History of Highland Cattle

The Highland cattle breed is one of the oldest purebred cattle breeds in the world. The breed originated on the outer islands and the highlands of Scotland hundreds of years ago. The breed was originally a dual-purpose breed supplying both meat and milk to the farmers on the cold and windy coast of Scotland.

This unique breed, distinguished by long shaggy hair and impressive horns is low maintenance. Barn housing is rarely necessary due to their double coat of hair which is shed in warmer temperatures. Another distinctive feature to this breed is the varied color. Red, black, white, brindle and dun are all colors of pedigree Highlands. At maturity cows weigh 1000-1300 lbs. and bulls range from 1700-2000 lbs. Highlands are also noted for their ease of calving. With birth weights of 50-80 lbs., as well as the cows' wide pelvic structure, Highlands retain a persistent "high percentage" calf crop. It is not unusual to have a 17-19 year old cow producing calves.

Highland beef meets the demands of today's consumer. Scientific tests of Highland beef carried out proved that Highland beef is lower in fat and cholesterol. In fact, Highland beef rated lower than buffalo, pork, lamb and chicken. This is due in part to the double layer coat which replaces the thick layer of fat most other breeds have for insulation. Highland beef is lean, flavorful, well-marbled meat with little outside waste. Even the Queen of England has her own herd of Highlands at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

Despite their horns, Highlands are gentle and easily handled when treated properly. They are known for their quiet dispositions, superior intelligence, and do not stress easily. Even older bulls tend to be calm and easy-going.

 Highland cattle From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Highland cattle or kyloe are an ancient Scottish breed of beef cattle with long horns and long wavy pelts which are coloured black, brindled, red, yellow or dun.[1]

The breed 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]

Highlands are known as a hardy breed due to the rugged nature of their native Scottish Highlands, with high rainfall and strong winds. They both graze and browse and eat plants many other cattle avoid. The meat tends to be leaner than most beef, as Highlands get most of their insulation from their thick shaggy hair rather than subcutaneous fat. The coat also makes them a good breed for cold Northern climates.

The Highland cattle registry ("herd book") was established in 1885.[3] 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.

Highland cattle have been successfully established in many temperate countries. Their hair provides protection during the cold winters and their skill in browsing for food enables them to survive in steep mountain areas. "


Originally known as the 'black cattle' (because that was their predominant colour) or Kyloes (from 'kyles' meaning the narrow sea straits over which the cattle were swum or ferried across to the mainland from the islands with the help of cattle drovers), this cattle is now called 'Highland' or 'Highlander'.

The reason why most Highlanders are red these days would apparently be due to Queen Victoria. During one of her visits to Scotland in the 1840's, she let folk know that she preferred the Red cattle as opposed to the Black ones and so (as the Queen had commented), more Red cattle were bred and the number of Black cattle progressively declined. At Balmoral Estate, Queen Victoria created their own fold (a herd of Highlander's) and thus helped this native cattle to come back into fashion. Nowadays Highlanders can be found in many (cooler) parts of the world, mainly thanks to the good efforts of the Highland Cattle Society, which published the first Herd Book in 1885.


Colors of Highland Cattle

The Highland breed offers a wide spectrum of registered colors, 8 colors spanning from white to black. Red is currently the most popular and one of the strongest colors. The colors are white, silver (same as white, but with black nose and hooves), dun, yellow, red, brindle, black and parti (only heifers can be registered).

Black is the original color of the highland breed. In recent times black has become quite scarce. However  there has been an upsurg in the  interest in black highlands.

Breed Characteristics

Generally, Highland cows will weigh between 900 to 1,200 lbs at maturity. There are bloodlines, especially in the show circuit, that cows will average closer to 1500 lbs. Highland bulls generally run between 1,400-1,800 lbs at maturity. Again, there are some over 2,000 lbs.

Cows need to be feminine and bulls need to be masculine looking. Just like other cattle, Highland cattle need good conformation to walk the hills, browse, reproduce and to live a long life. Conformation is about good top and bottom lines, clean fronted, deep body, with a square back end.

