The grand old breed of Highland Cattle originated in the
Highlands and west coastal islands of Scotland, areas severe in
climate and lashed by the North Atlantic gales, and are infamous
not only for their looks but for their thrift and hardiness.
Throughout the long recorded history of Highlands, breeders have
taken great care to retain the original characteristics of these
cattle. Originally, the breed was divided into two classes, the
West Highlands or Kyloe, and the Highlander.
The Kyloes, raised on the western islands of Scotland, tended to
be of a smaller size and had a higher percentage of black and
brindled cattle than the mainland Highlanders.
The size difference was probably due more to the severe climate
and limited rations that the island cattle were subjected to
than to any genetic variation between the classes.
Today all members of the breed are called Highland.
The first Herdbook of Highland Cattle was issued in 1885 by the
Highland Cattle Society of Scotland Highland Cattle
HIGHLANDS IN AUSTRALIA
Scottish migrants imported the first Highland Cattle into
Australia in the mid 19th century. However, due to small numbers
and no new imports the breed died out. The next recorded
importation was to South Australia in the 1950's and the
foundation of today’s herds began in 1973 with imported semen
being used over solid coloured, horned jersey cows. This was
improved upon with live imports & embryo transfers in the
1980's. With the advent of BSE, genetic material has again been
limited by Australian authorities banning the importation of all
UK cattle &/or genetic material dating back to 1982.
In 1988 the Australian Highland Cattle
Society was formed.
Today the hardiness & adaptability of Highland cattle has been
shown by the expansion of the breed into all the Australian
states where conditions range from the chills of Tasmania to
Queensland’s tropics, the harsh, desert like conditions of
Western & inland Australia, and our own Mediterranean climate of
South Australia where conditions vary from hot summer days that
reach 42 degrees with hot northerly winds down to frosty –4
degree winter mornings, with days of drizzle and rain in
The Highland Cattle Society of Scotland defines the term
purebred for cattle whose parentage can be traced back in the
original Herdbook, whilst The Australian Highland Cattle Society
Highland will recognize crossbred cattle of fourth generation
and onwards are as purebred. Hence, the herdbook of the
Australian Highland Cattle Society is not recognised by overseas
Here in Australia the term ‘fullblood’ was created for Highland
cattle that can be traced back to their purebred overseas
ancestors. Our herd at Gathbodhan comprises a mix of both pure
and fullblood animals due to our goal and aim to strive towards
perfection via genetics and character and conformation.
We believe that Highland Cattle have their place as a serious
beef cattle breed in Australia and while the maintenance of the
gene pool is essential, the breeds mainstream survival also
depends upon it’s ability to meet modern market demands.
THE AUSTRALIAN BREED STANDARD
(As per The Australian Highland Cattle
The animal should be of good length, depth and elevation, with
neck long enough to give the head a good lift. The head, horns,
neck, body, hindquarters and legs should be in perfect balance.
On the move the Highlander should show plenty of style,
character and quality and look as if it is "going places".
It should be proportionate to the body of the animal, and broad
between the eyes, while short from the eyes to the point of the
muzzle. The hair between the horns, known as the dossan, should
be wide, long - reaching to the muzzle - and thick. The eyes
should be bright and clear. The muzzle must be broad with large
distending nostrils. Strong under-jaw with teeth meeting upper
pad evenly, (not over or under shot). The ears should be
symmetrical and well formed. No cropping of the ear is allowed.
The horns in the bull should be strong, but not too heavy (heavy
horns are undesirable), and come out of the head level, curving
slightly forward. They should not emerge from the horn boss at
an upward angle. Above all, the head and horns of a bull must
give the impression of strength and masculinity.
The horns of the cows take a number of different shapes, but in
general must be slightly lighter than the bulls. Coming out of
the head more or less horizontally, they should not curve
downwards too much before rising, and fining down considerably
about six inches from the tip and up to the end of the horn
denoting femininity. In the case of both cow and bull the horns
should be symmetrical.
Should be of good length, allowing for natural lift to the head.
A bull should show masculinity but this development should not
be excessive at an early age. The throat and neck should be
clean-cut without excess skin. The brisket should not be
excessive or too fatty.
The udder on females should not be fleshy, coming well forward
in line with the body and well up behind; with four teats well
apart and of even moderate size.
