A Herd of Her Own
Gara and Brad Webb raise miniature Scottish Highland cattle for a booming niche market
Gara and Brad Webb have always had cattle. Even when the pair held full-time management jobs—Brad in construction and Gara in nursing—they were working about 200 head of commercial cows each day.
“Every spare moment we had, went to our Angus crossbred cattle operation,” said Brad. “And one day Gara said that if we were going to continue with cows, she was going to get some of her own.”
So, in 2019, she bought five Scottish Highland cows from a breeder in Georgia.
With a smile, Gara said, “Yeah, it just snowballed from there.”
The Webb Cattle Company transformed its Angus operation into a miniature Scottish Highland cattle venture that has rocketed into the specialized market.
The oldest registered breed in the world, Highland cattle originated in the remote and rugged Scottish Highlands and the western islands of Scotland.
Known for their long, curved horns and shaggy coat, the breed is hardy and can withstand harsh temperatures and terrain.
Why Scottish Highlands for a farm located in the rolling hills of Ludlow, Missouri?
“Well, she’s always wanted Highlands,” Brad replied.
“I guess I liked them or wanted them, I don’t know,” countered Gara. “I just know that when I decided I was going to get my own cows, that’s what I started looking into.”
Scottish Highland cattle are traditionally raised for beef and milk. The meat is higher in protein and iron and lower in cholesterol and fat than other breeds.
Their milk is sweet and rich with a high butterfat content.
“I was looking to raise them for beef because it is really a high-quality product. But the more I researched, the more I learned that the miniature Highlands were selling for top dollar compared to the standard Highlands,” Gara explained. “I thought, if I’m going to do it, let me check into that market, and we’ll see how it plays out.”
In the process, Gara researched the Highland breed from its origins. Archaeological evidence goes back to the sixth century, with written records existing from the 12th century, according to the American Highland Cattle Association (AHCA). This “Grande Old Breed” can be traced to the first herd book published in 1885 by Scotland’s Highland Cattle Society.
“We just visited Scotland this summer, and driving through the Highlands really put into perspective how truly hardy the breed is,” Gara said.
According to the AHCA, the first recorded imports of Highlands into the United States was in the late 1890s when ranchers recognized the need to improve the vigor of their predominately western cattle after a disastrous winter.
With their hardiness and smaller stature, Highland cattle eat less and require fewer acres than other beef breeds. And their beautiful colors, layers of shaggy hair, curved horns and gentle nature make mini Highlands attractive as pets for a small or hobby farm.
“It took me six months to find my first cows,” Gara said. “The market is tight, so it was difficult to find what we were looking for. People are still having a hard time finding cows. I think that’s why the market is still so strong. There aren’t many out there.”
The Webbs used their knowledge and experience in the Angus industry to build their miniature Scottish Highland business. Miniature Highland cattle have been developed through decades of continued selective breeding, and Brad and Gara specialize in producing designer micro, mini, mid-size and AHCA registered Scottish Highlands. Some of their cows have lineage tracing back to Balmoral Castle, the estate and residence of the British royal family in Scotland.
Micros are Highlands under 36 inches in height, and minis range in height from 36.25 to 42 inches. Mid-size Highlands are from 42.25 to 48 inches in height, and the standard breed is anything above 48 inches.
“Our goal is to have most of our cows between 36 and 42 inches, so more in the miniature range,” said Gara, who harness-trains all her cows for their new owners.
While waiting for her first five cows to calves, Gara concentrated on carving out the Webbs’ niche in the miniature Highland industry. She worked on marketing strategies, building an audience on social media and developing the herd’s health, nutrition and reproductive plans.
“After we had the first calf, Gara sold it immediately,” Brad said. “She began promoting more and had a waiting list that was out of this world. We started looking into ventures and partnerships so we could expand the business without breaking the bank.”
Brad took classes to learn more about artificial insemination processes and completed an intensive course about embryo transfer technology.
“We are lucky to live in this great little community. Our neighbor is a Trans Ova Genetics representative for the state of Missouri,” said Gara. “After talking with him, we decided that using quality genetics would help us create the kind of calves that are in such high demand in the market.”
The genetics side of their business has opened new possibilities and increased their operation dramatically, Gara said. The Webbs now have customers from all over the United States and are starting to break into the international market.
“We actually have some of the best genetics in the industry,” Gara explained. “We spend a great deal of time getting our bulls and having the right kind of cows. The diversity in our herd opens up different markets for us.”
The Webbs also market those genetics through semen sales, with Highland breeders seeking out their farm to improve their own herds, she added.
“Currently, we sell semen off 12 bulls, and we’re always looking for the next best bull,” Gara said. “We are raising what they call a ‘unicorn’ in the industry.
He’s a silver bull with the dwarfism gene, and there’s not very many like him on the market. He’s up and coming for us.”
The Webbs partnered with Brad’s brother, a neighboring farm and several farms located in other states to provide surrogate cows to carry and raise their highly sought-after designer calves.
“We have 60 head of our own Highlands and about 75 head of surrogates in a co-op program,” Gara explained. “In addition, we’ve added another 70 head in a co-op partnership with a guy down South. He bought the cows, we put all the embryos in and calve them out. There are 10 Galloways from a ranch in South
Dakota that we are putting embryos in tomorrow. We have another farm with about 60 head that we co-op with, and we put our embryos in their cows.”
With the Webbs’ herd calving almost year-round, Gara decided that the waitlist was not the best way to sell their stock. All sales are now conducted through an online auction, which gives everybody an opportunity to buy, she said.
The Webbs are also willing to mentor and educate others who are looking to purchase and raise miniature Highlands, an experience Gara said they didn’t find when they entered the industry. Gara hosts two Facebook groups and taught a class in Oklahoma in early November.
“When I started, people wouldn’t tell us much because they didn’t want the competition. I just took a totally opposite approach,” Gara said. “Even when I don’t have time to help, I help, and I believe we’re more successful because people seek us out.”
The animals’ health and well-being are of top concern for the Webbs, who work with MFA’s Darrell Whiteman, counter salesperson at Agri Services in Chillicothe, Mo., for feed and farm supplies.
“We’ve known and worked with Darrell for years,” Brad said. “MFA has supplied most of our fencing for the pens, gates and our watering system needs.”
“Nutrition is a hard thing, and you need a good resource,” Gara added. “That’s where Darrell comes in. We totally changed our nutrition program, and I’m always asking, ‘What do I need to do? What should we do different?’”
Darrell said he just listens, and if he doesn’t know the answer, there is somebody at MFA who does. “I can make a call to Doc Martin (Tony Martin, MFA’s veterinarian) who can come up with a good solution.”
MFA’s nonmedicated Ricochet mineral is one product the Webbs are using with “much success,” Darrell added.
“With all the embryo work we do, we must provide our cows with a good nutrition plan,” Gara said. “The mineral we get from MFA has really improved our overall herd health. We’ve put more money into nutrition to achieve successful breeding.”
The goal, she continued, is to eventually keep 20 to 30 of their best cows and do more embryo work.
“The genetics part is fun,” Gara said. “I love putting the calves together and see what we will get. I like helping partners figure out what type of calves we need.”
“That’s what I find neat about the embryo stuff,” added Brad. “We can have in one year what takes a commercial cattle operation about 10 years to achieve.”
The Webbs offer tours of their farm and also have an Airbnb available for guests who would like a longer experience with the Highlands.
For more information, visit their website at webbcattlecompany.com.
Read More of the December 2023 / January 2024 Today's Farmer magazine Issue.
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