Scottish Highland cattle have changed little since their evolution in the 1600s. Their development in the cold and damp mountainous areas of northwest Scotland resulted in a natural selection process that produced a genetically thrifty and hardy breed of cattle. Highlands are a natural fit for an all-forage diet, as they efficiently utilize available grasses and survive nicely on an all-grass diet. Further, Highland cattle are inclined to graze on a variety of forages (even weeds and brush) often ignored by other breeds. This has made them ideal for small scale operations in regions like western Pennsylvania, marked with steep hillsides, deep valleys, reclaimed surface mines and generally non-tillable land. It has been said often that the Scots-Irish who settled much of the Appalachian region of America were attracted, among other things, to the terrain and climatic conditions similar to their native lands in northern Ireland and Scotland. Perfect conditions for such hardy people and such hardy cattle!
The British royal family maintains a herd of Highlands for their own use at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. Grass feeding is also nature’s way of producing healthy and happy cattle. Pittsburgher Highlands are raised on 100% pasture and never confined to cramped and dirty buildings or feedlots.
Those of us who raise Scottish Highland cattle are well aware of the traits that make them an ideal breed. Hardiness, low fat, easy calving, longevity, docility, and even their unique appearance are a few of the characteristics of this heritage breed that appeal to breeders and consumers alike. Highland cattle in the United States are bred and raised under a variety of circumstances. Most Highland operations, tend to be small-scale with cattle (and sometimes other species) raised primarily, if not entirely, on grass. Many Highlands live outdoors year-round in perfect harmony with nature. Their furry coats insulate them against winter cold and negate the normal layer of fat that most other cattle have as a winter guard. They shed that fur during the warmer summer months and thus adapt to conditions. This harmonious relationship is reflected by this breed’s particular docility, great health, and longevity. It is not uncommon for Highland cows to produce calves until 15 or 16 years of age when raised entirely on grass, much longer than most other breeds. Highland cows (again, especially those raised on grass) tend to calve problem free, surpassing other breeds in this category as well.
Back to nature couldn’t come more naturally!