Highland CattleCharacteristics of Highland CattleHighland Beef
Highland Tattoo Letters per AHCAHighland Breeder's GuideHoof Trimming Tips and Resources
Gestation CalculatorHighland Cattle ArticlesDNA Tips from AHCA
Plants Poisonous to CattleAnswers to Frequently Asked QuestionsThe Highlanders - A Poem


Highland Cattle
Reprinted from the NWHCA Brochure


Highland cattle are capable of surviving some of the harshest environmental conditions in some of the roughest hill country of northern Scotland. They were originally kept by small farmers and used to raise a calf and produce milk for the farm family. In Great Britain the Highland Cattle Society was formed over one hundred years ago to preserve this ancient breed. The Royal family are members, patrons of the society, and keep very good Highlands at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. 

Recently, Highlands have gained in popularity because their meet is very lean and low in cholesterol. This appeals to the new American taste for healthy, naturally grown beef.

Highland Cattle are more docile than most other breeds of cattle. They respond to human contact and on the whole are gentle. However, care should be taken when approaching cows with calves. Bulls are good natured, but should be respected. Anyone who does not wish to own a bull could utilize artificial insemination (AI) or rent a bull to get their cows in calf.

Highland cattle live longer and produce more calves than other breeds. Highlands will breed up to twenty years of age. The calves are weaned from their mothers between six and eight months old, allowing the cow to get back into condition for her next calf. The gestation period is nine months and cows may be expected to have a calf each year.

Characteristics of Highland Cattle
Reprinted from the Bagpipe Winter 1992

Mature Weight
Much like the Highland cattle in ancient Scotland, Canadian Highlands are raised in vastly different environmental conditions. The wide range seen in the size of cattle within the breed is due mainly to this effect. The following average weights are for cattle that have not had their growth effected by sever climate or restricted diet:

  • Mature bulls weigh 1,800 pounds in breeding condition.

  • Mature cows weigh 1,100 pounds in breeding condition.

  • Steers will finish at about 1,000 pounds. This weight can be attained with heavy feeding as long  yearling but most breeder prefer to grow their steers on pasture and finish them at two years.

Breed Standards
The head: As a rule, it is most proportionate to the body of the animal, and is broad between the eyes, while short from the eyes to the point of the muzzle. The forelock between the eyes should be wide, long and busy, while the muzzle should be short, though very broad in front, and with the nostrils fully distended. In the bulls, the horns should be strong, and come level out of the head, slightly inclining forward, and also slightly raising toward the points, although some breeders have a preference for a downward curve. The horns of the cows can follow two directions;   some come out squarer from the head than the male, rise sooner, and are somewhat longer; others come more level from the head, with a back set curve, and a very wide sweep.

The Neck and Shoulder: The neck should be altogether clear and without dewlap below. It should form a straight line from the head to the shoulder in the cow, but in the mature bulls should have that distinct crest common to all animals of the bovine species giving a decidedly masculine appearance. The shoulder should be thick and should fill out greatly as it descends from the point to the lower extremity of the foreleg.

The Udder: The cows should have well attached udders with a strong center line and four teats of moderate length for easy milking by the calf. The scrotum on the bull should be well developed and pendulant with two testes of equal size and shape. Testicle size in a yearling bull has a high correlation with his fertility and the rate of maturity of his daughters.


Among the Gorse and Heather
Harry Payne (Scottish, 1906)

The Back, Body and Hindquarters: From behind the shoulder, the back should be fully developed and well rounded. Any slight sinking or hollow is decidedly objectionable. It should also be straight as possible and the ribs should spring boldly out and be both well rounded and deep. When measured across the hips the breadth should be very great, and the quarters should be exceedingly well developed from the hips backwards. The thighs should also be well developed and should show great fullness. Viewed generally, the quarters should be square between the hips and the tail, and from between the tail right down to between the hind feet. The legs, both before and behind, should be of moderate length and strong, the bones strong, broad and straight, the hoofs well set in and lacking faults, the legs well feathered with hair. The animal should be set wide between the forelegs and it should move with great dignity and style.


