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About Registered Scottish Highland Cattle

Physical Appearance

Among the most picturesque and beautiful-looking of all cattle breeds, Scotch Highland Cattle are distinguished by their unique shaggy coats of wavy hair and striking set of elegant horns. Highlanders are admirably balanced in shape and form. They are immediately recognizable grazing on any hillside or pasture. Straight above and below, short of leg and deep of frame, varied in color…they are a source of admiration to all who see them.

History of the Ancient Highland Breed

Highland Cattle roamed the remote hilly regions and western Coastal Islands of Scotland, subsisting on brush and browse. Records go back as far as the twelfth century! There is archaeological evidence of them from the sixth century. Highlands are the oldest known breed of cattle.

Because Highland Cattle originated in the severe, harsh climate of Scotland, where only the fittest survived, they have evolved into the hearty breed we know today with characteristics that have remained remarkably uniform since the dawn of recorded history.

The first herd registration book began in 1884. Recognizing the unique qualities of the breed, Western U.S. ranchers imported them to improve the bloodlines of the herd. In the Northeastern U.S., Scottish Highlanders have played an important role in the growth and success of the cattle industry. Picturesque Highland Cattle can be seen grazing throughout the Eastern U.S. as well as in the rest of North America.

Thrifty and Adaptable

A "frugal" breed, Highlanders require a minimum of management and care. At home in the brushThey require little in the way of shelter, feed supplements, or expensive grains to maintain fitness. They forage readily where feed is sparse, or where climate conditions are severe-hot or cold. In their native Scotland they can be seen grazing on the scanty scrub growth, fodder that would cause most breeds to perish. They adapt well to difficult terrain. Highlanders are extremely agile, walking sure-footedly along steep hillsides, and rugged terrain to find grasses other animals will fail to reach. As browsers and brush cleaners they are unsurpassed. Because they prefer variety, they will clean up what other cattle disdain. They are able to withstand shipping over long distances. They persist where other breeds cannot. Because they adapt readily to cold weather, snow or ice, or the heat of southern climates, they do not require barn housing.

Disease Resistant

Highland cattle are famous for their lifelong resistance to the disease and sickness that beset other breeds. Wavy forelocks and long lashes protect their eyes from insects. Pink eye and other fly borne ailments are rare. Through hundreds of years of adaptation to rough climates and minimal subsistence their genetic advantages have emerged to make them the hardy, healthy "breed of choice" for today's competitive marketplace.

Temperament and Behavior

Highlanders are known for their gentle disposition, being calm, even tempered, and easy to work with. They do not stress easily. Even the bulls are easy-going, unthreatening, and unruffled. Many can be handled even before being trained to halter. Spooky individuals do occur but are rare. Mothers are very protective of their newborn and care should be exercised around them during calving time. However, most Highland Cattle are extremely reliable and can be handled by novices to the breed. They are especially suited for 4H projects and for owners who want friendly contact with their animals.


Highland cattle are highly productive. They have an almost 100% success rate in conception, live births, and weaning. First breakfastHighland cows are superior mothers. Conception, gestation, labor and delivery are accomplished without trouble, and they rarely require special care or help at calving time. Calves grow rapidly and make up for their small birth size and weight the first year. Highland calves do not wander from their mothers; they may be found at their sides even as yearlings. The strong protective nature of the cow minimizes predator losses that can even extend to sheep that are pastured in the same field. Productivity of the Highland cow is outstanding. As heifers they are able to conceive as early as 21 months and calve at 30, although they are usually bred as three-year olds. Highland Cattle are long-lived, with many cows producing healthy calves into their late teens!!

Beef Like No Other

Today's market demands leaner beef with less cholesterol. The bottom line for any breeder is the amount and quality of beef produced…and Highland Cattle never fail in fulfilling this goal. Their carcasses bring premium prices at any market. The Highland's long hair (rather than a thick layer of outer fat) provides enough protection to produce lean, flavorful, marbled meat with little outside waste. Highland beef is so good that Britain's Royal Family (keeping a large fold at Balmoral Castle in Scotland) ships the beef ahead for the table wherever they travel.

Cross-breeding With Highland Cattle

Crossing to other beef breeds produces superior animals that retain many of the Highland's excellent characteristics. Because they enhance existing herds and perform so well, Highland bulls are in demand for crossbreeding with Herefords, Angus, Shorthorn or Charolas as well as some dairy breeds. Their offspring are most rugged; grow and gain faster. Yearling heifers mated to a Highland bull and calved, as a two-year-old will have little or no trouble calving. Highland crossbred calves have sold at top market prices consistently.

Mature Weight

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 a long yearling but most breeders prefer to grow their steers on pasture and finish them at two years.

The above is based on information provided courtesy of the Northwest Highland Cattle Association.

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