Unique cattle being raised by unique people

YORK – “This is a unique breed of cattle being raised by unique people.”

That’s a quote from the late Dr. Dave Demuth. The beloved York doctor recognized how special Scottish Highland cattle are, back in 1987, and his love of the breed lives on today as his family continues the raise them, as well as host the annual memorial Scottish Highland Cattle Show in York, which has become the second largest such show for the breed in the nation.

“He always said that, how this is a unique breed being raised by unique people,” said Dr. Dave’s son, Collin. “And that is really the truth.”

That is an understatement. These cattle are majestic and cute at the same time, large yet almost cuddly, curious and yet very docile.

Collin and his wife, Natalie, along with their kids, have a medium-sized herd of their own today, on their acreage nestled into the west side of York. Their respect for the breed, and the people who raise them, is evident.

Collin explained how Dr. Dave – a very busy man as a popular physician in this community – was reading a medical journal and ran across an article written by a fellow doctor in Minnesota. The other doctor wrote about how he was able to start a small herd of Highlands and properly care for them while still being a very busy doctor.

“My dad was curious and called the doctor in Minnesota,” Collin recalled. “The doctor told Dad they are just a great breed, they pretty much take care of themselves as far as daily care. That man got Dad in touch with some breeders he knew. It was Mother’s Day weekend, when Dad took off for Minnesota with a pretty small trailer I think he borrowed from a neighbor. He went to get two and came back with six. I don’t think my mom will ever forget when he returned, with three times the cattle he intended to bring back. Let’s just say that trailer was very full.”

The Demuths started showing their Highland Cattle shortly after that. In 1988, they went to the Denver Stock Show to watch what was the first ever Highland show in the nation. The cattle, which originated in Scotland, had just started to become a popular breed in the United States.

“We went to that one together and every single show until he passed away,” Collin said. “And I’ve been to every single one since.”

Collin reflected on their years of raising Scottish Highland cattle and their shared love of not only the breed but also the fellowship and friendship with like-minded people around the nation.

“It was something we did together,” Collin said fondly of his time with his father. “I guess that became our annual family vacation. Once we started showing, I was more competitive, but that was never anything that interested my dad. He couldn’t have cared less about winning or who won. He loved meeting other people, seeing his friends, being involved on the national Highland Cattle Board, taking photographs at the shows, spending the time. It really meant a lot to him, being with the people and sharing their interest in this interesting breed. It was really about the experience.”

They showed at Denver, in Wisconsin, Minnesota and once in Pennsylvania where the national convention was held.

“Right before Dad passed, we took the big step to buy at a higher end with genetics,” Collin said. “And it was right after he passed away, we took possession of a bred heifer which really took our herd to another level.”

It was Oct. 9, 2007, when Dr. Dave suddenly passed away, shocking the community and of course, his family. Just weeks before his death, Dr. Dave was awarded the National Physician of the Year award by the American Medical Association – which Collin said didn’t mean a ton to his father because to Dave Demuth, being a doctor was about caring for people and not winning awards.

Also right before Dr. Dave’s death, he created the first Scottish Highland Cattle Show in Nebraska – right here at the York County Fairgrounds.

“It was in September and he felt this would be a great central location in the country, so it would be more convenient for breeders to travel here from different areas of the nation,” Collin said. “And they came. It was quite something. Dad wanted to have it during Yorkfest, that first show. Later on, we found that having the show at the beginning of September doesn’t work as well for Highlands because it’s still so hot. So we have gradually moved the show to the end of October.”

The Highland Cattle’s hair is lustrous, to say the least, but they shed a lot of their long hair during the hot summer months and it comes back in the fall for the winter. Collin said it is evident where different cattle live – if they come from hot locations like Texas or the Midwest, their hair will be thinner and shorter than their counterparts coming from cooler states or Canada.

It was an emotional day, a year after Dr. Dave’s passing and that first show, when the Demuth family moved forward with having the second show. Appropriately, it became the Dr. Dave Demuth Memorial Scottish Highlands Cattle Show and bagpipes again opened the show – but this time without its founder.

