Origin of breed
The Highland breed has lived for centuries in the extremely harsh conditions of the Scottish Highlands. The breed created a process of natural selection, where only the fittest and most adaptable animals survived to carry on the breed. Two distinct classes were originally in existence. The slightly smaller and usually black Kyloe, from the islands off the west coast of northern Scotland and the other was a larger animal, generally reddish in color, from the remote Highlands of Scotland. Today, both are recognized as the Highland breed. In 1884, the Highland Cattle Society in Scotland published the first herd book. Archaeological evidence of the breed goes back to the sixth century, with written records existing from the twelfth century.
Highlands are red and black, yellow, dun, white, brindle and silver in color. The Highland breed has a distinguished head with long fringe and the horns that are long and darken towards the tip. Long lashes and forelocks shield their eyes from flying insects, and as a result, pinkeye and cancer eye are uncommon. Highlands have a double coat of hair, which consists of a downy undercoat and a long outer coat, which may reach 13 inches. It is also well oiled to shed rain and snow. Due to their double coat of hair and thick hide, the Highland has been adapted by nature to withstand great exposure. Highlands shed this heavy hair coat when exposed to a hot dry climate and then grow a new one as the damp cold weather returns.
Mature bulls can weigh around 1,500 to 1,800 lbs. while mature cows weigh around 900 to 1,200 lbs.
Highlands are remarkable for their longevity and many Highland cows continue to breed to ages in excess of eighteen years. The mothering instinct is highly developed in the Highland cow. 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. Highlands tend to be docile and calm and do not stress easily, so stress-related diseases occur with less frequency. And other bovine diseases affect the Highland less, due to the genetic advantages they have achieved. They are easy to work with despite their long horns. The breed is exceptionally hardy with a natural and unique ability to convert poor grazing efficiently. Unlike other breeds, Highlands are slow maturing making the meat tender, flavorful and succulent.
Development in America
Highland cattle may have been brought to the east coast states in the 1920s. 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.
SF Biddle made the earliest importation on record. Three carloads of heifers and bulls were unloaded at Moorcroft, Wyoming and trailed to the Powder River. Walter Hill made another importation into Montana and it is the descendants of this importation that have played an important part in our present-day cattle. The first four bulls and forty-five cows in the U.S. registry are made up of these cattle and were registered by Baxter Berry of Belvidere, South Dakota. Soon, Western cattlemen soon recognized the need to improve the hardiness of their herds and soon the breed became popular in the United States. On August 30, 1948 at the Double X Ranch of Baxter and Lyndall Berry of Belvidere, South Dakota, a group of Highland cattle breeders met and organized the American Scotch Highland Breeders Association.
Registry and improvement programs
The American Highland Cattle Association is headquartered in Brighton, CO. The Association provides registrations, transfers, performance data, sales and member services as well as a junior program, shows and scholarships.