BODY & HINDQUARTERS
From the shoulder back, the top of the animal should be
straight, with no hollows, and as wide as possible -
particularly between the hooks, or hips, and should not be too
hard, which indicates bone on which no flesh will develop. It
should not narrow over the heart, i.e. behind the shoulders, nor
should the shoulders be too prominent. The body should be long
and proportionately long from the hook to the tail end of the
spine in relation to good length from shoulder to hook. It is
important that there should be no sloping of the spine from the
hooks back to the tail end of the spine, it should be level and
the tail set in smoothly to the body, not creating a knob or
lump. On either side of the tail end of the spine are the
plates, and these should be a good follow through from hooks to
pins, the latter being well set up and wide. The animal must not
be flat sided so the ribs need to be well sprung. The thighs
should be well developed and be as full as possible. Finally,
when viewed from the rear, the rear, the body should not appear
to be split up to any great height by the legs, and the
hindquarters should appear fairly square. When viewed from the
side, the body should appear rectangular.
The legs should be sturdy and straight with good bone and a good
covering of hair, and the animal should be seen to be walking
freely and easily, the legs not brushing against each other but
set well outside the body. The four legs should each be placed
at a corner of the body, the front ones straight when seen from
the front or side and well apart; as the front, but slightly
hooked when seen from the side. If hooked too much it becomes a
'sickle' hock, which is most undesirable, as are all structural
faults. When viewed from the side of the animal the back of the
hock should be in line with the pin bone on the same side. The
legs should lead down into well set and large even hoofs, and
when on the move the hind feet should step into the tracks made
by the front feet for perfect traction.
Highland cattle have two coats of hair. The outer coat is long
and strong and is presumably meant by nature to keep the winter
weather away from the skin. The under coat is soft and fluffy to
keep their bodies warm. This under coat does not grow long to
renew the outer coat, but each coat is separately renewed. The
Australian Highland Cattle Society's official Highland coat
colours range from black through brindle, dun, red, yellow,
white and parti. No colour is genetically dominant.
SHEATH & SCROTUM
Bulls sheaths should not be loose or pendulous. The scrotum
should contain two testicles well let down of good and even
Highland Cattle usually calve easily without assistance, with
birth weights of 60 to 75 pounds. Birthing problems are minimal
in comparison to mainstream breeds due to the breeds wide pelvic
structure, and the calves moderate slim bone conformation. The
mothering instinct is highly developed in the Highland cow.
Abandoned calves, for even first-calf heifers, are rare. This
strong protective inclination of the cow minimizes predator
losses that can even extend to sheep that are pastured in the
same field. The Highland calf is exceptionally hardy and grows
rapidly up to weaning.
The duel coat is long on the top and short underneath with the
longer hair being coarser so that the animals are protected from
the cold weather. This coat is shed as the warmer months
approach to expose the shorter undercoat, which then enables the
animal to fully adapt to the harsh Australian summer.
The animals are usually docile and easy to handle and this is a
reason that makes them so popular for both the novice and
experienced farmer, but they do have a herd order and this
becomes obvious when they are in their herds. Whilst always
remembering that they are a heavy horned animal, observe them
and you will notice that the horn is mainly used to forage, and
as a defence tool, not a tool of aggression.
Highland cattle live for longer than most other breeds of cattle
and with this longevity and correct handling and care, they can
also breed up to the age of 18 years.
Highland Cattle give value for money, not only in their ability
to thrive and survive in harsh conditions, not only because of
the lowered health issues and maintenance cost, but in addition
to income generated from the sale of the carcass there is also
the option to tan and sell the hides as rugs, which are in high
demand, and can sell for as much as the carcass itself.
Highland Cattle are generally accepted to mature into high
quality carcasses, and the Highland meat is fine grained and
well marbled with little surface fat and high amounts of fine
marbling through the meat. The meat is succulent and tender and
this may be due to Highland Cattle being slower maturing than
other breeds. Traditionally in their homeland Highland cattle
are regarded as producing the finest cut of beef and attracts a
healthy premium in the market place. Here in Australia in
consideration of the small number of Highland cattle that have
entered carcass competitions, the results are impressive.
Highlands and their crosses have the ability to produce a
quality meat product without the excessive external fat of other
breeds. Producers who wish to utilize pastures to produce the
lean, healthy beef that is presently in such high demand by
consumers, should breed Highlands.
Yet when all is said and done, and at the end of each day,
nothing will warm your heart and soul more than the beauty of
a majestic Highland cow tending her calf,
or the graceful sweep of her horn as she gently grazes her way