The Demuth family forged ahead and today, their Highland Show in late October (now the 16th annual) is the second largest in the United States.

“We started, that first year, with 15 exhibitors and 25-30 head,” Collin remembered. “Now, we are at about 45 exhibitors with 100 head. Last year, we were the second largest show behind Denver and this year, we are scheduled to be the same. Dad believed we were positioned geographically to draw from all directions and he was right. Last year, we had exhibitors from 14 states and we will be at that again this year.”

After more than 1 ½ decades, the success of the show continues. Collin says he finds it “crazy that of the exhibitors today, only about five of them still remember Dad because we have all these new people now and others have retired or passed away. But his legacy has been strong and those who show and raise these cattle today have heard about him. And that’s really helped us, with the success of the show.”

Collin said, “It’s been great having the show at the York County Fairgrounds. Last year, we were pretty full and we will be again this year. We have had some ask if we ever thought about moving it to Fonner Park in Grand Island. We’ve been invited to move and host it in Kansas City. But no matter how big it gets, I’ll talk with the York County Ag Society and we will use other barns, whatever. We will always find a way to make it work here. We will never move the show because it just would never be the same.”

He said the exhibitors also love coming to York and Nebraska in general. Plus, he noted there are more Highland breeders in this state than there used to be, and they really appreciate not having to travel days to get to a show far away.

When the show first started, it was open – meaning it was for breeders with exhibitors mostly being adults. Later, the Demuths added a junior show as well – for kids to show the cattle.

“That’s been really, really fun, seeing the kids compete,” Collin said. “Local businesses help us sponsor awards and premium money. At first we didn’t entertain a junior show, because there weren’t enough kids, but it has really taken off now and we all have so much fun with the junior program.”

It’s fitting that the junior program would take off, seeing how Dr. Dave’s grandkids now show the animals. And Collin said kids working with the cattle make them easier to break – although they are already so docile and pet-like, they aren’t that difficult to train in the first place.

This year’s memorial Scottish Highlands Show will start at 8 a.m., in the Cornerstone Event Center at the York County Fairgrounds on Saturday, Oct. 28. First up will be the junior show, to be followed by the open show which should probably start around 10:30 a.m. Of course, it will open with the performance of bagpipers from Omaha, which is a popular tradition. Collin encourages the public to attend as they will be able to see what’s considered unusual cattle, in this area of the world mostly full of Angus, Herefords, Chianina, Charolais and other breeds.

“You won’t find Scottish Highlands Cattle in feed yards,” Collin said, “as these are mostly suited for those who want to raise small herds on acreages. That’s more toward what they are geared for.”

Scottish Highland beef is considered a high-end product and is sold in special niche restaurant markets. Collin said there are also breeders making a living utilizing their Highland cattle in other ways – including as content/backgrounds for photographers, as draws to vineyards and specialized rural businesses. And the Highland image is now suddenly seen everywhere – on products sold by Bed, Bath and Beyond as well as other major retailers – because well, they are really cute and majestic at the same time. Collin said the demand for Highland cattle in the United States really exploded during COVID, as more people were gravitating toward the country and living in rural areas. That demand may have reached its peak, he said, but it is definitely at a plateau right now and he sees that continuing.

“With more and more people raising Highland cattle due to their increasing popularity, we will probably see our show numbers grow too,” Collin said. “But as I said earlier, no matter how big this show gets, we will never move it from York County. We are excited to welcome breeders to our county and our state, meet more of the people who are in love with these special cattle and enjoy the fellowship and competition.”

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And of course, there is the memory of Dr. Dave, the man who opened the door for this special adventure for his family and community. He won’t soon be forgotten because of the genuinely kind person he was and now new people will hear about how special he was through this unique way as well.

As Collin spoke, a special Highland named Sarah nuzzled up against him and he rubbed her forehead right between her pronounced horns. He talked about how they bought her, back when she was just a calf so his young son could show one more his size. Sarah seemed to understand everything he said and the others watched with curiosity while their bangs blew in the Nebraska wind.

Definitely unique cattle being raised by unique people.

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