It’s always so great to hear from our members about how their current operations and working life came to be, and this week we’ve had a catch-up with Jill Noble at Windy Gowl, located 1000ft up in the Pentland Hills just south of Edinburgh, to learn everything from her early life to the current focus of her operation. From a background far-stretched from the world of farming – read below Jill’s insightful and interesting piece about life at Windy Gowl Red Angus, one of the few all-red pedigree Aberdeen-Angus herds in the UK.
”Farming was never on the horizon for me, with my father a sheriff, mother into politics and lawyers for relatives! Educated at a private Edinburgh school, bundled off to study physiotherapy at Glasgow, numerous bookkeeping courses and then the change to far too many years of managing a medieval castle left me wondering how I could start a farm? I always loved animals and had plenty of them, large and small! However, earning a living from them I knew would be difficult, so when I ‘broke free’, I sneaked off to do various agricultural training courses whenever/wherever I could.
”With the purchase of a piece of land on the windiest edge of the Pentland Hills at over 1000 ft, and after a marriage followed by a divorce, opportunities started to open up for me and I started to build a farm from scratch on my patch, together with a house for myself and my two young children. We started pony trekking with Icelandic horses which were perfect for the job of taking tourists into the hills. Sheep, milk calves and a few odd cows including Jemima the Jersey cow for the house were added to the ever-growing herd of Icelandic horses. I brought pedigree breeding stock from Iceland to satisfy the busy trekking centre requirements and to satisfy the growing demand in UK for Icelandic horses as they became more and more popular as gaited riding ponies.
”It seemed a necessary and natural progression to run cows with the ponies because I managed our ponies like cattle! To this day, they eat the same silage, share the same machinery, winter inside in groups and graze together outside, even sometimes sharing the same wormers and minerals. Also, it is so easy to move cattle around and about, down the main trunk road to the other part of the farm using horsepower. The cattle act like well-behaved school children and toddle along in an orderly line! Perhaps the truth of the matter of why I got into cattle is because I never wanted to be called a ‘horsey’ person, but a ‘farmer’ was much more acceptable!
”And so, I found myself in the mid 90’s with a few sucklers and a yearning for some black Aberdeen-Angus heifers. Bizarrely, but as luck would have it, an advert in the farming press took me south to see a small rare herd of Red A-A cows for sale near Cambridge. I was nosey to see red ones and planned on buying maybe one or two but was so impressed that I bought the lot – a starter pack of 12 young cows with calves at foot and back in calf to a red A-A bull, plus a few yearling heifers. I knew of no other all red A-A herds in UK and as Red Angus were different, it became obvious to me that being a newcomer, if I wanted to make a mark in the A-A farming world I had to have a different product to sell. I was well advised by a former President of the Aberdeen-Angus Cattle Society that the day of the reds would come, so I decided to go all out red and look for that niche market where I could sell breeding bulls and heifers. Since those days when I was mostly selling bulls to South Devon breeders only, the popularity of the reds has vastly increased to a very healthy demand commercially and especially with Simmental breeders, mainly due to the ability of the Red Aberdeen-Angus to breed good quality cross heifers with the red colour.
”Red Maybridge Sire Amazon 19W, imported from Canada with the Cambridge cows, had put plenty of height and length into the cattle, I just had to fill the gap underneath and so I set about bulking up the cows with red bulls that I hoped would achieve this, although the choice of Red Aberdeen-Angus bulls was limited. The particular bulls that have left their mark are Red Panther of Blelack by Royal Added Value, a wide chunky bull by Galcantry Preditor with the Northern Samurai influence, Ballavitchel Red Eriksson B281 giving height with depth into his heifers, and more recently, Auchincrieve Red Elation, a really great bull by Netherton Figo, and the sire of many bulls and heifers up and down the country as well as abroad. Our current stock bull from Yearsley is by Paringa Iron Ore and the dam has some great Canadian influence. Added to the long strong Windy Gowl cows, he has produced a desirable tighter calf and he is very easy calving. He is now coming into his own heifers so will be sold, and I am on the lookout for a high quality Red Aberdeen-Angus bull outwith my breeding lines.
”Our 20 big red cows are spring calving in March inside on straw and with the best of life that we can give them, they generally produce calves and look good to around 12 – 15 years old and we then put them down on the farm. To be one of the herd they must have good size, good balanced shape and a quiet temperament. They must be slightly spectacular to the eye at weaning as I am very fussy! Although, we are virtually a closed herd to maintain our high health status, we have also had success with bulls achieving high prices from a couple of bought in animals from Housesteads and Oaklea. Windy Gowl Red Gaffer S241 by Auchincrieve Red Elation and out of Oaklea Red Ginny L430 has just been sold to a commercial herd near Inverness. This is one of the high-priced bulls that we have sold and we like him so much that we have retained straws from Gaffer for future use within the herd as well as having some as-yet unborn calves due by him. Along with his older brother Windy Gowl Red Gambit, and Houseteads Elly’s Windy Gowl Red Earle, these are the type of bulls we want to breed for the future.
”Heifers that we don’t keep are sold as yearlings or in calf, but recently with the demand being high, often we let them go at weaning, leaving more room in the court for the young bulls. We are selective with the bull calves and keep only the best to raise as bulls but the demand for good red bulls is always there. The rest are castrated and sold privately as stores to a private customer along with any freemartins or less desirable heifers.
”My daughter Paula and I run the farm and use a local contractor to do the heavier field work. We closed the trekking in 2007 having had twenty years of public exposure and switched to horse livery and breeding Icelandic horses, this being a much easier way of life after the daily trekking! This has given us more time to spend on the cattle and we pride ourselves on the quiet trusting nature of all our cattle. Showing is something that we have regretfully never had time for with our cattle (although we love watching it!) and nearly all our young breeding stock is sold off the farm privately. This means that our stock is only seen when folk decide to come and visit, but this way we can preserve our high health accreditations that are so important, and we can sell stock that has developed naturally with strong muscle and bone and is fit and active.
”My overall aim is to improve quality year-on-year and keep pushing the EBV values up, but most important to me is that the animal is pleasing to my eye, and with that great Scottish Aberdeen-Angus head.’’
Thank you to Jill for such an excellent and insightful profile to her working life at Windy Gowl, we will be looking to do regular profiles of the Red herds amongst the others in the coming months, so look forward to bringing more soon!