HISTORY OF HIGHLAND CATTLE IN AUSTRALIA
Highland cattle were imported into Australia by various Scottish migrants in the middle of the nineteenth Century.
The first arrival of Highland cattle into Australia came onboard the Sovereign in 1829, imported by Lieutenant Surgeon Thomas Braidwood Wilson RN, namesake of the town of Braidwood in New South Wales. Lieutenant Surgeon Wilson owned a 12,000acre property in Braidwood named Braidwood Farm that employed a huge workforce of 140 men by the early 1830’s. Once disembarking in Sydney Town, Lieutenant Surgeon Wilson’s imports were driven overland to Braidwood Farm. In 1838 a huge drought hit the region and, the Shoal having dried up, district records show that Dr Wilson and Captain John Coghill turned over 1000 long-horned Highland cattle into the hills surrounding Braidwood, never to be recovered. It is reported that young men of the district had great sport in shooting the “wild beast” over many years later.
Other importations came later. For example, in 1841, Chieftain Aeneas Ranaldson MacDonell of Glengarry, Scotland, landed at Port Albert, Victoria, with his clan to set up a system of farming at Greenmount, on the Tarra River, near the present-day town of Yarram. It is claimed that the clan drove its fold of Highland cattle to Greenmount preceded by a piper.
Samuel Amess, who made a fortune in the Victorian goldfields and became Mayor of Melbourne in 1869, kept a small fold of black Highland cattle on Churchill Island. This island is now owned by the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (Vic), which has re-established a fold of Highland cattle.
Sir William McGregor imported animals to his property “Ard Choille” on Mount Macedon, Victoria. Some of these animals were shown at the Melbourne Show. In the 1880’s a fold of Highland cattle was re-established at “Ard Choille” by Tim and Helen Cottrew.
It is believed that other cattle were imported in the late 1800’s into Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales and Tasmania but, as no new blood was introduced, the breed died out.
Recent history started in 1954 when two unrelated in-calf cows from Barbreck Fold and Islay Fold and an unrelated bull from Achnacloich Fold were imported into South Australia by Mr. A.J.R. Wood. In the 1960’s Mr. Wood sold his fold to Mr. Bob Hawks of Currawong, South Australia. The fold, at that time consisted of seven cows, four heifers and two bulls.
In the ensuing years, a handful of animals were sold to South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria, including those purchased by Mr. Sydney Smith of Berwick, Victoria and Mr. & Mrs. J.M. Blackwell of Lenswood, South Australia.
It is reported that there were Highlanders in the Melbourne Zoo from the 1940’s and two heifers in Cudlee Creek Wildlife Park, South Australia, in 1966.
Due to a severe drought in South Australia in 1971, Bob Hawks had to relinquish his fold, which was purchased by Mr. Jack Brown of Warrnambool, Victoria.
Many good specimens of Highland cattle remain from the original 1950’s imports (known as the “old cattle”), thanks to the dedication of those early breeders. Many of the progeny of these animals were inspected by the Society Inspectors Mr. Ray Starritt, Mr. Brian Alford, Mr. Malcolm MacDonald and Mr. Andy Sproat and subsequently approved for inclusion in the Herdbook as A and B grade animals.
In 1973 Allister and Davina Stewart (Ardvorlich) of Terang, Victoria, suggested to the Scottish Milk Marketing Board (SMMB) that semen be collected from a Highland bull for export to Australia and New Zealand. The SMMB, in conjunction with the Highland Cattle Society of the U.K., then collected semen from Callum of Pollok, which became the foundation bull for the Stewarts’ breeding up program. Starting with Jersey females, each generation of heifers was inseminated with semen from a new bull.
Artificial breeding has been the major tool in the development of Highland cattle in this country. No fewer than 20,000 straws of semen from outstanding sires have been collected overseas for use in Australia, and this practice continues today with a few dedicated breeders around the country ensuring new bloodlines are continually being injected into the AHCS Herd Book.
In 1975 Mr. and Mrs. John Reid (Trelissick) of Christchurch, New Zealand, imported three cows and one bull into New Zealand. From these, in 1979 a heifer was sold to Mr. and Mrs. J.M. Blackwell, and a heifer and a bull were sold to Mr. K and Mrs. Berta von Bibra (Macquarie) of Ross, Tasmania. During the latter half of the 1970’s other breeders in Australia and New Zealand started their own folds using the semen that was then available. Among the first of these in 1977 was Mr. Bob Mackay (Durness) of Scone, NSW. With the use of Robert the Bruce, a bull purchased from Sydney Smith, and later, artificial insemination, his fold was bred up from red Shorthorn and Charolais females. Mrs Faye Taylor (Laurella Downs) of Woodville, NSW, also based her fold on progeny of the 1950’s Highland imports.
Jim and Wendy Black (Glengarry) of Yarram, Victoria, established a fold originally based predominantly on Shorthorn females and in 1983 purchased the bull Corrie McNair and four females from Jack Brown.
During the 1980’s interest in Highland cattle blossomed, aided by newspaper stories, T.V. coverage and the showing of Highland cattle at various events. More live importation occurred. Mr. David Miller (Strathbogie) of Nagambie, Victoria, imported two bulls and a cow from Scotland, five females from Canada and five females from the U.S.A.
Alan Hamilton (Hamilton) of Tocumwal, NSW, imported two heifers from Scotland, and Jim and Wendy Black imported one heifer from Scotland and four females and one bull from New Zealand.
At the same time imported semen from various bulls, mainly Scottish, was used widely in Australia. AI Bulls in order of arrival in Australia were:
The advent of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in the U.K. in 1988 saw the imposition of stringent quarantine restrictions by the Australian Government. Imports of live cattle and genetic material from the U.K. were banned. Imports of the offspring of animals exported from the U.K. after 1982 were also banned.
No history of the development of the Highland cattle in Australia would be complete without mentioning the use of embryo transfer as a breeding tool. David Miller of Nagambie, Victoria, was the first to make extensive use of this technology in Australia. Since 1986 it has been used by a variety of people with varying degrees of success.
FORMATION OF THE AUSTRALIAN HIGHLAND CATTLE SOCIETY
On 7th of May 1988 some 60 people gathered at a public meeting in Melbourne organised by Allister and Davina Stewart to form the Australian Highland Cattle Society.
The initial Committee elected at that meeting was:
President: Mr. Allister Stewart
Vice President: Mr. Jim Black
Minute Secretary: Mr. David Miller
Treasurer: Mrs. Davina Stewart
The society became an incorporated body in 1990. By 1994 the membership had risen to 204 with approximately 2000 registrations of Highland cattle of various degrees of purity. In 2017, thanks to the efforts of AHCS breeders through history, the Rare Breeds Trust of Australia announced that Highland cattle had been removed from its At Risk Watch List and reclassified as a Recovering Breed. Membership numbers and new cattle registrations continue to be strong to this day, with most new registrations into the herd book being classified as purebred stock.
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