Highland cattle

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Highland Cattle
A Highland cattle in the Highlands
A Highland cattle in the Highlands
Conservation status Least Concern
Nicknames None
Country of origin Scotland
Distribution Worldwide
Use Meat, can be used for milk on a domestic scale
Weight Male: 800 kg
  Female: 500 kg
Bos primigenius
Highland cattle black coat
Highland cattle's hair gives protection during the cold winters

Highland cattle (Scottish Gaelic: Bò Ghàidhealach) (Scots: kyloe) are a Scottish breed of cattle. They have long horns and long wavy coats that are coloured black, brindled, red, yellow, or dun, and often primarily farmed for their meat.[1]

The breed[edit]

The breed was developed in the Scottish Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland. Breeding stock has been exported to the rest of the world, especially Australia and North America, since the early 20th Century. The breed was developed from two sets of stock, one originally black, and the other reddish.[2] Although there are several coat colors in existence since the late 1800s, most are caused by alleles at the MC1R gene (E locus) and the PMEL or SILV gene (D locus).[3]

Highlands are known as a hardy breed due to the rugged nature of their native Scottish Highlands which has high rainfall and very strong winds. Highland cattle have been successfully established in many temperate countries, such as Central Europe, and indeed in countries where winters are substantially colder than Scotland's such as in central Europe and Canada. Their hair is considered the longest of any cattle breed and gives protection during the cold winters. Their skill in looking for food allows them to survive in steep mountain areas. They both graze and browse, and eat plants that many other cattle avoid.


Highland cattle are known to have a history that dates back to at least the 6th century A.D, while the first written evidence dates back to the 12th century A.D. [4]

The Highland cattle registry ("herd book") was established in 1885. This is the oldest herd book in the world, which makes them the oldest registered cattle in the world.[5] Although groups of cattle are generally called herds, a group of Highlands is known as a fold. They were also known as kyloes in Scots.[6]

Commercial use[edit]

The meat tends to be leaner than most, beef because Highlands get most of their insulation from their thick, shaggy hair rather than subcutaneous fat. The coat makes them a good breed for cold northern climates and they are able to thrive in outdoor conditions that would defeat most other breeds of domestic beef cattle. As such, Highland cattle are able to produce beef at a reasonable gross margin from inhospitable land that would otherwise normally be incapable of rendering a profit agriculturally. Whilst the UK domestic and worldwide popularity of Highland cattle has made trade in pedigree beasts occasionally the most lucrative - mainly on account of their handsome appearance - they are at their best agriculturally when used to produce beef in a cold climate from poor pasture and forage.

Commercial success[edit]

Whilst the muscle of pure-bred Highland cattle is exceptionally tender and of high flavour, modern butchery and shopping trends tend to demand a carcass and a cut of meat of a different character. To address this market, Highland beef producers commonly run commercial Highland suckler cows with a 'terminal' sire such as a Shorthorn or Limousin bull. This allows the hardy Highland cow, grazed upon the rough hillsides of her natural environment, to produce a cross-bred beef calf that has the tender beef of its mother on a more modern carcass of high commercial value at slaughter, thus rendering a gross margin from her grazing that would have been impossible from other breeds in that environment. There is also a healthy demand from fellow producers of outdoor-reared beef who farm on more forgiving terrain, for Highland cross-bred bulling heifers: most often Highland cows crossed with the Shorthorn bull, for use as suckler cows. These cross-bred beef suckler cows inherit the hardiness, thrift and mothering capabilities of their Highland dams and the improved carcass configuration of their sires. Such cross-bred sucklers, further crossed with a modern beef bull such as a Limousin or Charolais to produce the finest quality beef are one of the mainstays of Scottish commercial beef production. It is this ability to pass on thrift and gross margin down the beef-breeding cascade that has secured this breed's place as a modern commercial beef breed.[6]

Highland calves in pasture.


For show purposes, highland cattle are sometimes groomed with oils and conditioners to give their coats a fluffy appearance. This appearance is more apparent in calves leading some outside the industry to call them fluffy cows.[7] Many also call the cows hariy cows, due to their thick coats.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Highland Cattle Society breed standard". Highlandcattlesociety.com. Retrieved 2012-03-09. 
  2. ^ James Wilson (1909), "ch. VIII The Colours of Highland Cattle", The Scientific Proceedings of the Royal Dublin Society, Royal Dublin Society 
  3. ^ Schmutz, S. M. and Dreger, D. L. 2013. Interaction of MC1R and SILV alleles on solid coat colors in Highland Cattle. Animal Genetics 44:9-13.
  4. ^ "History of Highland Cattle". 
  5. ^ "Oklahoma University - Cattle Breeds". 
  6. ^ a b "Highland Cattle Society; the breed". Highlandcattlesociety.com. Retrieved 2012-03-09. 
  7. ^ "Fluffy cows: Old Beauty practice gains attention". Associated Press. Retrieved 2013-06-21. 

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