Producer Profile: Highland Producer Robert

With the Christmas season in full flow, and our Highland Cattle scheme now in its seventh year, we went to visit Robert Phillip - who has supplied us with Highland Cattle since 2007 - to discuss his experiences with the breed and with rearing cattle for Dovecote Park...
There is possibly no more distinctive breed of cattle in the UK than the Highland, which has grazed the rugged uplands of Scotland since the early 18th century. The Highlands reputation as a resilient animal which yields outstanding beef has led to folds (the traditional name for Highland herds) appearing not only across the country but throughout Europe, the United States and New Zealand. Their characteristic appearance, with their thick wavy coats and sweeping fringes, has seen Highlands grace photographs, calendars and paintings in a manner unlike any other beef breed.  

Although always popular amongst enthusiasts, Highland beef has largely been a niche product, and rarely available in large retail outlets. Dovecote Park’s Highland scheme was set up for Waitrose in 2007 – making Waitrose the first supermarket to offer Highland beef.  The aim was to bring festive shoppers a unique and different Christmas option - the lean, full flavoured sirloin, fillet or fore-rib providing a perfect centrepiece for the Yuletide feast.  

Dovecote Park producer Robert has supplied us with Highland cattle every Christmas since the very beginning of the scheme, “I knew that they have a good reputation in the industry.” He says of his decision to supply Dovecote Park, ‘especially with the relationship with Waitrose and because of that quality, we wanted to support them as much as we could.

It’s a simple relationship we have, and it works very, very well. I like to deal with people as much as I can, and communications with Dovecote are very strong – I like that Mark calls in to see us rather than a telephone call

Originally a third generation dairy farmer, Roberts holding once held Yorkshire's third highest yielding herd of Holsteins, which were sold in 2005. He first began working with Highlands, following a long interest in the breed.  

"We always went on holiday to Scotland we always liked them, and I thought they’d be something different – I always like something different. We bought our first Highlands in 2002, just to go in the field next to the house as a present for my wife for her birthday, never ever thinking we would develop into what we’re doing now. Over time, we got a few more and a few more, and we began to think we could actually make a business out of these - then in 2005 we decided to sell the milk cows completely. Now we cover the entire North of England and we’re one of the biggest Highland producers in the country – it’s nice how it has worked out!"  

The independent nature of the breed has led to some detractors to see them as unpredictable and a challenge to work with, but Robert dismisses this idea, claiming that; ”If you spend time with them and handle them, they’re absolutely fine.

They are very intelligent, Highland cattle, more intelligent than lots of others. The more you handle them, the better they are, everybody says how quiet ours are and it’s because we handle them a lot

Alongside supplying Dovecote Park and selling beef through his own farm shop, Robert is also heavily involved with the Highland Cattle Society, which has kept herd records and promoted the Highland breed since 1885.   “It brings everything together”  Robert says of the Highland Society, “Yes, we’re in charge of the herd book and everything else, but it’s also about promotion of the Highlands – our presence at the three major shows – Yorkshire, Welsh and Highland – we always have a stand which we use to promote the breed. We also can use the shows to promote Dovecote Park. I'm a judge, I've judged all over the world, and again, whenever you’re judging, they give you a microphone, you’re telling the public about Highlands, and what’s good about them, so you can promote them in that way”.  

Our Highland beef is available by special order for collection or delivery at Waitrose between 20th and 24th and the 28th and 31st December, with a selection of Highland product available on shelf as well. For those thinking of having beef this Christmas, why not buy and experience the quality of our finest Highland for yourself!