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A vegetarian’s love for her fold of Highland cattle

Michelle Shaughnessy is a vice-president at IFS, State Street International. This is a hedge funds business which operates globally across 100 geographic markets and has over 41,000 employees worldwide.

She is also a proud owner of a fold of Scottish Highland cattle which she has been breeding since 2012.

However, hailing from a family farm in Graffogue, Ballinalee, Co. Longford which her brother, Gerry, now runs, Michelle admits she never saw this breed before.

“Despite having spent my life surrounded by cattle growing up on our busy commercial farm, my father, Mickey Shaughnessy, was a cattle dealer, buying and selling livestock at the marts every day all around Ireland.”

She refers to her fold of Highlands as “my darlings”, who are now famously known across Ireland. They have scooped multiple prizes and cups at local, regional, and national agricultural shows.

Michelle Shaughnessy, Highland cattle, Longford, cattle breeder,
Photos: Aaron Greenan

This ‘majestic’ breed

This is one of the oldest registered breeds globally, which has excellent longevity with a life span of twenty years. The average number of offspring is twelve, while some cows can still calve into their eighteenth year.

They are identified by their horns, their long coat and bangs on their forehead covering their eyes called a dossan.

Michelle keeps her cattle outdoors all-year due to their durability. Their thirteen-inch slightly wavy coat is double-layered, providing warmth while protecting them from the harsh weather conditions Ireland offers.

“The outer hair is oiled to prevent rain seeping into their skin. Also, the downy undercoat provides warmth during the rough and rainy Longford winters.”

“This warm coat reduces the need to develop excess back fat. As a result, the Highland beef is healthy and nutritious with lower levels of fat and cholesterol and a higher protein and iron content than other beef.”

Their diet consists of grass mainly all-year-round and hay and silage which they access from open feeders to accommodate their horns.

“Highland beef is slow maturing, making it a premium beef which is lean, well-marbled with low fat and cholesterol levels whilst remaining rich in protein and flavour, criteria increasingly demanded by today’s market.”

“Their short legs ensure that problems are also kept to a minimum. Also, their long fringes protect their eyes and facial area.”

Michelle Shaughnessy, Highland cattle, Longford
Photos: Aaron Greenan

‘Darlings, I’m home’ 

Michelle believes everyone needs a passion outside of work and life’s worries or stresses. For Michelle, her fold of Highlands fulfils this as they are “breath-taking and would simply lift anyone’s spirits”.

“When I get home from work, I go straight from my car, leap the gate on our family farm, and I shout: ‘darlings, I’m home’. To see the gallop of delight of my Highlands towards me when they hear my call.”

“My fold of Highlands possess the most amazing and hilarious personalities. They are so spoilt they don’t know what to do with themselves at times, always up to some mischief, from Bossy Heather to Shy Hilda to Demanding Henry to Spoilt Honey to Majestic Hamish to Laidback Harold to Cheeky Howard to Charming Humphrey to Playful Herbert to Inquisitive Harvey to Posh Regal Princess Helena, to Posh Princess Hermione and  easy-going H’Aongha.”

Highland cattle, Ireland,
Photos by Aaron Greenan

A vegetarian farmer 

Her late beloved father, Mickey Shaughnessy, came from a family of cattle dealers. He was involved in the trade with his brothers Colm, Joe-Pat, Jack, and Jimmy.

Michelle admits after her father’s passing, her Highlands “were a huge source of strength and continuity to keep his hard work and efforts alive”.

“I have always loved cattle growing up on a busy farm as I think they are such intelligent, compassionate, beautiful creatures.

She became a vegetarian as a child and believes “a vegetarian farmer can contribute to giving the cattle the best quality of life before they are fully fed”.

“At this is the point, I will opt-out. I have never visited a factory in my life nor will ever. I have always struggled with mart days and factory days. Having to part with animals you become attached to is a heartbreak”.

Her main objective with her fold is to promote this rare breed within Ireland. Michelle parts with her calves to allow the pedigree to develop.

However, once sold, she still keeps in contact with the buyer. “This allows me to monitor how they are getting on, which is lovely.”

Michelle Shaughnessy, Highland cattle, Longford, cows, animals,
Photos by Aaron Greenan

Pedigree registered cattle

Michelle admits she is genuinely passionate about maintaining the best pedigree bloodline within her fully registered Highland fold.

She enjoys tracing and researching the various genetic progeny within this breed of cattle. “All my cattle I can trace back to 1900; it’s fascinating to trace”.

“My black bull, Harold for instance, is Black Prince Harold of Graffogue. He has the same bloodline as the new black Highland bull in the BBC farm series, Countryfile, also named Black Prince.”

She regularly visits Scotland where she is in contact with the Highland Cattle Society council.  “Through my visits to the marts in Scotland, I have built up a wealth of Scottish Highland farming contacts. These include Dochy Ormiston who lives in Balmoral Castle and is the queen’s senior stock master.”

“He recently helped me buy what I hope is one of the best pedigree Highland bulls we have in Ireland.”

Agricultural shows

Furthermore, Michelle attends many agricultural shows across the Emerald Isle. “My show cattle, Hamish and Henry bred by Howard Konich, are taking a well-deserved rest.”

“They are ginormous and majestic to look at. For me, their adoring owner, every time I look at them, they take my breath away, every time.”

“My Highlands are my pride and joy – they are my heartbeat, and I simply love them”, Michelle concluded.

To share your story, email – catherina@thatsfarming.com 

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