The breed’s history is interesting with original recordings about two different types of Highland cattle which after decades of crossbreeding has left only one official Highland cattle type. Records also show that Highland is actually the oldest registered breed in the world.
Interestingly, a group of Highland cattle is not called a herd, but a ‘fold’ instead. Their coat is often the most discussed attribute of these cattle which can vary between red, black, brindle, yellow, dun and white.
Their hair is always long, sometimes reaching about 13 inches, with a slight wave. Since their coat is double-layered, the outer hair is oiled to prevent rain seeping into their skin, while the downy undercoat provides warmth during the rough and rainy Scottish winters.
Highland cattle aren’t very large, with bulls weighing about 800kg and cows reaching around 500kg.
They have long and distinctive horns, which actually help them forage for food during snowy winters. They can use their horns as a way to dig deep into pastures that have been covered with snow.
They have great longevity and they’re known to live for about 20+ years. The average number of calves per cow is 12, and some cows can still calve into their twentieth year.
Highland cattle are usually able to mate at about 18 months of age, and pregnancy in Highland cows usually lasts up to 290 days. They can often calve unassisted because calves usually have slim bodies that move easily through the large Highland dam’s pelvis. Calves usually weigh no more than 30kg at birth.
Cows also have quite small teats with well-formed udders, and this combined with their milk’s high butterfat content ensures that calves are sufficiently nourished from an early age.
These cattle are quite docile, but can be protective if their young are threatened. For this reason, it’s always important to take extra care around all cows and particularly bulls.
Since they retain their body heat by having a thick coat and not by storing excess fat, their meat is quite lean. Studies show that their beef is about 38% lower in fat than other beef breeds. It’s also 4% lower in cholesterol. Highland beef is also well-marbled, with high protein and iron levels.