The Highland cow is a Scottish breed that is easily identified as it has the longest hair coat of any cattle breed worldwide. Highlands have a rich history as a registered breed that adds substance to their rustic, beautiful look which is appealing to both commercial breeders and hobby farmers alike.
Here’s what to know about the shaggy-looking Highland cattle christened as “Hairy Coos/Hairy Cows” or the “Fluffy Cows”.
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Where Does The Highland Cow Breed Come From?
The Highland cow breed originates in the Scottish Highlands and the west coastal islands of Scotland, where its members were kept as house cows for milk, hair, and meat production.
Also known as the North Highland cattle, Long-haired Scotting cattle, or Scottish cattle, the Highlands are believed to have descended from the Hamitic Longhorn cattle that arrived from Britain in the 2nd millennium BC with Neolithic farmers.
The farmers are believed to have brought two varieties of now-extinct bovines—one originally black and the other reddish. The resulting cattle were usually black and inherited long horns.
The Highland Cattle Society was established in 1884, and the Highland Cattle Herdbook published in the same year recognized two varieties or strains of the breed—the West Highland or Kyloes, and the Highlander.
The two strains were differentiated by color and size. The Kyloes, which thrived on the western islands of Scotland, were primarily black or brindle and smaller because of the harsh environment and poor feed.
The Highlander, which were reared in the remote mainland highlands, were dun or red colored and larger because they had access to more feed.
The two initial strains have now been combined and show no differences.
Importations of Highland cattle brought the breed to other parts of the world, such as America, in the late 1890s.
The American Scotch Highland Cattle Breeders Association was established in South Dakota on August 30, 1948, to gather, verify, conserve, and records known pedigrees of Scotch Highland cattle.
The association, renamed the American Highland Cattle Association (AHCA) in 1992, was also responsible for promoting interest in the breed throughout the US.
Other importations brought the Highland cattle to Canada in the 1880s, Australia, and Finland in 1884.
Today, the long-haired Highland cow breed is present in countries like New Zealand, Czech Republic, Belgium, United Kingdom, Poland, Austria, Norway, Holland, Sweden, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, the Faroe Islands, Denmark, and South America.
One of the most famous folds of Highland cattle is the award-winning fold established in 1953 at the Balmoral Castle by Queen Elizabeth, who preferred the red variety to the black one. This fold has since cemented Highland beef as the preferred choice for the British Royal Family.
The hardy breed is now kept for its quality meat, milk, and fiber (in some places). Some breeders also raise the animals for showing because of their cuteness and docility.
Highland Cattle Characteristics
The Highland cattle breed has likable characteristics such as:
|Official Breed Name||Highland|
|Appearance||Medium body size|
Traditional colors are black, red, yellow, dun, brindle, silver, or white
Long horns in both bulls and cows
Thick, double coat, comprising a downy undercoat and outer hair that could be 13 inches long
|Calf Weight||60-70 pounds|
|Mature Cow Weight||900-1,200 pounds|
|Mature Cow Height||35-41 inches|
|Mature Bull Weight||1,500-1,800 pounds|
|Mature Bull Height||41-47 inches|
|Ready To Breed||18 months for heifers, from 13 months for bulls|
|Gestation Period||9 months|
|First Calvings||24-36 months|
|Time to Slaughter||2 years|
|Carcass Weight||450-529 pounds|
|Expected Lifespan||20-22 years|
|Productive Lifespan||15-18 years for cows (some more)|
Good nature, docility, and ease of halter-breaking
|Weaknesses||Tendency to wear out due to the habit of scratching themselves against non-electric fences|
Poor milk production
Poor performance as a feedlot breed (the cattle prefer to forage)
Does not do well in hot climates such as central Australia
|Climate||Hardiness in harsh environments|
Adaptability and versatility to different climates
What Is So Special About Highland Cattle?
Scottish Highland cows and bulls are known for the following:
- Cold tolerance because of the double coat, which insulates them from biting cold
- True calving ease (unassisted), thanks to low calf weights, slim calf conformations, and large pelvic areas in dams
- Excellent maternal traits with rare calf abandonment, even for heifers calving down for the first time
- Resistance to stress-related diseases
- Adaptive flexibility. Scottish Highland cattle can shed their heavy coat in hot and dry environments before growing a new one when cold and damp weather kicks in.
- Natural free-ranging or foraging ability with marked ability to efficiently convert poor pasture
- Long lifespan with a long reproductive life of 15-18 years. The cattle can birth 15-18 calves, one Highland calf at a time, though twins are also possible. The average lifetime litter for Highland cows is 12 calves.
- Hardy, rapid-growing calves, despite their low birth weight
- Lean, tender, distinctively flavored, and well-marbled beef (these being good attributes of slow-maturing beef).
- Low-fat, high-protein beef with low cholesterol and high iron content than beef from other breeds
- High-quality, tasty milk with a high butterfat content
- High fertility and birth rates since breeding is polygynous and happens all year round among the fold (a group of Highland cattle is called a fold rather than a herd. The cattle were kept in open shelters called folds to protect them from predators and extreme cold).
Why Should I Raise Highland Cattle On My Farm?
The Highland cattle breed is highly likable and near-perfect regardless of the environment it is raised in.
The cows are great even on small farms because they can comfortably spend the winter outside, thus reducing housing and labor costs. The long hair on the outer coat is oily and enables the cattle to shed snow and rain to maintain their body warmth.
Highland cattle have excellent mothering instincts with optimal protection for calves against predators, a trait they practice even with other species like sheep when reared together. You can expect reduced losses to predators.
With Highland cattle on your farm, you can expect reduced veterinary expenses. The eyelashes and long hair on the face protect their eyes from insects, while the shorter legs mean fewer feet and leg problems.
Highland cows and bulls are low-cost and low-maintenance farm animals, requiring no (expensive) feed supplements. They easily take care of themselves, even using their long horns to dig up snow to unearth hidden plants.
Raising Highland cows means having reduced fold replacement costs. The longer reproductive lives, calving ease, high fertility, calving regularity, and lifespan of the cattle mean you will have live Highland calves throughout.
Because of their cuteness, small size, and docility, you can keep Highland cattle as pets and showing animals, with the potential of winning coveted monetary prizes and trophies in the shows.
Additionally, you can raise Highland cattle to harness their unique hereditary genetics through crossbreeding. They can be crossbred with other breeds like Hereford, Beef Shorthorn, Limousin bulls, and Aberdeen Angus.
The Highland sires will add mothering ability, less waste fat, and hybrid vigor in return for better carcass shape.