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A new documentary which tells the everyday story of an extraordinary 170-strong herd of Highland cattle from North Uist and the MacDonald dynasty which bred them is to air early in the new year on BBC Alba.
Crodh Gàidhealach an Àird Bhàin (The Highland Cattle of Ardbhan), filmed by crofter and film-maker Beatrix A Wood of South Uist-based TrixPix Media, over two years will be shown at 9pm on BBC Alba on Thursday January 2.
Footage of the fold became a viral sensation in April last year and garnered headlines across the country after the Ardbhan Highland Cattle Facebook page posted a video of the cows making the two-mile journey from the deserted Hebridean island of Vallay across a beach at low tide back to the mainland. The cows walk and swim to Vallay every November to give birth on clean ground.
Beatrix’s film documents this journey, which the cows make twice a year, in April and October, while painting a vivid year-round picture of what makes the MacDonald’s herd so special.
For the past 30 years, breeders have travelled from all over Europe to buy the premium Ardbhan Highland cattle. Beatrix captures the moment in February this year when the MacDonald’s prize black bull, Muran Erchie of Ardbhan, sold for the top price at the sale for just over £12,000. Muran Erchie was bought for this record sum by the von Heise Fold in Germany at the Highland Cattle Society’s Oban sale.
The Ardbhan fold was established more than 40 years ago on North Uist by Ena MacDonald, when she bought a single Highland cow. A single mother, her son Angus was 10 at the time. Today, together with Angus’s wife Michelle, and children Alexander, Sarah, Fraser and Fraser’s wife Carianne, they all work together as a business to ensure the fold thrives.
Known affectionately as ‘Granny Island’, Ena, now 79, is still hands-on with the fold. The documentary shows Ena out in her Jeep checking on the cows at calving time on Vallay, which the fold can only reach at low tide by a mixture of walking and swimming.