Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Heritage Breeds: Highland Cattle

Highland Cattle

This breed of beef cattle originates from the Scottish Highlands.  With its characteristic shaggy hair, long forelocks, and long horns, it is not easily forgotten.  It has a unique double hair coat (coarse outer layer and wooly inner layer).  This coat helps it to easily handle cold and rainy climates, but it can shed its thick coat to thrive in hot and humid weather as well.

In Recovering Status by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.  For a full description of Heritage and Heirloom Foods, check out this post.

This is a breed I am strongly considering adding to my land... one day.  I had a chance to talk to a couple who raised Highlands on their farm in Minnesota.  They loved them.  This breed has a lot of attributes that are beneficial for small farmers.  On top of that, their beef is delicious!

Award winning cow and her calf.

     Medium sized beef cattle
     Cows 3 - 3.5 feet at the shoulders
     Bulls 3.5 - 4 ft as the shoulders
     Cows 900 - 1,300 lbs
     Bulls 1,500 - 2,000 lbs
     Calves 60-70 lbs (that's small - makes for easier delivery)
     Solid Red is most common
     Solid Black, Brindle, Cream, Dun, Yellow, White, and Silver are all traditional colors.
     Cows - sweep out and up
     Bulls - horizontal with upturned tips

Highland Bull.

Developed mainly through natural selection in the Scottish Highlands and Scottish Western Isles where rugged land, strong winds, and high rainfall produced a sturdy breed.  The Highland was standardized and improved in the 1800's.  This is a rather unique breed, because the improvement was made using only Highland cattle.  No other breeds were cross-breed with the Highland for improving the breed characteristics.  The Highland cattle registry was established in 1885.  Their other name, Kyloe, comes from the Scottish term for strait, the bodies of water the cattle had to swim across to make it to market.

Of interest, a group of Highlands is called a fold (instead of the more common term, herd).

Highland Calves

Attributes/Permaculture Planning
  • Beef is of high flavor
  • Lean meat - Most of their insulation comes from their shaggy coat and not fat.  According to the Scottish Agricultural College, Highland beef has lower fat and cholesterol and higher protein and iron content than other beef breeds.
  • Medium sized cattle
  • Easy handling - Scots used to keep the family cow inside their home in the winter!
  • Strong maternal abilities - Highly devoted and protective mothers.
  • Efficient reproduction - Noted for their ease with calving
  • Very hardy
  • Long lived
  • Thrive in cold, wet climates
  • Thrives on rough forage - will graze and browse in areas that other cattle will not and can consume a wide variety of "pest" plants.  Often used in Europe to improve pastures before the more developed (i.e. fragile) breeds of cattle are moved in.
Highlands are excellent mothers.

For more information on Highland cattle, check out the American Highland Cattle Association.


  1. John ... teach me about taking care of chickens ...

  2. I love this breed they are beautiful! I wanna raise them on our farm. How hard and how expensive are they to get?

  3. Also, if you have a hotmail account or facebook it wont let you post unless u are anonymous??????

  4. Highlands are definitely exotic lokking, but I raise Dexter cattle which i believe is a much better chice for smaller acreages. I originally chose them for their ability to provide excellent meat, but i am also milking my two ol' gals and the milk is wonderful. Also a heritage breed, they have the same wonderful heritage hardiness benefits as the Highlands, but are a tad bit smaller. The long hair of the Highlands is a negative where i come from, Northern california, as the stickers caught in their long hair would be a serious problem and the hair also prevents the hotwire from being as effective. I have several paddocks separated with hotwire so this is very important. Dexters have the regular cattle type coat - short and tight in the summer, downy and warm in the winter.
    I think they are the perfect permaculture cow - meat, milk, cheese, butter, manure, fire abatement, do not eat trees and shrubs like goats, easy to fence in. I could go on and on. If you are considering adding cattle, give the breed a serious look.

  5. I am a big fan of Dexter cattle! I may write an article about them soon now that you reminded me of them. Thanks for the information and comments!

  6. Could these types of cattle live in warmer climates? I live in Texas and am a big fan of these cows, I live in the Houston area, which is pretty wet, but the only problem is the temperature. In the winter we can get to about the low 40s and high 30s.