Scottish Highland Cow: Everything You Need To Know

highland cow with big horns

The Highland cattle is one of the most iconic animals of Scotland. It is arguably the most stylish fuzzy cow in the world. These creatures are very cold-tolerant and have quite a long list of pros if you want to keep them on your farm. But is it only hair that makes fluffy cow so special?

Scottish Highland Cow – Historical Roots And Habitat

highland cow with big horns

Some say that the royal predecessor of the Scottish Highland cow is Ankole-Watusi. They were known as Hamitic Longhorn – the cattle of kings, and have Egyptian roots (dated around 4000 years B.C.). Eventually, the herds migrated from Africa to the north lands of Europe, including England and Scotland specifically. There they’ve adapted to the cold climate and grow their hair, which keeps them protected from the harsh environment during the entire year.

The motherland of the Highland cows is Scotland. Even though, they can be found in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, and the United States of America.

Types Of Highland Cows

There are two main types of Scottish cattle: Kyloe and Mainland. They were first described on 10th June 1885 in the Herd Book of the Highland Cattle Society. There are key differences to both types.

The Kyloe originated from the Western Islands of Scotland, where the climate is quite harsh. Their name is related to the “kyles” – an isthmus in the river, where farmers led their cattle to the marketplace. They were smaller than the Mainland type and their color was black. Also, these were quite hairy cows as they had to withstand the low temperatures.

The Mainland, on the other hand, were bigger as they had access to a larger variety of nutrition. They were less hairy and their main color was brown or ginger.

It is known that the Mainland type of Scottish cow won the favor from the Queen Victoria herself. They were quite imposing, yet elegant creatures, and since then they became popular and recognizable highland cattle. Even more – in 1954 the royal family from the Balmoral Castle started to maintain their own fold of fuzzy cows. It seems that they really adore the beef taste of the highland cows to justify such a step.

How To Care For And Maintain The Scottish Highland Cows

highland cow and a woman

The Scottish farmers usually have their own folds of highland cattle, the main purpose of which is producing milk and meat. By the way, the term “herd” is not quite accurate if we speak about Scottish highland cows. The “fold” term is correct and eventually stuck due to the natural resistance of the fuzzy cow to the cold weather. It allows farmers to keep highlander cows in the open shelters during all seasons, not being afraid that it will kill them or make them sick. None of the modern cattle is so adaptive and unique in this way, which makes the process of maintaining a fluffy cow easier. By the way, in most cases you won’t hear a “cow” term from local farmers – it’s much common to hear an old Scottish term “coo” instead.

The hairy coo is quite independent and does not require much personal care to find nutrition. Usually, they may eat not only grass or hay but also the leaves of the trees, which most other cattle can’t or won’t do. Sometimes it visually affects the forest, as the fold of Scottish highland cows can feast on the low branches, hanging from the trees.

The average weight of the Scottish cow is 500 kilograms and 700-800 kilograms for a highland bull. It’s not much if you compare it to a common cow’s weight (starting at 700 kilograms). Still, they can eat up to 70 kilograms of grass per day, which is around 15% of their body weight.

Here are 9 reasons why highlander cows are ecologically important creatures:

  1. The dung of the highland cattle is an amazing fertilizer;
  2. Pulling the grass out with their tongues is actually better than just trimming it as goats or sheep do;
  3. Their hairy constitution allows them to be pollinators and carry seeds of wildflowers to various places. These actions positively affect the ecosystem of the region;
  4. The bracken, growing on the ground, covers the flowers and prevents them from receiving enough sunlight to grow. By trampling these areas with their hooves, hairy cows give flowers another chance to grow and blossom.
    The health of the Scottish highland cows is quite strong, and they are nearly immune to a wide list of diseases, including eye cancer illness. Still, there are some common issues, which any farmer should be aware of:
  5. A baby highland cow should be vaccinated once a year once they are older, than 3 months. It’s necessary to protect them from tetanus, black disease, pestivirus, and other common diseases;
  6. Pink eyes usually occur in summer, due to the flies swarms and the dust;
  7. Early on, it’s important to keep an eye on their feet, as foot issues are common among the Scottish cow kind. Timely foot trimming goes a long way;
  8. Diarrhoea, caused by the so-called “John’s disease”. It can’t be cured at the time and is usually lethal for the fuzzy cow).

The Difference Between Scottish Cow And Other Cattle

scottish fluffy cow, highland cow with big horns

There are some obvious and not obvious differences when we compare Highland cattle vs other cattle. The most important and interesting differences are:

  1. They are the oldest breed of cattle, which lives until now.
  2. Ability to live and survive in the harsh climate due to the strong immunity and perfect hairy outer coat and a thick inner coat.
  3. Quite large and imposing creatures, not a faint of heart. A fluffy cow can protect itself by charging and impaling even such deadly predators, as cougar or wolf.
  4. Likewise, they have a strong age-based hierarchy. The highland bull dominates here over the highland cows. The old hairy cows are respected by the mini highland cow as a rule.
  5. Their teats are smaller, compared to the rest of cattle, and they do not produce as much milk.
  6. Highland cows are not the only cattle with hair. There are also the Belted Galloway breed, or simply “belties”. They’ve also originated from Scotland, even though, they’ve eventually migrated to all countries, where you can find the highland cows as well. They are quite rare, probably not that stylish, but still very kind and easy-temperament creatures.

