Doris is a Highland cow who lives on my family’s farm on the edge of the Peak District. As you can see she seems quite happy in the snow. In fact Doris is comfortable whatever the weather.

Most of the other breeds of cattle struggle in the winter but Doris can easily cope due to her thick coat and slow metabolism – unsurprisingly she is built to thrive in the environment after which her breed is named. If Highlands struggle at any time of the year it will be in the summer on those rare hot days – they then take shelter under tree foliage.

Doris is around 10 years old and though not spectacular in size – there are some cows on the farm twice her size – she has always had a calf every year. Her offspring are always slow growing but make steady progress throughout the year (we have never lost any of her calves).

Highland cattle, through their genetics, have removed a lot of the volatility involved in beef breeding in the UK. As you can see from the picture, Doris is “chilled out” even in adverse / unpredictable conditions.

Whilst I know they exist, at no point do I look at other breeds and benchmark Doris against them. I have Doris as she is the best match for my needs.

For me, as a part-time farmer, travelling to London a lot, a reliable cow is what I need – not one that is high maintenance (clearly if I were a full time dairy farmer or commercial beef farmer my needs would be different).

I think there is something that pension schemes could learn from this. Equities have always been the staple growth asset for pension schemes but, as time goes on, the return (and specifically the variability) they provide is increasingly looking less like the ideal return for maturing schemes.

As pension schemes mature, as we have discussed before, their needs change. The focus moves from pure return generation to steady reliable return generation. A bit like Doris.

That is why pension schemes are looking elsewhere for return generation – whether it is derivatives, infrastructure, multi-asset credit or other assets – the trend is to look for the right return achieved more consistently. Despite this change in focus it is natural for many Trustees’ views on other assets to be coloured by thoughts of “what could we have got from equities?”

Yet the reality for many schemes is that what equities provide is not what they need. They want something steady and reliable – a bit like Doris.

I don’t worry about Doris when it snows…


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