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Highland cattle

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Highland cattle
A highland cow on Dartmoor in England
A highland cow on Dartmoor in England
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 kilograms
  Female: 500 kilograms
Bos primigenius
Highland cows with a 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] They originated from the Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland and were first mentioned in 6th century A.D. They have been since exported to other parts of the world, such as Australia, Norway and Canada.

They are a hardy breed due to their native environment, the Scottish Highlands. Bulls can weigh up to 800 kilogrammes and cows up to 500 kilogrammes. Their milk generally has a very high butterfat content. The meat is regarded as one of the highest quality and is gaining mainstream acceptance as it is low in cholesterol.

The breed[edit]


The breed was developed in the Scottish Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland. Breeding stock has been exported to many parts 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 well able to cope with the rugged nature of their native Scottish Highlands which have a high annual rainfall and sometimes very strong winds. However, highland cattle have also been successfully established in many temperate countries in Central Europe, and indeed in countries where winters are substantially colder than Scotland such as in Norway and Canada. Their hair is considered the longest of any cattle breed and gives protection during the cold winters. Their skill in foraging for food allows them to survive in steep mountain areas where they both graze and browse, and eat plants that many other cattle avoid. They can dig through the snow with their horns to find buried plants.[4]

Mature bulls can weigh up to 800 kg (1,800 pounds) and cows can weigh up to 500 kg (1,100 pounds). Highland cattle also have a longer expected lifespan than most other breeds of cattle, up to 20 years. It is breed standard that bulls must have horns.[5] The cows have traditionally been used as house cows as they have a docile temperament and the milk has a high butterfat content. They are generally good natured animals but very protective of their young.[6]


Highland cattle are known to have a history that dates back to at least the 6th century AD, while the first written evidence dates back to the 12th century AD.[7]

Originally, small farmers kept Highlands as a house cow to produce milk and meat.[5] 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.[8] 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.[9]

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 from subcutaneous fat. Highland cattle can produce beef at a reasonable profit from land that would otherwise normally be unused agriculturally. The most profitable way to produce highland beef is on poor pasture in their native land, the Highlands.[10] The meat is also gaining popularity in North America as the beef is low in cholesterol.[4]

Commercial success[edit]

The beef from Highland cattle is very tender. However, the market for high-quality meat has declined. To address this decline, it is common practice to breed Highland 'suckler' cows with a more favourable breed, such as a Shorthorn or Limousin bull. This allows the Highland cattle to produce a cross-bred beef calf that has the tender beef of its mother on a carcass shape of more commercial value at slaughter. 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 can be further cross-bred with a modern beef bull such as a Limousin or Charolais to produce high quality beef.[9][10]

Highland calves in pasture

International use[edit]


Highland cattle were first imported into Australia in 1844, by Scottish migrants. They were seen in Port Victoria but other folds were believed to have died out in areas such as New South Wales. In 1988 the Australian Highland Cattle Society was formed. Since then, numbers have been growing and semen is being exported to New Zealand to establish the breed there.[11]


Highland cattle were first imported to Nova Scotia, Canada in the 1880s. However their numbers were small until the 1920s when large-scale breeding and importing began.[12] In the 1950s cattle were imported and exported from North America. The Canadian Highland Cattle Society was officially registered in 1964 and currently registers all purebred cattle.[13]Towards the end of the 1990s, there was a large semen and embryo trade between the UK and Canada. However, that has stopped, largely due to the BSE outbreaks. Today, Highland cattle are mainly found in the East side of Canada.[14]


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, and it leads some outside the industry to call them fluffy cows.[15] Many also call the cows hairy cows, due to their thick coats.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Highland Cattle Society breed standard". 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. ^ a b "Highland cattle and their landscape". A to Z Animals. Retrieved 2015-04-28. 
  5. ^ a b "NWHCA Highland cattle". Northwest Highland Cattle Association. Retrieved 2015-04-27. 
  6. ^ "Breeds – Highland". The Dairy Site. Retrieved 2015-04-27. 
  7. ^ "History of Highland Cattle". Retrieved 2015-03-24. 
  8. ^ "Oklahoma University – Cattle Breeds". Oklahoma University. Oklahoma University. 
  9. ^ a b "Highland Cattle Society; the breed". Retrieved 2012-03-09. 
  10. ^ a b "Commercial success of highland cattle". Willow Brook Park. Retrieved 2015-04-28. 
  11. ^ "Australian HC Society". Australian Highland Cattle Society. Retrieved April 28, 2015. 
  12. ^ "Highland Cattle history in Canada". Canadian Highland Cattle Society. Retrieved April 28, 2015. 
  13. ^ "Canadian Highland Cattle Society". Retrieved 28 May 2015. 
  14. ^ "Highland Cattle World - Canada". Highland Cattle World. Retrieved 28 May 2015. 
  15. ^ "Fluffy cows: Old Beauty practice gains attention". Associated Press. Retrieved 2013-06-21. 

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