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Shetland kye... To breed or eat?


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We are pretty new to keeping kye and by accident and have found ourselves with a shetland cow who now has a pretty little heifer calf. Now it had been our intention just to fatten beef for our freezer so it kind of threw us when our heifer was found to be in calf this summer. Now we could just eat the pair of them but we are hearing that they are getting to be pretty rare so feel that maybe we shouldn't carve them up for beef.

 

Now we have also thought it might be possible to swap our calf for a bull and get our cow in calf again then we could eat the bull so we still get some beef next year. This idea also gives the cow a stay of exicution.

 

It might seem more sence to get rid of both and get another breed to eat but we like the easy going temprement of our Shetland. It had been our intention to start breeding kye in a couple of years when we were more used to working them but now we are thinking this is a fine opertunity we could make something of....but what to do?

 

:? Any suggestions and info welcome.

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Just condeming a young and healthy Shetland female cow for beef would seem to be a bit of a waste just now, especially with Holyrood apparently doing their damndest to eradicate one of only four bloodlines left.

 

Keeping a bull is an expensive way to get beef, even if you eat him. Were it me, if you have grazing and fodder and can keep both the females you have, I'd do so, and get them both pregnant by a bigger breed through A.I. (if thats an option), then eat that first cross offspring. Okay, it'll take you two years and a bit from now to have your first beef, but once up and running it's constant. Selling either female if you don't have grazing and fodder and just breeding the one by A.I. for first cross offspring would be second option.

 

A first cross offspring from a Shetland cow will yield considerably more beef than the pure, but will be almost as easy to keep. If you don't have A.I. access, I realise breeding is going to need a bull, in which case its a difficult one to justify. You'd probably be best off selling off the Shetland stock and buying in a cross bred weaned calf or two in the back end, keeping for a year and slaughtering.

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We had a shetland x friesian castrated male as our first beast and it did produce a good amount of beef but his temprement was not great an he could jump fences effortlessly. This is not something we are keen on repeating. That said any bull would get the cow back into calf and spare the life of both our female Shetlands. We would probably still sell the heifer at weaning and use the cash to buy the bull. He wouldn't need to be a prisewinner, just anything with sperm would do since he and his offspring would be destined for the table. Can anyone give me a clue as to the costs of such beasts and for that matter the value of a Shetland heifer weaner?

 

AI is not really a viable option.

 

One thing we are particularly keen on the Shetland is it's large pelvis and therefor easy birthing. In a place as isolated as this that's a huge advantage when a vet could be days away.

 

We had thought about getting the even smaller Dexters, as keeping a bull and two cows could supply us with a constant supply of beef and milk, hopefully without eating us out of house and home. Anyone know anything about Dexters?

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Any male, even castrated has potential for a dodgy temperament, you never can entirely trust any of them until or unless you've had them for a long time and seen them in all their moods. I'm assuming you'd be looking at slaughter around the 18 month old mark, when the cost/growth/return has usually peaked. A male is continually evolving in temperament all through to that age, and somewhat beyond. The jumping almost certainly was a Fresian trait though, Shetland kye, while they may be up for pretty much anything else, I never had one that had the slightest interest in trying to jump.

 

A bull is going to be difficult, as most folk only breed and leave uncastrated those they believe will get them the best price as a breeding animal, or are waht they want to use for themselves. You'd essentially be buying on the cast bull market, those which had become too old to be trusted to run with a herd, or those for whatever reason had not lived up to expectations, and you'd be competing against their slaughtered beef value. I'm out of touch of the value of those today, but a few years ago fully grown cast bulls typically cleared £750 - £1000 sold for slaughter, so it almost certainly more today.

 

It would get your females pregnant no doubt, but a bull's temperament is likely to be worse than a castrated male's, plus thats one hell of a pile of beef you'll end up with from him. Its eatability (is that a word) I cannot vouch for though, having never tried it, but I'd wonder if a still fertile bull might not be a bit rank, like the meat of a ram killed too far in to hairst.

 

If you could come to some arrangement with a beef breeder to not castrate one of their "good" looking cross bred male calves that they'd normally sell as a weaned calf, and keep it as a bull and sell it on to you at around weaned calf price, if you keep it as a bull until its around 16-18 months it should be big enough and mature enough then to fertilise the females, then slaughter it around the 20 month mark once you're sure they've kept. He'd still be of a reasonably managable size, wouldn't have cost you a fortune, and the likelihood of him become a grumpy old man, like all us males do, would be far reduced compared to a several year old bull.

 

I don't know what weaned Shetland calves are worth these days, unfortunately probably not much, and nowhere near enough. Probably your best bet if you're looking to sell a pure is to talk with anyone involved with the Herd Book, they'll know if anyone is looking to buy, where the best deal might be found etc.

 

Yup, Shetland kye are like Shetland sheep, mostly descended from the survival of the fittest, giving birth is usually no problem. There's enough room in there in most of them to hold a party while the birth is ongoing in the ones I've been up to the oxter in. Unfortunately one I had had a habit of carrying her calves upside down, you had to turn them through 180 inside her before things could get started.

 

Dexters, a neighbour had a few of about 25 years ago, I don't know what their offspring are like when crossed, his were all pure and he didn't have them long. To look at they're easily mistaken for a Shetland, unless for much shorter legs, they seemed paecable enough to handle, and a very quiet temperament, but they were all females he had, and a small herd of Shetland females as often as not would have behaved exactly the same.

 

To my eye I saw little to break between either breed, Shetland I think maybe would have thrived marginally better on poorer pasture, and would have been slightly more resilient to the horizontal rain, sleet and gales in hairst, but otherwise they seemed pretty much the same route to the end result.

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  • 5 months later...

I know this is straying from the original topic a bit but here goes anyway.

Can anyone tell me if Shetland kye will do well out on a heathery / rushy hill?

At the moment the kye are on the inby land and there are two Shetland ponies on the apportionment. I don't want the ponies to get in on the grass and they are doing very well on hill. I would like the kye on the hill as it would be better for their feet to have the rough stoney ground and more area to roam, but I worry there wouldn't be enough nurishment for them.

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^^ Its going to depend somewhat on where you get the kye from, a century ago you'd have been pretty much okay as 90+% of kye spent the summer in the hill, but most now are several generations bred on inbye land, and a certain level of evolution has occured.

 

If you can find a breeder who's been running their kye at least some of the time on hill ground, or at least pretty rough unimproved ground, those should revert back reasonably easily. You'd be looking at north mainland breeders for that though, in the south end Shetland kye are too used too better grazing, and would take a gradual process across a few generations to revert back.

 

Generally speaking Shetland kye anywhere have retained the ability and habit of consuming immense amounts of roughage (the ones I had ate more in the byre than a first cross Fresian/Simmental that was half as high in the back again :? ), so have the potential to survive and thrive on poor quality grazing. Its just that they've lost some of their ability to recognise and accept hard hill grass and heather as food. How well and how quickly any one individual would revert and thrive is always going to be a bit of a hit and miss I'd suspect. Its worth a try, but just to be on the safe side, realise that there's a 50/50 chance you may find any given example may not adapt well, and start losing condition, or at least just not gain weight, and will need brought back on to better quality grazing.

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