Highlands (sometimes called "Scotch or Scottish" Highlands) are an ancient breed known to have grazed the rugged Scottish landscape since the sixth century, making them one of the oldest known breeds of cattle. Believed to be the blending of two ancient Asiatic breeds, the "Bos Longifrons" and the "Bos Primigenius," these highly desirable animals are noted for their ease of calving, high quality beef and superb hides.
Highlands require a minimum of management and care, do not require barn housing and they forage readily where feed is sparse. Noted as browsers and brush clearers, they eat much of what other cattle pass by.
Their double coat of hair and natural hardiness allows them to adapt to many climates, shedding much of their hair in warming temperatures. Despite their long horns, they are gentle and easily handled, are distinguished for their quiet dispositions, superior intelligence and calm nature.
The extremely harsh conditions created a process of natural selection, where only the fittest and most adaptable animals survived to carry on the breed. Originally there were two distinct classes: The slightly smaller and usually black Kyloe, whose primary domain was the islands off the west coast of northern Scotland; the other, a larger animal generally reddish in color, whose territory was the remote Highlands of Scotland.
Today both of these strains are regarded as one breed—the Highland. In addition to the red and black of the original strains, yellow, dun and silver-white are also considered traditional colors.
The Highland is the oldest registered breed of cattle with the first herd book being established in 1884. Around that time, American cattlemen from the western U.S. recognized the natural qualities of the Highland animal and imported them to improve the bloodlines of their herds. As a result, the Highland contributed in a great way to the success of the American cattle industry. Today Highlands are found throughout North America, as well as in Europe, Australia, and South America.
Highlands require little in the way of shelter, feed supplements, or expensive grains to achieve and maintain good condition and fitness. In fact, Highland cattle seem to enjoy conditions in which many other breeds would perish. Cold weather and snow have little effect on them. They have been raised as far north as Alaska and the Scandinavian countries. They also adapt well to the more southerly climates with successful herds as far south as Texas and Georgia.
Less than ideal pasture or rangeland is another reason to consider the Highland breed. It has been said that the Highland will eat what other cattle pass by…and get fat on it! The Highland is also an excellent browser, able to clear a brush lot with speed and efficiency.
The Highland is a disease resistant breed. Long lashes and forelocks shield their eyes from flying insects, and as a result, pinkeye and cancer eye are uncommon. Highlands do not stress easily, so stress related diseases occur with less frequency. And other bovine diseases affect the Highland less, due to the genetic advantages they have achieved.
Despite long horns and unusual appearance the Highland is considered and even-tempered animal—bulls as well as cows. They can also be halter trained as easily as any other breed, even more so because of the Highland’s superior intelligence.
Highlands are long lived animals. Cows 16 years of age and older are capable of having a calf, and commonly do. Surveys and studies show that cows generally have little difficulty calving. Even first calf heifers have few problems. As a recent survey of herds shows, a remarkable percentage of live births are recorded.
Today’s cattle market is demanding. Regardless of whether you own a small farm with only a few head, or a large ranch with hundreds, your objective should be the same—to produce a fine cut of beef with as little effort and expense as possible. Highland are the breed to help you do this. Whether your interest is in purebreds or cross breeding, we are confident that the Highland will improve your bottom line.
*Based, in part, upon material created by the American Highland Cattle Association and the Mountain States Highland Cattle Association.