Birds & Animals
Bulls and Cows–Bovinae - I do not know when the first cow arrived in Highland Strathearn. It was long before my time though! Their forebears may have come from Asia and gradually moved west, being imported from Europe possibly at the time of the Romans. They were known as draught animals used to being harnessed for heavy lifting or pulling work. They were initially a beast of burden. Fate decided that cows produced milk and eventually when their lives were over, were eaten. Bulls on the other hand had a more satisfying existence although they too graced the table. Until pasteurization came in, millions of people died from tuberculosis (mycobacterium bovis) which is found in the milk of cows. A local tenant farmer during the winter would bleed them to make “black pudding” to keep his family alive. The cattle had to be carried out in the spring at the “lifting time.” This meant they were so weak from being bled, that they could not stand. At the farthest reaches of Glen Lednock above the site of the current dam one can see where they were taken to the shielings by the young girls to fatten them up.
There are few records before the year 1000 a.d. which mentions cows, aka coos, cattle, or Kye. Even till the present day in Strathearn there were few farms that could boast of having a herd of 100 beasts. The largest number were owned by the big estates, the odd farm owner (there were very few of them) or tenant farmers (there were lots of them), may have had a milk cow or possibly two from the time of Bannockburn onwards. Most had none. Anyway if we assume it was just in the last fifteen hundred years that we have had these superb animals, then we have been well served by them for milk, and as a food source. There are many types of bovine today such as Ayrshire and Aberdeen Angus. Others were imported from the lands beyond our horizons such as Guernseys, Jerseys, Charolais, Holsteins, Highland cattle, and cross breeds and others.
Ayrshire Aberdeen Angus
Sheep–Ovis aries - again the records of sheep as a species is paltry. A small tenant farmer may have had a few, but most had none. It was only in the late 18th and during the 19th century that the Clearances occurred where sheep replaced men and families. This happened in Sutherland, Rosshire and Invernesshire and other places to the west and north of Strathearn. It did however, have a trickledown effect certainly in the Breadalbane lands just over the hills in the land on the south side of Loch Tay, and over to Glen Quaich. Thievery of livestock was common place and the original nickname for the highland brigand Rob Roy MacGregor Campbell was ‘Sheep Robbie.” There are many different types such as Cheviots, Black Face and others.
Sheep Black Face Cheviot
Horses–Equus caballus - they too are a mystery – they assisted man initially as a cart or carrying animal and later when agriculture became more prominent for ploughing or carrying hay and other produce, and moving stones from fields. The Highland Pony, aka the Garron, came amongst us probably about the fifteenth century. Its forebears were imported from the Continent. In the last two hundred years or so the number of horses rose and fell dramatically. Percherons were brought in from le Perche, a district of Normandy, to add to the stock of Clydesdales and Shire horses. Just within living memory the local people had ploughing matches which were well attended. My father used to say that to see real muscle power was to witness a horse pulling a loaded cart up the Balloch Brae in Comrie. Today, one has to go a long way to see a working horse, if any exist! One has to go a long way to see a horse!
Highland Pony Clydesdales
Shire Horses Percheron
Pigs–Suidae - they were not numerous but had a place. Descended from the boar they are very clean animals. Often, however, their carers had little or no regard for their living conditions, and sadly they earned a reputation of affecting our olfactory systems.
Goats–Capra aegagrus hircus - It was said that wild goats were tougher than earlier forms of sheep, and that their milk was an antidote to tuberculosis. It is known that some people from Edinburgh believed this and drank goat’s milk as a result. There was a flock of them twenty or so years ago on the south side of Loch Earn. Some were caught and used for embryo transplant research. However, they were never very many goats in Strathearn.
Goat–Capra aegagrus hircus