A Shaggy, Scottish Beast

By Dave Hanks

Having been in the registered Angus business (In Montana) earlier in my life, and associated with cattle all of it, I have a deep love of beef cattle. It is a glorious scene to see a group of sleek matrons grazing on a hillside against a green background. There is something about that scene that still “plucks” a chord in my psyche. Genetic traits, favorable or not, are of great interest to me. Once in Scotland, we came in contact with some most interesting beasts.

The Scottish Highlander is an ancient breed that has very long horns and very long hair. They can be red, black, brindled, yellow, or dun. The harsh Scottish climate required the development of cattle with long hair and stout hides to withstand exposure to the highland elements. Their breed standards require a great profusion of hair to go along with an impressive set of horns.The horns on the cow are usually longer than the bull’s – a surprise. The breed’s registration Herd Book was established in 1885, and breed standards have not varied much since that time.

The Highlander coat is made up of two layers – an inner down and a longer, coarser outer layer. Weather conditions stimulate the growth or shedding of their hair. The heavy hair inhibits the laying on off surface fat which results in a leaner carcass that is well marbled. Breeders claim that the hides can be sold for almost as much as the meat.

This breed seems to have a genuine ease of calving. They are, however, slower maturing. The positive side of this trait is that they can hold their condition longer under poor environmental conditions.

The mature individuals looked a bit “rangy”, but the calves were most adorable. They would make a good cuddly toy – competitive with Teddy Bears.

(Highlander calves at home on the Scottish hills)