Highland Cattle: Horned, Hairy, Healthful and Hardy

Britt Slusar and Jon Carlson with a 2000 pound Scottish Highland Bull. The couple raise the cattle on their ranch, the “Last Chance Ranch” near Hallock, Minn.    
By Linda Andersen
Don’t let those long horns intimidate you! According to Jon Carlson, Scottish Highland cattle are a “docile” animal. Britt Slusar agrees, but adds, “Remember they’re an animal and you have to respect them.”
Jon and Britt own a herd of 40 registered Scottish Highland Cattle near Hallock, Minn. They started raising the breed in 2012 after putting a good deal of study into the matter. “It took us over a year to find the breed we wanted,” says Britt.
What did Jon and Britt want? They say they were looking for something “different” and “low maintenance.” They both hold government jobs so don’t have an abundance of time.
The Scottish Highland cattle meet the “different” and “low maintenance” qualifications and more. The breed is extremely rare in most parts of Minnesota. Jon and Britt purchased their first animals from Southern Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Scottish Highland cattle don’t require a lot of buildings. They have two coats of hair which help keep them warm in the winter (and cool in the summer).
Jon mentions the healthy aspects of the meat. In comparing the meat of his cattle with commercial cattle he states, “It’s very lean, higher in iron and protein, lower in fat and cholesterol.” He also describes the meat as “tender and flavorful.”
He goes on to say that the animals grow slowly and, consequently, the meat is “naturally marbled.” Feeding grain to get that effect is unnecessary. The animals are totally grass fed.
Britt mentions that they are “easy calvers” and “good mothers.”
Jon adds, “They eat a lot of brush and different grasses that a lot of commercial cows won’t eat.”
He calls the cattle a “heritage breed,” saying they go back to the sixth century in Scotland. He explains that conditions for the cattle were “harsh” and they regularly swam from one island to another in search of forage. Consequently, they became very strong.
Jon and Britt credit a variety of people with helping them in the cattle business. “I blame my enthusiasm for cattle on my uncle, Lyndon Anderson, and uncle, Melvin Anderson,” says Jon. “As a child I liked being around the cows and horses on their farms.”
They rent pasture land from Jon’s step-father, Kenneth Anderson; Lyndon Anderson, and aunt, Frances Anderson.
Lowell Younggren, a farmer for whom Jon works part-time, has allowed him to borrow equipment.
Who does what jobs on the Last Chance Ranch (the name of Jon’s and Britt’s cattle business)? Jon does the chores, while Britt is responsible for the bookwork. She has a computer system, “Ranch Manager,” in which she records such information as pedigrees, weights, and calving dates.
Jon says he plans to retire from his government job in two years and the cattle business will become his primary work. “We’re looking for new customers,” he says. The Last Chance Ranch sells beef by the quarter, half, or whole to area people. In addition, they sell registered breeding stock.
“You’ll see a lot of cross breeding,” explains Britt in regard to why a person might choose to buy Highland cattle.
“We encourage people who buy from us to come out and visit,” she adds.
Take a walk out to a barn at the Last Chance Ranch and one finds Oia Lin and her daughter, Fey Lin, resting comfortably on a bed of straw. Fey Lin is the first calf of the year at the ranch this year. Britt says that they name all the female calves and, this year, all of the names will start with F.
In the barnyard and pasture area, one sees cattle of various colors – red, black, yellow, dun, brindle, and silver. A 2000 pound bull is content to pose for pictures.
What do Jon and Britt enjoy about raising cattle? “I like being around the cows and all the people I’ve met through the Highland Cattle Association,” responds Jon.
“I like the breed itself. They each have their own personality,” says Britt. She says she knows which animals will come first for treats and which ones will be “standoffish.”
“They’re a fun breed,” says Britt.
“I wouldn’t want to do anything else,” concludes Jon.

FEY LIN is one of the newborn calves at the Last Chance Ranch owned by Britt Slusar and Jon Carlson. (Enterprise Photo by Linda Andersen)

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