Gathbodhan Highland Cattle





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


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 between.

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 Societies.

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.


Cattle Breed


(As per The Australian Highland Cattle Society)

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.

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.

Bulls sheaths should not be loose or pendulous. The scrotum should contain two testicles well let down of good and even size.


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 home

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