Called Highland cattle, mini-Highlands, or heilen coos, these mythic, northern cattle are a stunning ancient breed. With their flowing locks and wide, sweeping horns, Highlands are a beautiful addition to any landscape.
But they’re not just pretty to look at. Highland cattle are one of the world’s oldest cattle breeds, and there’s a reason they’ve lasted so long. They’re hardy, healthy, rugged animals with the ability to thrive on poorer pastures than most breeds.
They’re also friendly, gentle, and personable animals who get on well with people and other animals.
If you’re thinking of adding cattle to your homestead, take a look at the Highland. This sweet Scottish breed has a lot to offer.
Highland Cattle Characteristics
With a history that traces back to the 6th century, Highland cattle are the oldest known breed of cattle in the modern world. This breed was developed in the Scottish Highlands, known for its rugged landscape and hardy animals.
Because this breed was born in a rough and difficult region, Highland cattle had to develop into resourceful feeders with thick, warm coats.
They’re often referred to as mini-Highlands because Highland cattle are shorter and stockier than many other breeds. But, despite their short stature, they’re dense, sturdy animals.
Adult Highlands range in weight from 900-2000 pounds, with cows usually topping out at around 1,300 and bulls are noticeably larger. This is a pretty average weight for cattle, but Highlands carry it on a smaller frame.
While many bulls are between four and a half to five and a half feet tall at the shoulder, Highland bulls rarely reach four and a half feet. This more manageable size is one of the reasons they are such a great option for a homestead cow.
Highland cows grow to heights of three to four feet at the shoulder, and both cows and bulls are known for their placid temperaments and friendly, engaging personalities.
This breed has grown up in close contact with humans for centuries. In the early middle ages, they often wintered inside the family house!
A cow indoors kept everyone a little warmer, made milking easier, and kept the cow safe from robbers. It also encouraged farmers to raise friendlier cows – no one wants to share a home with a 1000-pound crab!
Shaggy coats and wide horns define this ancient breed. The Highland’s coat is double-layered, made up of a rough outer layer and a fluffy undercoat. The outer coat is weather-resistant, while the undercoat is soft, warm, and insulating.
Right now, the most common color is a soft, reddish-brown. Originally, most Highlander Cattle were black, with variations in color of yellow, dun, silver, and brindle. In the late 19th century, breeders began to prioritize the reddish-brown color, which has become the breed’s iconic color.
Breeders started prioritizing the reddish-brown coat instead of black because Queen Victoria preferred the reddish color.
Breeders wanted to please the Queen, and they knew that Victoria’s tastes were influenced by fashion throughout the empire, so they started breeding for her preferred reddish-brown cattle, which became the breed’s distinctive coloring.
Highlands have long, wide-set horns, short legs, and thick, stout builds. Bulls generally have larger horns than cows, but both sexes are horned. The primary difference in appearance between male and female HIghlands is in the shape of the horns and the overall size.
Males will usually have horns that grow forward and slightly downward. They also have larger horns than females. Highland cows, on the other hand, are longer and slimmer at the tip. They also tend to face upward. It’s not easy to recognize at first, but once you’re used to seeing Highlands, you’ll learn to distinguish between the horns.
Known for their gentle personalities and affectionate natures, Highlanders are a joy to raise. They’re easy-keepers with an ability to thrive on very poor, scrubby pasture. They’re engaged, curious animals who enjoy spending time with people and other animals.
As herd animals, Highlanders are peaceful and affectionate. They rarely fight among themselves and are generally content within their hierarchy. Even Highland bulls are known for their great personalities.
Despite being the friendliest bulls around, remember that they are still bulls, and even a sweet Highland bull can cause a lot of damage if he thinks you’re in his way.
Owning a bull of any breed is not for the beginner. Make sure you’re prepared for bull ownership before jumping in and buying even the most docile bull.
Highland cows are excellent mothers. They usually prefer to calve alone, without help, and rarely need assistance. Highland cows can get protective when they’re caring for their calves, and it’s a good idea to approach a new mother slowly and gently.
Highlands are known for being able to calve well into their late teens, years after many other breeds are past mothering age. These cows take motherhood seriously, and the young calves are guarded and guided by their whole herd.
Highland calves are smaller than many breeds. They’re born at about 50-75 pounds and grow quickly into sturdy, young calves. It’s partially the small size of newborn calves that helps make calving so easy for Highland cows.
Highland Cow Milk
Most people these days don’t raise Highlands for milk. They’re primarily a meat breed. But Highlands do produce about two gallons of very high-fat milk each day. The milk is so creamy that it often takes a little getting used to. With about 10% butterfat, it’s one of the richest cow milks in the world.
But since Highland cattle tend to have smaller udders than other cow breeds, and are shaggy-haired breeds, they can be a challenge to milk. Since 10% butterfat is more than double the butterfat content of Jersey milk, adjusting to Highland milk can feel like drinking cream instead of milk. That’s why this breed isn’t a popular milk cow.
But if you’re looking for a small, sustainable amount of rich milk, and you don’t mind a more challenging milker, the Highland cow is a consistent provider, even on poor pasture.
Highland Cow Meat
Highlands are famous meat animals. Their beef is prized for its fine, marbled texture and lean, flavorful quality. Highland beef is premium meat, and it can be expensive. Tests indicate that Highland beef is leaner than most other beef. It’s also high in iron and lower in cholesterol than other beef.
Best of all, Highlands can produce this meat by eating whatever is at hand on your property. They thrive on rough pasture, scrub growth, small trees, vines, and even poison ivy. Despite their hardiness, attentive owners should supplement pregnant cows, milking cows, and wintering animals.
Just because an animal can thrive in poor pasture doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do our best to provide the best diet possible. A little forage goes a long way.
You should always offer food and water to your cows unless you have ample land for grazing. But as a grazer, Highland cattle won’t disappoint you.
Pros and Cons of Highland Ownership
If you’re looking for a hardy, friendly, and productive cow to add to your homestead, Highlands cattle may be the breed for you. But every breed has its quirks to remember before making a decision.
Highlands are incredibly hardy. They’re capable of thriving on poor pasture, forest, and scrub. They’re also well insulated for life in cold climates.
These are friendly, social animals. They enjoy being with people and get along well with a variety of creatures. Highlands aren’t skittish or mean-tempered. They’re famous for their docility and gentleness.
Highland cattle produce some of the best meat around. Flavorful and healthy, Highland beef is a nutritious source of iron, protein, and nutrients.
If you’re up for milking them, Highlands can offer fantastically high butterfat content in their milk. It’s perfect for butter-making. If that’s your goal, grab a glass jar butter churn at Amazon to make life easier.
Highlands calve well without human assistance. You won’t need to hover over your expectant cows to lend a hand. They’d prefer you to leave them alone when the time comes.
Highland cattle are beautiful. With their stunning horns and shaggy coats, Highlands can double as living art as they wander around your homestead. They give a lovely, old-world feel to any farm.
No animal is perfect. Highlands may not fit your lifestyle or the goals you have for cattle ownership. Keep these cons in mind as you consider them.
Highland cattle grow slower than modern breeds. They won’t have as quick a turnover if you raise them for meat. If you want to raise meat quickly and easily, Highlands may not be the breed for you.
These are very social cows. If you don’t have any other large animals, your Highland may become lonely, stressed, and depressed. It’s better to invest in a few Highlands, instead of buying just one.
As an ancient, beautiful breed, Highlands are often pretty expensive. Highland cattle can cost around up to $3,000. So they may be more than you want to spend on a cow.
Highlands also need more upkeep regarding coat care than your average cow. With their long coats, they can get matted or dirty quickly.