Everything You Need to Know About the Highland Cow

Posted by Allie Layos
Scottish Highland Cow

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The ancient Highland cow is the perfect combination of adorable and low maintenance.

The Highland is an ancient breed of cattle that originated in the Scottish Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland. First mentioned in the 6th century A.D., the breed is known for its long, thick hair and its hardiness in harsh conditions. In Scottish Gaelic, they are known as Bò Ghàidhealach and in Scots, they are called Heilan coo. In the first herd book that the Highlander is mentioned in there are two distinct breeds, but over time and crossbreeding there is now only one official cow in the registry. While originating in Scotland, the breed has since made its way to Australia and New Zealand, all across Europe, Canada, and the United States.

Breed characteristics

Highlands are a medium-sized cattle breed and come in a variety of colors. At shows, they are often groomed with oils and conditioners that make their coats look fluffy, and are sometimes called "fluffy cows." The thick coats of this Scottish breed make them well-suited to colder temperatures, but less tolerant to excessive heat. Their long horns help them dig through snow to get to grass underneath.

What about that beautiful coat? 

Their thick woolly downy undercoat keeps them warm, while the longer guard hairs shed snow and rain. Their coat also protects them from strong winds.

Highland bulls can weigh up to 1,800 pounds and even cows are larger animals, reaching 1,100 pounds. 


Though not often used as dairy animals, since they are primarily a beef breed, their milk tends to have a very high butterfat content.

Hover over the image for more information.

General Appearance

Highlands are easily recognized by their long horns and long, wavy coats. A medium-sized breed, cows can weigh up to 1,100 pounds and bulls up to 1,800.



The back of the Highland is rounded and the legs short and straight. The quarters must be wider than the hips and the neck should make a straight line to the body. Highlands do not have a dewlap.


Highlands are known best for their coats. The hair is straight and waved, and can come in many colors such as black, brindle, red, yellow, white, silver, or dun. Silver coats look white but the cow will usually have a black nose.


Highlands have heads that are proportionate to their body and wide between the eyes. The breed standard requires that they naturally have horns, but these may be trimmed in commercial rearing.


While Highlands are often described as gentle, intelligent and good-natured, you will also hear stories of Highlands being skittish and unpredictable. The temperament of your Highland generally comes down to two things -- good breeding and good handling.

Highlands have strong mothering instincts, and cows with calves are generally the worst offenders when it comes to aggression. But if you choose a well-bred Highland and handle it with care, Highlands can make excellent pets.


Highlands are known to be a hardy and generally healthy breed. Though they can fall prey to any of the normal cattle diseases, eye problems are rare as they have an extra long forelock to protect their eyes.

Owners should pay special attention to nursing cows, as a vigorously suckling calf can sometimes get hair caught around its mother's teat, and, if left unattended, the teat can strangulate and drop off, causing an infection.

Body image: Trek Earth

Learn more about Highland cattle and where to find Highland cattle calves by visiting the Highland Cattle Society and the American Highland Cattle Association. You can find out more about the breed standard of Scottish Highland cattle, the cow with the long hair!

Have you seen the Highland breed? Tell us in the comments below!

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Everything You Need to Know About the Highland Cow