Highland Cow Facts and Terminology
These cattle are part of our fold of Pedigree Highland Cattle. Within the fold we have a bull, cows, heifers, steers and calves.
Fold – The collective name for a group of highland cattle is a fold. The word ‘fold’ dates back to the olden days in Scotland when highland cattle were brought into an open stone shelter at night called a fold. This protected them from the weather and wolves.
Bull – A bull is a mature male animal used for breeding;
Cow – A cow is a female animal that has had at least one calf;
Heifer – A heifer is a female animal not old enough to have calves;
Steer – A steer is a male animal that has been castrated;
Calf – A young animal under a year old.
Names and Numbers
Our cattle have ear tags with unique numbers and passports as required by DEFRA. All our cattle are registered with the Highland Cattle Society and our female animals have a certificate showing their family history. All female cattle are given names soon after birth. Different owners have different naming conventions. Our method is to give the calf a name that starts with the same letter as the first letter of the mother’s name. All highland cattle born at Barr Farm have a ‘surname’ of ‘of Doodale’ – our selected fold name.
Above is our oldest highland cow, Raonaild of Hellifield. Raonaild was born in 2005. When we bought her in 2014, she had already had 6 calves and was expecting her 7th. In 2015 she gave birth to Ruby of Doodale. In 2016 she gave birth to Rose of Doodale and last year she gave birth to Rosophia of Doodale. Ruby and Rose are heifers. Rosophia is a calf. Raonaild is due to give birth to her 10th calf in May this year and will hopefully have a few more before she retires.
All highland calves are born with horn buds. The horns start to be visible within the first few months of life and after about 3 years will have taken their mature shape. They continue to grow throughout the life of the animal but at a much slower rate. The horns contain blood vessels and are warm to touch.
A bull’s horns usually grow forwards, sometimes pointing slightly downwards and are much wider at the base than the horns of a cow.
A cow’s horns face upwards and are longer and finer at the tip than a bull’s horns.
Highland cattle come in a variety of different colours – the red, yellow, white, black, dun, silver and brindle. The genetics controlling the colour of highland cattle is complex. The dominant colour is black but over the years the cattle have been selectively bred to produce mainly red cattle.
Their coat is made up of 2 types of hair. A short coat close to the skin to retain heat, and the long hair on top to repel rain. This keeps them very warm and means they need less body fat. The long haired outer coat can reach 33 cm in length. Each year they shed their long outer coat in late spring and regrow it as the weather starts to get cooler in the autumn.
A new born calf will weigh 25 – 40 kg and is about the same size as a large Labrador. A fully grown highland cow can weigh up to 500kg and a mature bull up to 800 kg.
The fringe, or dossan, protects their eyes from wind and rain in the winter and in the summer it protects their eyes from insects.