When it comes to recognizable domestic animals, the Highland cow is universally recognized. With their fluffy coats and sweeping horns, they are an integral part of Scottish culture, appearing in countless photographs, advertisements, and packaging. Here are six interesting facts you may not know about this picture-perfect cow.
Specifically Designed for Extreme Conditions
There is no denying that Highland cattle are absurdly adorable. They are extremely photogenic due to their shaggy coats, just-out-of-bed hair, long, curved horns, and teddy-bear appearance. However, these characteristics are not merely aesthetic; they also enable the cow to survive harsh winters and harsh environments. Their dense woolly undercoats keep them warm, while their longer guard hairs protect them from snow and rain. Long eyelashes and a thick fringe of hair protect their eyes from stinging hail, pelting rain, insects, and biting winds, and they use their large horns to rake away snow to access food (and for a good scratch!). The fact that these items make them appear adorable is merely a pleasant bonus.
The world’s oldest registered cattle breed.
In 1884, the Highland Cattle Society was established, and the following year, the first herd book was compiled. At this time, in Inverness, the breed standard was discussed and established (including those bangs), and it has not changed since. A century earlier, in the sixth century, they were first mentioned in writing, making them an extremely ancient breed. Today, the Queen is the patron of the Highland Cattle Society and not only has an award-winning herd (or fold, as a group of Highland cattle is known) of her own, which was established at Balmoral in the year of her coronation, 1953, but is also regarded as one of the best folds in the world.
Outstanding Beef Quality
The Highland cow is not only superbly adapted to life in the harsh climate of the Highlands and Islands, but its meat is of exceptional quality. With 40% less fat and cholesterol than conventional beef and a succulent, tender texture, Highland cattle meat is highly sought after. However, because the Highland cow is small, it is crossed with other breeds in order to maximize beef yield. This has resulted in the export of Highland cattle all over the world, wherever there is a need for a species that can convert poor upland grazing into excellent meat, from Scandinavia to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and even 3,000 meters above sea level in the Andes.
Different Colours, Different Horns, Different Names
Although the traditional image of a Highland cow is reddish-brown, they can also be red, yellow, brindle, dun, silver, white, or black. When being exhibited, they are groomed with conditioner and oils to make their coats lustrous and fluffy. The horns of males and females develop differently, with the horns of bulls being thicker and curved forward, with a small upward rise near the tip, if any. The horns of the cows are more slender and ascending. In addition, they are longer than the horns of bulls. In Gaelic, the Highland cow is referred to as B Ghàidhealach and in Scots as the Heilan coo.
A bull Highland cow weighs about 800kg (1,800 pounds) and a cow weighs about 500kg (1,100 pounds), which is light for cattle. Due to this and their natural light-footedness, Highland cows are an excellent choice for conservation grazing, in which rough terrain is grazed to provide habitat for other species. They trample areas of bracken, allowing flowers to flourish; their dung is an excellent soil fertilizer; and because they eat by pulling grass and plants with their tongues, they do not trim the vegetation as closely as nibbling sheep do. Seeds of wildflowers are also dispersed by attaching themselves to animals’ fur and then shedding them elsewhere.
The Highland cow is renowned for its sociable nature, often approaching humans to solicit attention. In spite of their intimidating horns, they have such a strong social hierarchy and a clear understanding of their position within it that they never engage in combat. As with all livestock, it is prudent to take extra precautions if you are walking with a dog, and do not approach the cattle if they have young calves, as they can be protective (they are also remarkable mothers, often reproducing past the age of 18 and raising 15 or more offspring).
Topic: Things You Need to Know About the Highland Cow
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