Highland cattle

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Highland Cattle
A Highland bull in the Highlands of Scotland
A Highland cow in the Highlands of Scotland
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 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 have been since exported to other parts of the world, such as Australia. Their 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 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. However, highland cattle have also 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 where they both graze and browse, and eat plants that many other cattle avoid.[4]

Mature bulls can weigh up to 800 kg (1,800 pounds) and cows can weight up to 500 kg (1,100 pounds). Highland cattle also have a longer expected lifespan than other breeds of cattle, up to 20 years. It is breed standard that that bulls must have horns. [5] The milk that they produce can be milked to produce a house cow, as it is high in butterfat. Another factor in making this a house cow is the temperament of the cattle. They are generally very good natured cattle but very protective of their young.[6]


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.[7]

Originally, small farmers have 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 subcutaneous fat. Highland cattle are able to 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 due to the beef being 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 practise 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 more preferable carcass shape of 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 New Scotia, Canada in the 1880s. However, their numbers were small until the 1920s when large scale breeding and importing began. The Canadian Highland Cattle Society was officially registered in 1964 and currently registers all purebred cattle.[12]


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.[13] Many also call the cows hairy 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. ^ a b "Highland cattle and their landscape". 
  5. ^ a b "NWHCA Highland cattle". 
  6. ^ "Breeds - Highland". The Dairy Site. Retrieved 2015-04-27. 
  7. ^ "History of Highland Cattle". 
  8. ^ "Oklahoma University - Cattle Breeds". 
  9. ^ a b "Highland Cattle Society; the breed". Highlandcattlesociety.com. Retrieved 2012-03-09. 
  10. ^ a b "Commercial success of highland cattle". 
  11. ^ "Australian HC Society". 
  12. ^ "Highland Cattle history in Canada". 
  13. ^ "Fluffy cows: Old Beauty practice gains attention". Associated Press. Retrieved 2013-06-21. 

External links[edit]