Highland Cattle

Highland Cattle

Highland cattle are a Scottish cattle breed. They have long horns and long, wavy, woolly coats that are coloured black, brown, yellow, white, grey, “silver” or tan, and they also may be brindled. Highlands are raised primarily for their meat. 

Origin: They originated in the Highlands and Outer Hebrides islands of Scotland and were first mentioned in the 6th century AD. The first herd book described two distinct types of Highland cattle but, due to crossbreeding between the two, only one type now exists and is registered. They have since been exported worldwide.

Breed characteristics:

They are a hardy breed, having been bred to withstand the conditions in the Scottish Highlands. Their long hair gives the breed its ability to overwinter. Highland cattle are sometimes groomed with oils and conditioners to give their coats a fluffy appearance that is more apparent in calves; it leads some outside the industry to call them “Fluffy cows”. Many also call the cows “Hairy cows” due to their thick coats.

  • Horns: They have long Horns. They can dig through the snow with their horns to find buried plants.
  • Hair colour: They have an unusual double coat of hair. On the outside is the oily outer hair—the longest of any cattle breed—covering a downy undercoat. The hair colour of Highland cattle can vary from black, brown, yellow, white, and grey.
  • Withstand in harsh conditions: Their double hair coat make them well suited to conditions in the Highlands, which have a high annual rainfall and sometimes very strong winds. Their skill in foraging for food allows them to survive in steep mountain areas where they both graze and eat plants that many other cattle avoid. Conversely due to their thick coats they are much less tolerant of heat than zebu cattle, which originated in South Asia and are adapted for hot climates.
  • Body weight: Mature bulls can weigh up to 800 kilograms (1,800 pounds) and cows can weigh up to 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds). 
  • Height: Cows typically have a height of 90–106 centimetres (3–3.5 ft) and bulls are typically in the range of 106–120 centimetres (3.5–4 ft). 
  • Mating occurs throughout the year with a gestation period of approximately 277–290 days. Most commonly a single calf is born, but twins are not unknown. 
  • Maturity age: Sexual maturity is reached at about eighteen months.
  • Breeding occurred in May and June, with heifers first giving birth at 2–3 years old
  • Life span: Highland cattle also have a longer expected lifespan than most other breeds of cattle, up to 20 years.
  • Temperament: They have a very docile temperament. They are generally good-natured animals but very protective of their young.
  • Milk Fat contents: Their milk generally has a very high butterfat content so have traditionally been used as house cows.
  • Meat: Their meat is of highest quality and gaining acceptance as it is lower in cholesterol than other varieties of beef. Their meat tends to be leaner than most beef because Highlands are largely insulated by their thick, shaggy hair rather than by subcutaneous fat.
  • Social Behavior: The cattle have a clear structure and hierarchy of dominance, which reduced aggression. Social standing depends on age and sex, with older cattle being dominant to calves and younger ones, and males dominant to females. Young bulls dominate adult cows when they reached around 2 years of age. Calves from the top ranking cow have higher social status, despite minimal intervention from their mother. Playfighting, licking and mounting are as friendly contact.

Breed standard:

The breed standard is a set of guidelines which are used to ensure that the animals produced by a breeder or breeding facility conform to the specifics of the standardized breed. All registered Highland cattle must conform to it. The breed standard was created in Inverness on 10 June 1885. There are four main parts to the standard: the head, the neck, the back and body, and the hair. Below is a concise list of the main points of the breed standard. A judge in a show will judge the cattle against a provided breed standard:

  • Head 
    • Proportionate to body
    • Wide between eyes
    • Must naturally have horns, but may be trimmed in commercial rearing
  • Neck 
    • Clear, without dewlap
    • Straight line to body
  • Back and Body 
    • The back must be rounded
    • The quarters must be wider than the hips
    • The legs must be short and straight
  • Hair 
    • The hair must be straight and waved

Sources: Highland Cattle Society,  scottishhighlandcattle.org


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