This article aims to highlight the difference between the various terms that the buyer or breeder of Highland Cattle may hear, and to try to ensure that purchases of “Highland Cattle” in Australia are made on an informed basis.
The Highland Cattle Society in the UK was formed in 1884 to preserve and maintain the genetic purity of the cattle breed known as Highland Cattle, often referred to as Scottish Highland Cattle.
Highland Cattle were first imported into Canada in the 1880's and in America its recorded that cattle were imported in the 1920's though there may have been earlier imports.
Both Canada and America have Highland Cattle Associations with America forming an association in 1948 and Canada in 1964.
None of the aforementioned associations or societies allow for anything other than full Highland genetics to be registered, in other words grading-up from other breeds is not permitted.
Prior to the formation of the Australian Highland Cattle Society in 1988 a number of people in different States had introduced a grading-up program using imported Highland semen over both dairy and beef cattle. The reasons for this were primarily cost savings as importing live animals and embryos was extremely expensive at that time. The first crossbred animal was classed as 50% Highland and by using different imported Highland semen over each subsequent cross it was established that at 4th cross (93% pure) the animals were close to looking like "Highland Cattle". Consequently a number of cross-bred herds of graded-up "Highland Cattle" were formed.
At the same time a very small number of people imported live Highland Cattle and embryos and produced Highland Cattle with 100% genetics with no grading-up. These were very much in the minority due to the aforementioned high costs of importation and running embryo programs at that time.
In 1988 the Australian Highland Cattle Society was formed and after much debate, between those with 100% Highland Genetics and those that had Graded-Up Cattle, it was agreed that graded-up cattle at 4th cross would be classed as "pure" or "purebred". Later it was agreed that bulls would need to be at least 5th cross.
As part of the debate at the time of the formation of the Australian Highland Cattle Society it was also agreed that the pedigrees for both graded-up cattle and those with fully imported bloodlines would be clearly identified so that buyers could determine whether they were buying cross-bred stock that had been graded-up, or buying cattle with fully imported 100% Highland genetics.
Sadly that practice was discontinued in the early 90's. Therefore buying Highland Cattle today with Australian Highland Cattle Society registration papers gives no indication of the origins of the cattle, and for those without knowledge on how to research the pedigrees it is impossible to know whether the animals purchased are graded or fullblood.
As a result of lack of identification it is also unfortunate that not everyone may realise they have graded-up stock and because they have 'papers' may mis-represent their cattle's lineage.
Update : In April 2016 the members of the Australian Highland Cattle Society voted to recognise those cattle with 'fully imported bloodlines'. These animals will be recognised in the AHCS database with the letter 'F' and it is expected this will be implemented soon (as at December 2017 it is expected in the first half of 2018). It's taking a lot more time than expected and this page will be updated again when the database reflects 'fully imported bloodlines'.
Pedigree research can be carried out at the Australian Highland Cattle Society Animal Enquiry database run by ABRI. In some cases it may be required to go back quite a number of generations to identifiy the origins of a particular animal.
If "Foundation Highland" is found within the pedigree on the AHCS website's database then its highly likely that the animal has been graded-up from another breed of cattle.
It was after the discontinuation of clear identification that various unofficial classifications were born in an attempt to identifiy the differences.
This term is reserved for stock that have 100% Highland Cattle genetics derived from fully imported bloodlines and the pedigrees of these cattle can be traced back to the Highland Cattle Society in Scotland. For genetics imported from Canada or America tracing is via their respective herd books all the way back to Scotland. These animals form the basis for the future of Highland Cattle. There is no known introduction of other breeds since the Highland Cattle Society UK was formed in 1884.
The Australian Highland Cattle Society (unlike UK, Canada and America) allows for registration of animals graded up from any other breed, either dairy or beef, and considers such animals "pure" at 4th cross for females and 5th cross for bulls.
Normally refers to graded cattle (cross-bred) that are fourth cross and above. Graded cattle can have origins from any breed (beef or dairy).
At fourth cross the calculated purity is 93%. Further dilution of the cross-bred genetics can be achieved by using "Fullblood" bulls over the subsequent generations. Of course this does not necessarily remove any dominant genes inherited from other breeds.
However, some breeders choose to use graded bulls over their herds. These bulls can be of various purities (5th, 6th, 7th cross, or above). Using such bulls does little, and in some cases nothing to dilute the genetics from the other breeds.
Genetically modified is one of the latest terms seen on the internet. It still means cross-bred and it is being used in the context of breeding Highland Cattle without horns.
By crossing a polled (hornless) breed with Highland Cattle will create cattle without horns. Polled genetics tend to be dominant so over a few generations these cross-bred cattle will no longer have the magnificent horns associated with the Highland Cattle breed. As with Purebred there may be other dominant genes introduced into the breed, and some genes forever lost.
Can they still be called Highland Cattle? That's something for others to decide!
The intent of this article is to help with making an informed decision.
It is a matter of personal choice what people choose, and there is room for all the above classifications of 'Highland Cattle'.
Cruachan Highland Cattle choose to breed "Fullblood" Highland Cattle with no grading-up or genetic modification within their pedigrees.
Buying Highland Cattle?
Please visit our SALES Page to check our current avaialability of stock.