The Hair: The hair, of which there should be a great profusion, should be long and  gracefully waved. It is not uncommon for Highlands to shed this hair coat when exposed to hot dry climate and then grow a new one as the damp cold weather returns. Highlands have a double coat of hair-a downy undercoat and a long outer coat which may reach 13 inches, and which is well-oiled to shed rain and snow. With the double coat of hair and thick hide, the Highland has been adapted by nature to with stand great exposure. The predominant color is red but brindle, yellow, white, dun and black are also acceptable. There has been no proven correlation between hair color and performance. Most of the larger herds have animals of differing colors but a few breeders have chosen to breed for a specific shade.

Nature: The Highland is unusually healthy and hearty and will survive on roughage and poor grazing including brush, if necessary, under climatic conditions where most of our popular breeds would suffer. Highlands are noted for their browsing ability and therefore are well suited to farmsteads where there is an excess of poor pasture and rough land. The highland's proven ability to produce top quality meat without the addition of expensive high quality feeds makes this breed the perfect choice for those people who wish to produce beef with natural inputs.

Scottish Highland Cows
M. A. V. (Scottish, 1917)


Highland Beef
Reprinted from the Bagpipe Winter 1995 issue.

Highland beef is about 40% lower in cholesterol and fat than most other beef.


Having meat analyzed by a commercial testing lab gave us a better idea of the fat and cholesterol levels in  Highland meat. Comparisons were sought in grass-fed vs. grain-fed, store-bought vs. Highland and purebred vs. crossbred Highland. These tests were done by Commercial Testing Laboratory, Inc., Colfax, Wisconsin, who has been in operation since 1952.

The first sample was submitted by Legacy Fruit Farms of Arkansas, Wisconsin. It was a grass-fed highland sirloin steak. The cholesterol count, which is measured in mg/100g, was 23.4. This compares to 77.0 in lean red meat, 72.00 in chicken, 70.0 in venison, 50.0 in codfish and 40.0 in buffalo (numbers adapted from the National Cholesterol Education Program Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program Expert Panel on Detection Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults). The fat percentage on the same meat sample was very low at 4.5%..

The last test performed was on T-bone steaks which tend to be higher in fat normally. This comparison was done by Acorn Ridge Farms of Warsaw, Indiana September 1994. Highland and Highland/Shorthorn cross samples were submitted the steers weighed 1100 and 1125 pounds each and were fed 25 pounds of haylage and between 10-12 pounds of corn per day. The Highland T-bone tested at 22.2% fat and the Highland/Shorthorn 19.3%. The cholesterol count was just the opposite with the Highland at 64.4mg./100g. and the Highland /Shorthorn at 71.0 mg./100 g.. Both are still very comparable to venison at 70.0 and lean read meat at 77.0. We plan to submit more samples for testing to determine consistency.


Hoof Trimming Tips and Resources
Reprinted from the Fold, by Sharon Howard

For the Small Breeder -- Highland Pedicures

Highland cattle are a tough crowd. Bred to withstand the hardships of the Scottish Highlands, they have developed heavy coats and fast-growing hooves in order to tolerate windy, cold temperatures and rocky, frozen ground. But what happens when you take an animal with fast-growing hooves and put it on our Northwest farms with soft soil and rarely-frozen ground? Long hooves, broken toes, and lameness, that’s what happens.

So what to do? Get acquainted with your local hoof trimmer! As new Highland breeders it took us a while to figure out the need for hoof trimming and then to locate a trimmer in our area. Mike Nichols, of Pacific Cascades Hoof Trimming from Hansville, WA, has become acquainted with our little herd over the past two years and visited us recently.

Mike got into hoof trimming as a second career. 27 years ago he was working in the log yard in Everett, WA, when he had a back injury. He read an article about bovine hoof trimming in the paper and decided that might be a more interesting and injury-free (?!?) vocation than bucking logs. He spent some time with a trimmer from Sedro Woolley and has been working with cattle ever since.

Mike generally trims the hooves of dairy cattle – Holsteins, lots and lots of Holsteins. 5,000 of them in his best year. He also sees about 500 beef cattle a year, mostly Herefords or mixed breeds. And a few Highland, of course.   Like most trimmers, Mike has a large work area, traveling over the Kitsap and Olympic peninsula, the Snohomish/Arlington area, Enumclaw, Lacey, and parts beyond to visit small and large herds.

