Waternish Farm consists of grassland, rough grazing, woodland and shore.
A third of the farm is level enough and sufficiently free of boulders to grow grass for silage. The rough grazing is grazed by cattle during the summer and sheep during the winter.
Our Low-line Angus herd
In 2023 we moved away from traditional Aberdeen Angus cows and introduced a herd of low-line Angus cows. These black hornless cattle had been grazing the Highlands since the 12th Century. By the late 1700’s two local breeds had come to prominence: the old ‘Doddies’ of Angus and the ‘Hummlies’ of Aberdeenshire.
Hugh Watson is credited as the founder of Aberdeen Angus cattle. In 1808, aged 19, he took on the tenancy of a farm and began cattle breeding. His father started him off with six of his top quality and blackest cows along with one bull. Most of the Angus cattle today can be traced back to a bull called Old Jock and a cow called Old Grannie on Watson’s farm. It is recorded that Old Grannie lived 35 good years before she was struck by lightning in 1859 and died after producing 29 calves! Lowline cattle have been able to identify 35 generations of breeding back to 1824 to Old Grannie.
The cow dung provides a rich habitat for the many invertebrates which perform a vital role in the nutrient cycle of pasture, assisting with the conversion of the cattle dung into humus. The cow dung community provide important feed for the abundant birdlife found on the farm. Areas of ground enriched with dung are planted with early plant cover for the corncrakes.
Low density grazing benefits the farm’s ecosystem.
Early spring and Autumn cover
Waternish Farm has increased its area by fencing off field margins and corners of silage meadows. It has planted tall growing vegetation such as flag irises, nettles, meadowsweet, cow parsley, hogweed, reed sweetgrass and rhubarb in areas of ground specially enriched by straw, silage and cow dung.
These plants provide ideal cover for the rare and elusive Corncrake which arrives on the Waternish peninsula in late spring. The success rate on Waternish Farm has been encouraging and although it is almost impossible to count these secretive birds, three calling males have been heard over the past two years.
The farm delays cutting silage until after 1st September in order to increase the breeding success of the corncrakes and other ground nesting birds. The grass is mown from the inside out, allowing birds to escape the mechanised blades by running through the grass to the protected field margins.
Soil and Nutrients
Healthy soil is vital for grass production and wild flowers. The Farm Advisory Service has recently completed a study of Waternish Farm looking at the state of bacteria, worms and creepy crawlies in the soil and the levels of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphate. The whole farm was soil-sampled.
North Country Cheviot sheep
The sheep are turned onto the grass, with the tups (rams), in November. They tidy up the rough corners of the fields and nibble the shorter foliage that cattle are unable to wrap their tongues around. The areas set aside for specially planted vegetation are fenced off during the winter months and are not accessible to livestock.
All sheep are off the land in early spring to allow the grass time to grow tall enough for the arrival of the corncrakes in late April/early May.
The farm has a plan for 2023 which includes fencing off a reedy, wet area of land and a 300 yard strip of land between a ditch and a stone wall and planting them with a mixture of willow, alder, aspen, rowan, birch and hawthorn trees.
Wild flower and grass meadow
A piece of land has also been specially set aside for a future wild flower and grass meadow which will include cowslip, field scabious, ox-eye daisy, foxglove, ragged robin, red campion, bush vetch, yarrow and meadow sweet underpinned by oats, kale, quinoa, millet, phacelia and borage.