Highland cattle are one of the oldest breeds in the world, originating from Scotland as far back as the 6th century. The extremely harsh conditions of the rugged, remote Scottish Highlands created a process of natural selection, where only the fittest and most adaptable animals survived to carry on the breed. The breed is characterized by traits of hardiness, self-sufficiency, and longevity. They are excellent foragers and efficient at improving pastures and clearing woodlots. Their moderate frame is ideal for small and large farms alike in various climates and regions of the country. Highlands are found in all fifty states and acclimate well to the environment yet it is best to buy cattle from a climate similar to your farm. The double hair coat is a tremendous asset in adverse weather and is believed to be the reason why they have limited external fat cover. This means less to trim from carcasses and more value retained. The horns not only give them their majestic looks but are helpful with predator control. These cattle have strong maternal instincts and protect their young. In addition, Highland genetics are quite diverse from other breeds so they produce a highly productive cross.
The Highland Performance Program allows breeders to use sound data to support the positive traits of the breed. Data shows the average birth weight is 65-70 lbs with 98% of calvings recording being unassisted. Anyone who has stayed up all night with the vet to help deliver a calf can appreciate this value. This breed is known for docility with 80% of cattle scoring as "exceptionally calm" or "calm" when handled
According to a study by Charles Bruce at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, Highland beef was shown to be almost 23% more tender than commercial beef. It also contained almost 7% more protein, 17% more iron, and averaged 4% less cholesterol. Currently, the University of Missouri, in collaboration with AHCA and the Highland Cattle Foundation, is studying Highland beef quality. Samples ar being tested from a diverse array of operations respresting all feeding systems and regions of the country.
Information provided by the Highland Cattle Society
Highland cattle have a grand and picturesque head. The head is proportionate to the body of the animal, is broad between the eyes, and is short from the eyes to the point of the muzzle.
The forelock between the eyes should be wide, long and bushy, and any bareness may detract from the animal's appearance. The eyes should be bright and full.
The muzzle should be short but very broad.
In bulls, the horns should be strong, and come level out of the head. inclining slightly forwards and also rising towards the points.
There are two types of horn in the cow. They, generally, come out of the head squarer than in the male, rise sooner and are longer. The other type type of cow has horns which come more level from the head, with a peculiar back set curve and very wide sweep.
Neck and Shoulder
The neck should be clear and without dewlap below. It should form a straight line from the head to the should in the cow.
In bulls, the neck 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 be well coated with wavy hair, to give the animal its masculine appearance.
The shoulder should be think and fill out greatly, as it descends from the point to the lower extremity of the forearm.
Body, Back, Hind
The back should be fully developed and rounded without any sinking. It should also be as straight as possible, with the ribs springing out and being well-rounded and deep.
When measured across the hips, the breadth should be large, and the quarters and thighs should also be full and well developed.
The quarters should be square between the hips and the tail, down to between the hind feet. The legs should be short with strong, broad, straight bones. The hoofs should be well set in and large.
Long, Wavy Hair
There should be an abundance of long, wavy hair. Curly hair is regarded as a fault and has become common in some folds.
Hair abundance and wave type can largely depend on climate.
Although the classic image of a Highland cow today is red, they also come in other shades including yellow, brindle, dun, white, and black, the breed's original color.