So what causes some animals to have faster-growing hooves? Genetics and diet. Breeds that originated in harsh climates have fast-growing hooves because that’s a benefit in their original environment. Ever own a Shetland pony? Same problem. Rich diets can also be a culprit. Mike reports that show cattle, especially bulls, need frequent trimming as well.

Hoof trimmers will arrive with either a tilt chute or an upright chute. In the tilt variety, the cow is secured with straps under the belly, then the chute tilts almost 90 degrees over so the legs are protruding out sideways. The legs are secured with straps, and the trimming begins. With the upright chute, the cow remains standing while each leg is pulled up, secured, and worked on one at a time. Mike has a tilt chute, so once the cow in inside and secured work proceeds quickly.

Highland cattle are a bit more of a challenge than most breeds to load into a chute, for the obvious reason of those big horns. Our cows have large, varying-shaped upswept horns, but Owen, our bull, was the real problem. He has grown quite large, with wide, straight-to-the-side horns. We have had success using a lasso around the horns and then leading them into the chute. Hooray for the ring in Owen’s nose, he led placidly into the chute as well and finally maneuvered his head through the bars.

The hoof trimming process is straightforward. First, Mike cleans sand, mud and stones from the hooves with a small hoof knife. Next step is to manually trim the worst part of the long toes with a hand clipper. Following that, he uses an electric grinder to take off the extra material on the bottom and sides of the hoof, and lastly he goes over the hooves with an electric buffing disk to do the final shaping.

During this process he also examines each hoof for any health problems. The most common maladies he comes across are corns between the toes, hairy foot wart, laminitis, and infections caused by a long toe that has broken off too short. We came across one of our cows that had a good case of hairy foot wart. She is a recent acquisition who probably had the problem when we got her. Hairy foot wart isn’t a wart at all, since warts are caused by viruses and this problem stems from a bacterial infection. Becoming widespread among confined dairy herds, hairy foot wart creates an angry-looking sore and can lead to lameness. Mike cleaned the area, applied hydrogen peroxide to further clean it, applied a gauze pad with an iodine-tetracycline paste, then bandaged the foot with more gauze and a weather-proof covering (pink of course). We removed the bandage three days later and followed up with more spray meds. We also took action to eliminate a muddy area the cows walk through to get to their shed, since mud can intensify and spread the bacteria.

One other benefit of having the cattle in a tilt chute is that you can examine the rarely-seen undersides of your herd and do preventive maintenance.  We trimmed some matted hair on one udder, and treated an itchy area on another cow. This is also a great opportunity to give annual shots while the animal is immobilized and also to pour on your choice of topical worming chemical if you haven’t already treated them.  Another general hoof trimming benefit is the interesting stories you hear about other herds – for instance the aging Highland cow in Arlington, kept as a pet, who enjoys carrying railroad ties around on her horns.

When you decide you need to do a Highland pedicure what things should you keep in mind? You will need a way to confine your cattle in order to get them through the trimming chute. You will also need to think about where the trimmer can set up shop – close to that confinement area, with electrical power no more than 100 feet away. Think about how you will move the cattle into the trimmer’s chute, and where they will go when they are released. And have a water hose and nozzle available somewhere close to spray the chute out when you’re all done. Hoof trimming, like a ride in a stock trailer, is a powerful enema for all cattle!

One other consideration – most hoof trimmers are contracted to do large dairy herds.  Dairy cows are used to people and are familiar with being handled by people and machinery. However, when trimmers hear about a small Highland fold, they likely think “beef cattle, perhaps skittish, big horns”. In other words, they’re not sitting by the phone waiting for you to call. Know that they want your business, but your fold will be fit into their schedule when they can reasonably get to you. Plan ahead. Don’t wait until you have a foot emergency (as we have) and want the trimmer there ASAP.

