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A copy of this article was given to me many years ago. It was published in the "Kyloe Cry" — a magazine published by The Canadian Highland Cattle Society.

An Ancient Breed

Highland Cattle originated in the Highlands and west coastal islands of Scotland, areas severe in climate and lashed by North Atlantic gales.

No cattle in Scotland, or perhaps even the world, have retained in greater uniformity the same characteristics as a distinct breed than the Highlanders. This seems to point to the conclusion that there has been little change in the character of this class of cattle, so far back as any information on the subject can be obtained, except that produced by a more careful system of breeding.

Various classifications of the breed have been made, but it is thought that there were really only two distinct classes in the beginning, namely the West Highlander and the Highlander or Mainland Highlander.

Highland Cattle of Today

Of interest to every farmer should be the results of experiments run by the Canadian Department of Agriculture at the Manyberries Range Experimental Station, involving herds of purebred Highland cows, Highland-Hereford Cross cows, and purebred Hereford cows.

These experiments established officially what every Scottish farmer on his bleak and desolate moor grazing has known for centuries, the Highland cow is a wonderful mother, and when crossed with a bull of another breed can produce an outstanding calf. These statistics have not been publicized before, but results surprised even the experts, and old prejudices against the Highland in commercial operations wilted under cold hard facts.

Here is a digest of some of the statistics.


5 Year Average Based on 100 Cows Herds

C.D.A. Manyberries Experimental Station

BREED Calves Weaned Weaning Weight Total Weight
HIGHLAND X HEREFORD 82 391 lbs 32,062 lbs
HIGHLAND (Purebreds) 79 359 lbs 28,361 lbs
HEREFORD (Purebreds) 71 371 lbs 26,341 lbs

In effect, this means that 100 purebred Highland cows can produce on the average 2,020 pounds - A FULL TON OF CALVES TO SELL AT WEANING TIME - more than 100 purebred Hereford cows can. Highland Hereford Cross cows can produce 5,721 lbs, NEARLY THREE TONS, more than purebred Hereford cows can, per 100 cows.

These herds were kept under identical conditions, rather poor short-gross prairie range. The females were only "run-of-the-mill", with no special selection. A farmer following a similar breeding program, using a top-gaining Highland bull on his existing cow-herd to produce Highland Cross dams, should be able to far exceed these figures. With better pasture, fertility and weaning weights would be better, adding environmental advantage to genetic advantage.

The Highland Hybrids surpassed the Herefords by 6.0 percent (Canadian Journal of Animal Science Vol. 44). Of course, we can expect "hybrid vigour" in almost any cross, but it is interesting to compare these figures with those from Hereford-Angus cross calves whose average weaning weight was superior to that of the parental breeds by only 3.5 percent (Canadian Journal of Animal Science Vol. 14).

Why this greater hybrid vigour? In breeding the new corn hybrids, strain "A" is self pollinated, strain "B" is self pollinated, then strain "A" is bred to strain "B". It is possible that in cattle breeding the same thing is being done. Purebred Herefords have a long history of breed purity, without a mixture of other genes. The Highland breed has been similarly isolated. Then when the two are bred together, they "nick", as the cowman says.

The Highland has proved its ability to "nick" well with other breeds, such as Shorthorn and Angus. It is common practice in Scotland to breed Highland cows to a beef Shorthorn bull, to produce market cattle. A new breed the "Luing" has been established with 3/8ths Highland and 5/8ths Shorthorn blood, and is fast gaining in popularity in Britain. Of course the breeder who wants hornless cattle can simply introduce polled Hereford, polled Shorthorn, Angus or Brangus blood when producing his polled cow herd, and still keep the advantages of a liberal percentage of highland blood.

Here are a few more statistics regarding steers fed out and butchered at Manyberries Experimental Station, from KYLOE CRY, 1971, No. 1. The superiority of the Highland Hybrids over pure Herefords in rib-eye area is one of the points of interest.

  Hereford Highland Highland X Hereford Hereford X Highland
Birth Wt. (lbs) 69.20 63.30 73.30 70.00
ADG to Weaning (lbs) 1.46 1.41 1.57 1.61
ADG Feedlot (lbs) 1.85 1.59 1.85 1.71
Wt. per Day of Age (end of test) 1.74 1.57 1.82 1.77
TDN per lb. gain 5.23 5.55 5.11 5.28
Dressing Percentage 57.00 55.10 56.40 57.30
Rib-eye area ( 8.86 9.44 9.25 9.34
ADG = Average Daily Gain
TDN = Total Digestible Nutrients

"Highlands have proved their ability to survive and reproduce under extreme climatic conditions," writes John E. Lawson, Animal Geneticist, Canadian Department of Agriculture, Lethbridge Research Station. "Now they must prove they are capable of higher performance".

Of the Manyberries experiment he stated "We demonstrated that Highlands cross well with the Hereford. First cross steer calves exceeded the Hereford in growth rates and equalled them in carcass characteristics. First cross Highland-Hereford cows were hardy, excellent mothers, and from yearlings up had high conception rates, and were among the best of all breeds and crosses produced at Manyberries in weaning a high percentage calf crop.

"Our experience at Manyberries was that if we could get a highland cow bred, we were almost sure to get a weaned calf from her... Highlands produced at Manyberries tended to produce a calf every year. At Manyberries, over a 5-year period the percentages were 82, 79 and 71 for first cross, Highland and Hereford cows that had been raised at Manyberries. A cross-country estimate of calves weaned per cows exposed to bull is about 70 percent.

"This is an excellent breeding record for the first-cross Highlands on the range considering the number of young cows involved. (These figures included the productivity of 2-year-olds). The Hereford disadvantage was attributed to their inability (a) to conceive as yearlings, (b) to calve without difficulties at 2 years of age. At Manyberries, conception rates drop off quickly in Hereford heifers under 625 pounds and Angus heifers under 575 pounds at the start of breeding."