Highland Cow VS Yak

Tibetan yak

Some say that the Scottish highland cow is similar to the domesticated Yak, which is just partially true. They can crossbreed, even though, yaks are oxen and not true cattle. While the purpose of both animals is breeding, milk, and meat production, they are quite different. So what are the main differences between Highland cattle vs Yak?

  1. Yak is a pack animal and the Scottish cow is not;
  2. The outer coat of yak is dense, and the undercoat is quite thin. The Scottish highland cow has a thick undercoat with long hair on the oily outer coat, protecting them from snow and rain effects;
  3. Yaks are one and half times smaller than the highlands cows.
  4. The horn type of both creatures is quite different. Yaks have handlebar-like horns for both males and females. Which is different for the Scottish highland cow, and it brings another interesting question.

Do Female Cows Have Horns?

scottish female cow with big horns

Indeed, the Highland cattle have horns – both males and females. And they are quite imposing, to say the least. The highland cow has slender horns of a vertical shape. The highland bull has curved, horizontal horns with a slight rise on the tip. Both males and females use their horns to dig the snow in order to find food. They can also use them to protect their calves against predators and even people.

Highland Cow Meat And Milk: Are They That Healthy?

Scottish fluffy cow

It is known that Scottish highland cows produce around 2-3 gallons of milk per day. Unfortunately, it’s not enough for commercial usage, that’s why any farmer’s family can store it for personal use. The milk itself is rich in 10% of butterfat, which is a lot. For example, such iconic creatures as white Holstein cow milk contains only 4% of butterfat.

The highlander cows meat, on the other hand, is what they are mostly appreciated for. The lean, iron-reach premium beef is considered a luxurious product. A perfect combination of high protein, low cholesterol, and fat (40% vs regular beef) is highly regarded on the market.

The price of this premium, tender meat is what repels most customers, as not many can afford it. That’s why farmers found an alternative, which they call “suckler cows”. They are breeding Scottish highland cow with other lower quality cattle, like Shorthorn, to get the desired result. In the end, the customer gets specific, affordable meat with its tender properties. It has less expensive commercial value for the potential customers and the quality is slightly lower, that’s why it is more popular.

Here Are 5 Interesting Facts About Baby Highland Cow

Scottish baby cows

  1. A hairy coo, who is not old enough to have a highland cow baby, is simply called Heifer.
  2. The Scottish highland cow can breed beyond 18 years, which is an impressive value for the farmers. One hairy coo can give birth to up to 16 calves during its lifetime. They show a high level of fertility and overall their replacement cost is low enough to justify the risks.
  3. Usually, no help is required to give birth to a highland cow baby, and the process is quite fast. A baby highland cow is under the protection of its mother for around 6 months.
  4. Scottish highlander cows are collective protectionists and will protect the baby highland cow from predators, including the people who try to get close. This is the only time when you need to get cautious if you want to approach the fold or the isolated mother. In general, the fluffy cow won’t touch you as they have a kind temperament.
  5. In most cases, only one highland cow baby is born. However, there is a good chance of twins as well. The weight of a single calve is around 50-75 pounds. This miniature highland cow is too adorable and playful to warm the heart even of a cold-tempered person.

Where To Find Scottish Highland Cows?

highland cow

The highland cows live across entire Scotland, so there is a good chance that you meet one or two during your journey on the road. Still, there are few places where the chance to see a fluffy cow in its hairy glory is higher than average:

  1. It’s important to understand in which part of Scotland you plan to travel. Usually, there are 2 main tourist routes: the Isle of Skye and the Scottish Highlands.
    The Isle of Skye is a mythical, surreal part of Scotland, where beautiful mountains, Neist point, and a colorful Portree town are located. There, on the unfenced roads, you can definitely find the highland cattle in their natural habitat.
    The Scottish Highlands are quite remarkable and represent iconic places, like Loch Ness. The wildlife here is amazing, and with a high chance, you can make a great photo tour, picturing the Highlander cows on the vast, green fields.
  2. Geographically, Scotland is separated into the following regions: North Scotland, North East Scotland, Central Scotland, and South/South West Scotland. Each region has its remarkable places, where you can find both hairy coo and the mini highland cow.
    In the North region, you may want to visit Applecross, where the Scottish highland cow roams freely.
    In the Central region, it’s recommended to check Blair and Stirling Castles – the views are quite stunning there.
    And finally, in the South region, you can visit such parks as Pollok Country Park or Galloway Forest Park. The folds of Highland cows are peacefully living there, waiting for someone to pay them a visit.