If you have not used a hoof trimmer in the past, here is a short list of trimmers we have found in the NWHCA region; some names were gathered from Highland breeders and other from the Hoof Trimmers Association. Please note that this is not an all-inclusive list, if you know of a trimmer whose name is not mentioned below please send me a note and we’ll publish them in a later issue. Also, this list is for your convenience, there are no recommendations or guarantees!

Montana: 1. Ron Kummerfeldt, 406-726-3337
2. Ron covers western MT, northern ID, and eastern WA


1. Travis Bartelds, 503-949-4106. Travis has a tilt chute, customized to handle large horns
2. John Esplin, 503-368-5020
3. Chris Perkins, 503-392-4663. Covers the Tillamook area only
4. Walter Schwarz, 541-942-4390

1. George Bates, 360-829-2252
2. Ken Haarsma, 509-837-5455
3. Nathan Hoffman, 360-266-0559. Nathan works in SE WA, mainly south of Yelm
Mike Nichols, 360-638-1477. Mike works in the Puget Sound, Kitsap, and Olympic Peninsula areas
5. Toby Richner, 360-510-7671. Toby works in Whatcom county only
6. Skagit Hooftrimming: Four trimmers (Peter Stephens, his two sons Peter Jr. and Gates, and Vince Miller) can be contacted at Bovi-Motion, 425-821-7309. Or, you can contact them separately at:
   Peter Stephens Sr., 360-757-2504 (Western WA)
   Peter Stephens Jr., 360-708-6308 (Western WA)
   Gates Stephens, 425-821-7309 (Western WA)

Plants Poisonous to Cattle

US Department of Agriculture The US Department of Agriculture website includes a database of plants poisonous to cattle and other animals. Select a plant from the list on the right to view information on the plant, including pictures, where it grows, and how it affects the animal.

Cornell University The Cornell University also has a data base of plants poisonous to cattle and other animals. Search the database by scientific or common plant name, by poison, or by the animal affected.

Spokane County Noxious Weed Control Board This guide is specific to the Pacific Northwest, with some pictures and a summary of each plant.  

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
Special thanks to Naomi Ewing for providing answers to our readers.


What colors do Highland cattle come in?

Are Highlands purebred or are they a cross breed?

Where do Highlands originate?

Are Highlands mean?

Why would someone what to raise Highlands?

How come they all look like bulls?

Highland Cattle by the Sea
William Smellie Watson (Scottish, 1796-1874)
What colors do Highland cattle come in?
There are many variations in color for Highland cattle. The colors noted below are recognized by the American Highland Cattle Association (AHCA):
  • Red
  • Dun (grayish or mouse colored)
  • Brindle (mixed red and black)
  • Silver (white hair with black skin beneath)    
  • White (white hair with pinkish skin beneath)
  • Black
  • Yellow

Are Highlands purebred or are they a cross breed?
Highlands are the oldest registered breed of cattle with the first herd book being established in 1884. Their adaptability to severe changes in weather insured their longevity.

Where do Highlands originate?
As the name indicates, Scottish Highland Cattle have lived for centuries in the rugged remote Scottish highlands. The extremely harsh conditions created a process of natural selection, where only the fittest and most adaptable animals survived to carry on the breed. Originally, there were two distinct classes: the slightly smaller and usually black Kyole, whose primary domain was the islands off the west coast of northern Scotland and the larger animal, generally reddish in color, whose territory was the remote highlands of Scotland. Today, both of these strains are regarded as one breed - the Scottish Highland.

Are Highlands Mean?
Despite long hair and unusual appearance, the Highland is considered an even-tempered animal - bulls as well as cows. 

They can be halter trained as easily as any other breed, even more so because of their superior intelligence. As with any other animal there are good and bad temperaments. A lot has to do with the way they are raised and handled. A bad tempered animal will should be removed from a fold that interacts with people. 

Highlands definitely have a "pecking" order. Each member of the fold will recognize and respect the herd boss. As a cattle owner, you must ensure that YOU are in charge. At no time should you allow your cattle to dominate humans. Your cattle will recognize and respect this fact. For the sake of safety, you must ensure that respect.

For the most docile manner, begin early. As soon as its mother allows, a young calf should be handled often - and gently. Make sure that every interaction with humans is a positive experience. 

