As famous a symbol of Scotland as haggis and whisky, the Highland cow is a much-loved beast.
This iconic status, coupled with a growing desire to know more about our food provenance, is what makes a trip to Grace Noble’s farm in Banchory, Aberdeenshire, an appealing prospect.
Grace has been farming for the last seven years, having left her council job of 18 years to get back to her roots.
“I grew up on the west coast of Scotland on a remote island - the island of Raasay next to the Isle of Skye - where crofting was the main way of making a living, rearing sheep,” explains Grace.
“Whilst I grew up with that experience, which I loved - I love the outdoors - we were discouraged from going into that industry as there wasn’t seen to be a strong future in it as it’d be hard to get land.
"So most youngsters left the island and went away to university, which is what I did. I went to Strathclyde Uni to study environmental health and worked in local government for a good 18 years as an environmental health officer.
“When I moved to Aberdeen city, working for Aberdeen City Council and living in the beautiful countryside of Aberdeenshire... that really called to my farming roots and background, and what I really wanted to do.”
The move prompted Grace to “just take the plunge” and give up her career in order to become a farmer. A tenancy on a local estate became available, and she jumped at the chance to get back to what she knew from the island.
But instead of sheep, she set about establishing a herd of Highland cattle. “I love the breed, just by their very nature - they’re historic and iconic to Scotland, and they have evolved naturally outdoors as they live all their lives up on hills where not all breeds of cattle can survive.
“They’re hardy, outdoor, all year round cows (they never come in) and they’re good at calfing so they’re a cheaper breed for me as I don’t have sheds or machinery - they’re easier for me to manage and look after and care for properly.
“All my beef cattle are born here. I also source locally from the Balmoral fold (the Queen’s own Scottish fold) just 28 miles away from the farm.”
The farm and herd have grown and, thanks to local support and aid from rural funding network Leader, Grace is now able to rear the cows from birth to full maturity and has introduced a butchery on site, meaning no part of the cow goes to waste.
“With a butchery and maturation facility on site at my farm, I can retain complete control over both the quality and provenance,” says Grace.
“With a butchery and maturation facility on site at my farm, I can retain complete control over both the quality and provenance,” she says.
The niche nature of Aberdeenshire Highland beef has created a demand from nearby hotels and restaurants, including the Meldrum House Hotel, where two of Grace’s cows can be seen roaming the estate.
“We now produce two carcasses a week from the butchery and supply hotels and restaurants that really want to champion local produce and producers. That’s what works really well for the business and the brand,” Grace says.
“I also attend farmer’s markets so I can reach the domestic market and customers that equally love good quality and local produce.”
For those who want to visit Grace and her herd, the farm to fork tour runs every Sunday from 2pm and includes meeting some of the herd (most will be on the hills of the Cairn O’ Mount during the winter as their thick coats offer excellent protection against the elements), a chance to chat to Grace about her farming methods and take a picture with one of the famed Highland cows, before heading inside for refreshments and to taste the beef.
For more information about the farm and to book a visit please check the Aberdeenshire Highland Beef website.