"The Various Points of the Highlander may be noted as follows:-

Of all the representatives of our British bovine breeds, the Highlander has the grandest and most picturesque head; it is, indeed, to his head that he owes his great favour among artists. As a rule, it is most proportionate to the body of the animal, and is broad between the eyes, while short from the eyes to the point of the muzzle. The forelock between the eyes should be wide, long and bushy, and any nakedness or bareness there is certain to detract from the appearance of the animal. Some would almost have the hair so wide there as to obscure the eyes, but this in many cases would be allowing one good point to over-shadow another.

The eyes should be bright and full, and denoting, when excited, high courage. When viewed sideways, there should be a proportionate breadth of the jawbones readily observable, when compared with the width of the head in front, whilst the muzzle should, when looked at from a similar point, be short, though very broad in front, and with the nostrils fully distended, and indicating breeding in every way. One of the most noteworthy features in a Highlander, is of course, the horns. In the bulls, the horns should be strong, and come level out of the head, slightly inclining forwards, and also slightly rising towards the points.

Some, however, do not care for this rise, though any drooping is considered to be a very bad fault when between the crown and the commencement of the curve, as this is generally accompanied by a low weak back. Some, too, are of opinion that the masculine appearance is slightly detracted from when the horns rise directly from the crown. This, however, can only readily be detected and commented upon when particular animals are brought before experienced judges, as within a show ring.

As regards the horns of the cow, there prevail two opinions. As a rule, they come squarer out from the head than in the male, rise sooner, and are somewhat longer, though they preserve their substance and a rich reddish appearance to the very tips. The lack of the appearance of substance or "sappiness" about the horns of the male would be very much against the animal in the show-yard. The other taste is that for a female, the horns of which come more level from the head, with a peculiar back set curve, and very wide sweep. A large number of enthusiastic breeders seem to prefer, by comparison, the latter, which gives possibly the more graceful appearance. In all cases, however, the horns of a Highlander, when well set, gives the animal a stamp of nobility which causes it to attract the attention of any stranger who might pass heedlessly by animals of other breeds as merely cows, bulls or oxen.

The Neck and Shoulders
The neck should be altogether clear and without dewlap below. It should form a straight line from the head to the shoulder in the cow, but in the bulls should have that distinct crest common to all animals of the bovine species. This crest should come gracefully down to the roots of the horns, and, being well coated with wavy hair, the masculine appearance of the animal is fully completed. The shoulder should be thick and should fill out greatly as it descends from the point to the lower extremity of the forearm.

Back , Body and Hind-Quarters
From behind the shoulder the back should be fully developed and beautifully rounded. Any slight sinking or hollow is most decidedly objectionable. It should also, as in the Ayrshire, be as straight as possible, and the ribs should spring boldly out and be both well rounded and deep. When measured across the hips the breadth should be very great, and the quarters should be exceedingly well developed from the hips backwards. The thighs should also be well developed, and should show great fullness. Viewed generally, the quarters should be square between the hips and the tail, and from between the tail right down to between the hind feet. The legs, both before and behind, should be short and strong, the bones strong, broad, and straight, the hoofs well set in and large, and the legs well feathered with hair. The animal should be set wide between the fore-legs, and it should move with great dignity and style, as this is considered to be one of the most reliable evidences of careful and true breeding.

The hair, of which there should be a great profusion, more particularly on the parts indicated, should be long and gracefully waved, very much as in what dog-breeders denote wavy-coated retrievers. To have a curl is to possess a decided fault, and one which has of late years become unfortunately too common in some folds. This has been attributed in some quarters to a growing desire to make Highlanders grow big from feeding them higher and housing them more. At any rate, experience goes far to prove that the more exposed they are the greater the profusion of the hair, and the less its tendency to curl. Thus, the reason of the island cattle being always so much better haired than the mainland cattle is owing to their never being housed in winter.

The usual colours are black, brindled, red, yellow, and dun, and there is considerable difference of opinion among breeders as to which is preferable.

In general, as to colour, it may be said that a good herd should possess a mixture - avoiding always all those which indicate unhealthy thrivers. The thickness of the skin, as in all fattening breeds, comes in for a considerable amount of attention, but it has to be borne in mind always that the Highlander has been adapted by nature to withstand great exposure.

Inverness, 10th June, 1885." [1]

1. The Highland Cattle Society. (Breed Standards)

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