While presenting some interesting Highland cattle facts, this AnimalSake article explains how it is possible to produce a premium quality beef with less cost and effort.
Highland, an ancient Scottish breed, is the oldest registered cattle breed. Highland cattle can withstand harshest conditions and seem to be immune to everything. They live longer and produce more calves than other breeds.
Highland cattle are native to the areas of Scotland, close to the Arctic circle. They have adapted well to the toughest environmental conditions that prevail in the rugged Scottish Highlands. They are often seen grazing on steep slopes. They are known for their mountain-climbing skills, hardiness, and vigor. These days, they are raised mainly for their leaner, tender, and flavorful meat.
Their double coat acts as a natural insulator, and protects them from severe cold, high rainfall, and strong winds. The outer coat consists of long, coarse hair, while the inner coat consists of soft, short, woolly hair. The long fringes over the eyes are known as ‘dossan’. No other cattle breed has such a coat. Other breeds produce a layer of fat to stay warm. The excess fat stored in subcutaneous layers protects them from severe cold. Highland cattle do not need such fat for protection. And it has been noticed that Highlands do not increase their feed intake until the temperature drops to -18 degrees F, while other breeds increase their intake at 32 degrees F. That is why the meat of Highland cattle tends to be leaner than most beef.
Scientific Name: Bos taurus
Common Names: Hairy cow, Scottish Highland cattle, Scotch Highland cattle, Highland cattle or Highlanders
Diet: Herbivore; mainly consists of grass, leaves, and flowers
Native Place: Scotland
Habitat: Mountainous and wet grasslands
Height: 0.9 – 1.1 m (3 – 3.5 ft)
Weight: 400 – 1,000 kg (882 – 2,204 lbs)
Top Speed: 40 km/h (25 mph)
Conservation Status: Least concern
Life Expectancy: 15 – 22 years
Average Litter Size: One
Predators: Human beings, wolves, and coyotes
Characteristic Feature: Long, thick, flowing coat and large, curved horns
Color: Tan, brown, black, brindled, red, yellow, dun, silver-white, or orange
Highland Cattle Breed Facts
➺ Although groups of cattle are generally called ‘herds’, a group of Highlands is known as a ‘fold’.
➺ Originally, the slightly smaller and black (or brindled) Highland cattle that were found on the islands off the west coast of northern Scotland were known as ‘Kyloe’. The larger ones, mostly reddish in color, were common in the remote Highlands of Scotland. Today, both these strains are regarded as one breed―Highland.
➺ Their double coat reduces the need for expensive barns and shelters. So raising them is quite economical. The hair on the outer coat can be about 13 inches long. These well-oiled hair help shed rain and snow. These are easy-to-handle animals.
➺ They do not require specially designed shelters, feed supplements, or expensive grains to stay fit. They can withstand cold weather and snow. Many other breeds would not survive in the conditions in which Highland cattle live happily. They have been raised in remote terrains with harsh climates like Alaska and the Scandinavian countries.
➺ Highlands produce less hair in warm climates. So they are suitable for any area throughout the U.S. Despite being raised in the northern regions, they adapt well to the southerly climates. They are being raised in Texas, Louisiana, and Georgia. Records show that they were first imported into the United States in the late 1890s.
➺ In Scotland, the Highland cattle registry was established in 1885. Archeological evidence shows that the breed existed in the sixth century. Some written records show that Highland cattle existed in the twelfth century. Today, they are found in America, Europe, and Australia.
➺ The American Scotch Highland Breeders Association was formed in August 1948. Later, in 1992, the name was changed to the American Highland Cattle Association or AHCA. The American Highland Cattle Association registry was first formed in 1948.
➺ According to the breeders, Highlands eat what other cattle pass by. They are adept browsers, they clear a brush quickly, with great efficiency. Highlands love eating grass; however, they also eat the fresh, newly emerging leaves of various bushes, oak leaves, cedar saplings, and even pine needles. They create a browse line on the trees, by eating the leaves within their reach.
➺ Calves are relatively smaller. They weigh 40-60 pounds. Highland cows are highly fertile. They give birth to calves very easily, without any birthing assistance. They can produce calves up to the age of 19. With a nine month’s gestation period, they can give birth to a calf each year. This considerably reduces replacement costs. In case of adverse conditions, conception rates do not get affected. They remain high for a relatively longer period.
➺ Usually, the horns of a Highland cow grow outward and curve up above her head, the tips pointing towards the sky. A bull’s horns normally curve outward and forward, along the sides of his face. The tips are not raised very high.
➺ The calves are born with ‘nubs’ that are as small as the tip of a finger. A one-year-old heifer has about 5-7 inches long horns.
➺ The horn spread of an older cow can be 3 – 4 feet wide. Horns help determine the age of the growing calf.
➺ The weight of a mature cow is 900 – 1,200 pounds. Bulls may weigh about 1,500 to 2,000 pounds. The weight largely depends upon forage conditions.
➺ There is no need to worry about their temperament. Looks are often deceptive. The Highland is an even-tempered animal. They can be halter trained as easily as any other breed. They are quite intelligent, docile, and cooperative.
➺ This is a disease-resistant breed. Long lashes and dossan protect their eyes from flying insects. Therefore, pinkeye and cancer eye are seldom encountered. Highlands do not stress easily in harsh conditions, so stress-related diseases are also uncommon. They seem to be immune to everything, as other bovine diseases affect them less. Genetics plays an important role in this. Their adaptability to severe changes in weather is responsible for their longevity.
➺ For more than two decades, the Highland and Highland crosses have topped their respective classes at the esteemed National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado.
➺ The British also consider Highland beef as the finest available beef. There too, it is sold at high prices. The British Royal family keeps a large herd of Highlands at Balmoral Castle, near Braemar, Scotland.
➺ The milk obtained from Highland cows is high in butterfat. It can be used to make butter and cheese. One Highland cow may not produce as much milk as a typical ‘production milk cow’, but the milk would be sufficient for her calf and her owner.
➺ Unlike other breeds, Highlands are slow maturing. So, the meat is fine textured, tender, and succulent. A study conducted by the Scottish Agricultural College showed that Highland beef is significantly (about 40%) lower in fat and cholesterol. It contains more protein and iron than other beefs. These meat nutrition facts have made Highland cattle popular all over the world.
➺ Hides from these magnificent animals are sold at high prices because of their long hair and availability of colors. They are used to make luxurious rugs.
The breed ‘Highland cattle’ was originally developed by natural selection, and so, it is best known for its exceptional survival qualities like hardiness, endurance, maternal abilities, reproductive efficiency, and longevity. All these characteristic features make them more profitable than other breeds.