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Highland Cow In A Field
Scottish Highland Cow

Scottish Highland Cattle

“Hairy Coos”

Scottish Highland Cattle – A Icon

Highland Cattle or the Highland cow is a true icon of Scotland. And why not? It has ginger hair, right?.

In Scotland, we call a cow “Coo” (rhymes with moo)

I think if you had to choose an animal to represent Scottish culture, you could do a lot worse than choosing the Highland Coo, lets see if you agree after reading this.

History of Scottish Highland cattle

Coo history experts say that the breed was likely in Scotland at least 1000 years BC or CE if you prefer. Either way, they come from the ancient past.

The first written reference to Scottish Highland cattle is from the 12th century AD. They are even-toed ungulates – essentially, hoofed animals that bear weight equally on two toes.

See, you know more than most folk already.

Written records date back to the 18th century and the Highland Cattle Herd Book, first published in 1885. This makes them the oldest registered breed in the world

Originally there were two breeds. One on Orkney and the other in the Highlands, but they are now well interbred and now just called Highland Cattle.

Why Are They All Ginger (Red Heads)

Highland Cow Black
In Black

They’re not. The Original colour was mainly black, and the black gene is still the dominant gene today.

They come in six solid colours and or shades.

  • Silver Dun
  • Dun
  • Black
  • Red
  • Yellow
  • White

You can sometimes also see Brindle (sort of Tiger Stripe).

Thanks to Queen Victoria on one of her trips to the Highlands, she mentioned she preferred the Red (Ginger) colour, so it was all hands on deck for the breeders.

Breed the Gingers came the call (I should be so lucky)

The present Queen Elizabeth II is the patron of the Highland Cattle Society and has a well respected fold of her own Scottish Highland Cattle.

Longest Haired Breed

The Scots dress in layers to keep warm, and the Highland Cow does the same.

It has the longest coat of any breed. The outside layer grows as long as 33 Cm or just over 1 foot long, and it is oily, making it waterproof.

The undercoat is woollen and fluffy for warmth. So It’s like wearing a fleece jacket under a thick raincoat.

The Bangs or ‘Dosan” covering their eyes also help keep the rain and snow out. Underneath the Highlander has unusually long eyelashes, which help keep irritating insects away in the summer months.

Underfloor Heating

The Hairy Coo does not need to be kept in a barn over winter.

They get so warm that crofters keep them beneath the house for the warmth that would rise from their bodies to heat the room above.

So now, with The knowledge that the hairy Beastie is hot stuff, let’s move on to some other characteristics of the breed.

The Biological Information

The breed is long-lived, the longest. Living as long as 20 years, the female (cow) will typically have only 1 Calf at a time and 15 during her lifetime.

It takes between 9 and 10 months to produce a single calf that weighs around 50lb when born.

Highlanders are renowned for needing minimal assistance during birth and the mortality rate is a low 5%.

Apart from the obvious, the way to tell the male from the female is by their horns.

Girl or boy

The Male (Bull) horns come out sideways from the head and then curve forwards so the points would be facing you when looking at the head.

For the cows and have an upward bend Like a letter U. The female horn is thinner at the base.

So this one must still be a bit confused.

Highland Cow With Wonky Horns
Perhaps this one is “woke”

Keep them Dogies movin’ Rawhide!

In 1707 after Scotland was joined with England, there was hope that it would bring some much-needed money into the Scottish Economy – Yer right

However, around 1760, the Scottish cattleman realised excellent money was to be made by selling the Scottish Highland Cattle to the English.

So they fattened the cattle in the grassy meadows near the borders and then “hit the trails’ driving the Forms to the English markets in the south.

Tens of thousands were transferred this way.

When the Scots emigrated to the USA, they found lots of cattle running wild.

With lots of pastures around for fattening and a growing market for beef, it did not take long for the Scots to start-up in Business again herding cattle to the markets.

So instead of rawhide, maybe we should be singing. “I would walk 500 miles “( by the Proclaimers. )

Scottish Highland Cattle Beef

It’s good scran (food)

Figures per 100 Gram

Normal Beef

Fat Content 15.6 g



Highland Beef

4.5 g

40.9 mg

20.7 mg

The reason behind these ‘best of beef’ statistics is the double coat we have mentioned before.

Scottish Highland Cattle do not need a layer of fat to keep itself warm. Food is not increased until the temperature falls to minus 18F Other breeds need an increase when the temperature reaches 32 F

The milk is high in butterfat at 10%, so the cheesemakers love it. (Bless them)

Bull in a China Shop?

Err No.

They would be no good for the Bullring. The only time they show aggression is around their offspring. It takes a year for a Calf to leave the mother.

After cleaning her calf after birth, the mother will hide it in the grass, a throwback to ancient times when bears and wolves prowed wild in Scotland.

Bit of a nightmare for the farmer trying to keep tabs on the fold

They have such a well-established hierarchy in their fold that there is hardly ever more than some mock fights to sort out the pecking order.

The pecking order runs from old to young and male to female. The young bulls taking their place at around two years old – until then – Mum rules OK

Owners of hairy Coos report they will keep their horns away from people, especially around children.

Will I recommend that if you see one while driving around Scotland, you leave your car, walk across the field, and pat one on the head – no

However, if and when they approached, would I be worried? – well, only if I did not have enough battery in my phone to get a selfie.

Top Trumps

Before I Mooove on, here are some Fun Facts just in case you are playing Cow Top Trumps at any time.

Life Span – 20+ years
Weight (bull) 1800 Lb
Height (Bull) 4 foot
Speed – up to 25 MPH

The horns have a blood flow and are warm to the touch.

Do you wish to learn about another mysterious Scottish animal? You can read my post about the Highland Haggis

Please let me know about your encounters with Scottish Highland Cattle in the comments section below

Or send me a message us the Contacts page. I love to hear from you

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