Why would someone what to raise Highlands?
Highlands are exceptionally showy and few of them in your pasture will often stop traffic. Compared to other cattle there are several reasons. Highlands are a cut above the rest. They require little in the way of shelter, feed supplements, or expensive grains to achieve and maintain good condition and fitness. In fact, Highland cattle seem to enjoy conditions in which many other breeds would perish. Cold weather and snow have little effect on them. Less than ideal pasture or range land is another reason to consider the Highland breed. It has been said that the Highland will eat what other cattle pass by, and get fat on it!  The Highland is also an excellent browser, able to clear a lot of brush with speed and efficiency. The Highland is a disease resistant breed, and they do not stress easily. Other bovine diseases affect the Highland less also, due to the genetic advantages they have achieved.

How come they all look like bulls?
It's the horns; both bulls and cows have them. In the photos below the cow is on the left and the bull is in the center. Do you notice the difference in the horns? A cow's horns normally grow outward and curve up above her head, the tips pointing skyward. A bull's horns normally curve outward and forward, along the sides his face, the tips not much higher than his head.
You can usually tell how old a growing calf is by the length of his or her horns. Calves are born with little "nubs" that are no bigger than the tip of a finger. By age one, a heifer's horns are about 5 to 7 inches in length as shown below in the photo on the right. An older cow can have a horn spread of three to four feet wide.

Highland Tattoo Letters

Recommended location is in the Left ear and combined with the farm’s Herd letters and the animal’s birth number. For example: the tattoo  XYZ2S would be the second calf born on farm XYZ in 2005. Refer to the Membership Directory & Handbook, Rules and Regulations, Section III. Marking.

2002   M

2003   N

2004   R

2005   S

2006   T

2007   U

2008   V

2009   W

2010   X

2011   Y

2012   A

2013   B

2014   C

2015   D

2016   E

2017   F

The letters I, O, P, Q, and Z are not used.

DNA Tips from AHCA

The American Highland Cattle Association (AHCA) offers these tips regarding deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) requirements:

  • Register all cattle prior to 24 months of age to avoid DNA parentage testing.
  • All artificial insemination (AI) and embryo transfer (ET) calves need to be DNA typed prior to registration.
  • An animal is considered pending provided that all forms and fees have been received by the AHCA office and in the case of necessary DNA, samples have been received by AHCA's designated DNA lab. Animals born in the current show year may exhibit on pending papers in the Roll of Excellence.
  • Only DNA types performed at AHCA's official lab (UC Davis) will be accepted.
  • DNA kits may only be requested and mailed to the current owner of the animal. Results will only be sent to the current owner of an animal.
  • AHCA strongly recommends that before you buy or sell cattle that you verify the tattoo matches the registration certificate or registration application.

Highland Breeder's Guide

The Highland Breeder's Guide of the American Highland Cattle Association (AHCA) is a complete rewrite of the Bagpipe Permanent Edition which was last released in the early 1990s . To reduce costs of printing and shipping, AHCA is making the Guide available online and as an electronic download for individual usage.

The Highlanders
A poem by H. D. Sloan

Over from a land called Scotland
Where the natives like their meat,
Came this rugged breed of cattle
That, my friends, you cannot beat.

From the stories told on Scotsmen,
They are thrifty folk indeed.
So they naturally raised cattle
That they did not have to feed.

I see cowmen in this country
Hauling hay and freeze their nose.
If their cattle were Highlanders,
They could sit and toast their toes.

Once my neighbor raised some cattle,
But were of a different stock.
Every spring before the snow left
He would have his cows in hock.

Borrowed money to buy feed with,
Boy! Was he in a rut.
If he tried to save a dollar
Then they died from hollow-gut.

He would cry and cuss his banker
'Cause he'd pound his desk and shout,
Seems like every time he saw him
He would have his stinger out.

Told me when he met Saint Peter,
(If up there the cowmen dwell)
He would ask him if it snowed there,
If it did he'd go to Hell.

If my friend had raised Highlanders,
He would now be riding high.
And would never doubt the climate
Of that big Range in the sky.

Thistle take me to the NWHCA home page.