The Highland breed has lived for centuries in the rugged remote Scottish Highlands. 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 was 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 – Highland. In addition to red and black, yellow, dun, white, brindle and silver are also considered traditional colors.
This “Grande Old Breed” can be traced to the first herd book being published in 1885 by the Highland Cattle Society in Scotland. Archaeological evidence of the Highland breed goes back to the sixth century, with written records existing from the twelfth century.
The first recorded importation into the United States occurred in the late 1890’s when western cattlemen recognized the need to improve the hardiness of their herds. Earlier importations are likely to have occurred since large numbers of Scotch/Irish immigrants came to this country early on but the absence of a registry precludes any definite proof. The American Highland Cattle Association registry was formed in 1948.
Prominent Highland Traits are:
• Hardiness and Vigor
• Double Hair Coat: The double hair coat (long, coarse outer layer and soft wooly inner layer) is one of the most notable differences between Highlands and other breeds. The coat reduces the need for expensive barns and shelters.
• Easy Handling: Highlands have a long history of living with humans. Early Scots would keep the family cow(s) inside their homes during the winter.
• Exceptional Mothering and Calving Ease: Due to small calf size (60-70 pounds), calving difficulty (dystocia) is less common. Cows may produce into their late teens reducing the need for frequent herd replacement.
• Browsing/Grazing Ability: These cattle are excellent browsers. They have been used in the US and worldwide to clear brush lots, for Oak Savannah restoration and grazing improvement projects. Highlands perform well in a variety of feed scenarios whether brush, forage/grass based or grain finished.
• Outstanding Beef Quality
Highland cows will average 900-1200 pounds when mature. Bulls will average from 1500-1800 pounds depending on forage conditions. A study by the Scottish Agricultural College determined that Highland beef is lower in fat and cholesterol and higher in protein and iron than other beef breeds.
Highland cattle societies are also found in Scotland, Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.