sheep, Renwick and his team rely on several good dogs that make the task somewhat easier.
All told, they have 12 dogs on the farm, each trained to round up the cattle and sheep when required. Renwick has also had some success in sheepdog trials having captained the Scottish dog trial team in 2009.
Renwick attempted his first trial at Gairloch in 1980, just after he left school. He came second in the local section and was hooked from then on.
He made the Scottish team with his dog Queen in 2009 and the next year with Queen’s daughter Roci he won the Scottish National at Ballinluig and went on to captain the team at the World Trial at Lother Park, Penrith.
“The trial dogs are not given any special treatment,” he says. “They gather the high hills and work with cattle just like the rest of them.
“Quad bike access is limited further out the hill, so a team of good dogs is imperative on the steep hostile slopes, which form part of the Fannich range of mountains.”
Working alongside his son and nephew, who farms 3,000 acres at Clachan Farm as a separate business, the three work as a team. They contract-gather for neighbouring farms and estates and carry out contract dipping and shearing. In total, the trio will dip around 25,000 sheep in their mobile dipper each year, which is another good source of income on this traditional hill farm in the Highlands of Scotland.
Renwick’s son Farquhar started working on the farm immediately after leaving school and enjoys every moment.
“I’m only 21 and am learning a lot from my dad and cousin,” he says. “I also work part-time driving a digger for a local contracting company.
“Working with the beef cattle and sheep is very rewarding. It is good to be following the footsteps of our family generations on this farm.”