The Highland cattle are a Scottish breed of cow, otherwise called "hairy cow". This cow is bred mainly for its meat. The animal has long horns. The coat of the Highland cattle consists of two layers: the undercoat and the oily outer coat, which is the longest among cattle species. The coat of the cattle can be patchy, varying in color from dun to black, white, red, yellow and silver. In the beginning of spring, the animals shed out, growing less hair during the summer months, due to which they are able to live in various habitats and climatic conditions.
Highland cattle live within a hierarchy system, where individuals are ranked, depending on age and sex. Older ones dominate younger ones and males dominate females. In addition, young males begin to dominate adult females, reaching the age of approximately 2 years. Calves, born from the top ranking cow, automatically get higher position in the herd, even without their mother's initiative. Friendly behavior between the animals includes licking, mounting and play-fighting. They are strong grazers, very skillful in foraging for food. During winter months, they dig through snow layer with their horns to get to vegetation. In addition, when encountering a predator or a rival, they defend themselves, using their horns.
These cattle have polygynous mating system, where a male mates with more than one female. Gestation period lasts about 9 months, yielding a single baby. The calves of Highland cattle are born preocial and are able to stand, walk and recognize their mother. The mother cow is very careful and devoted to its young, nursing them for about 6 months. First giving birth at the age of 2-3 years, they are able to yield offspring up to 19 years.
The number of their global population is not currently known, except with specific populations in some areas. Thus, UK holds about 15,000 individuals of the Highland cattle while the overall population in the USA and Canada is estimated to 11,000 animals.
Due to grazing, the Highland cattle hugely impact the environment. On the other hand, in areas where the animals are bred in large amounts, they can affect the ecosystem in a harmful way by overgrazing as well as causing invasion of exotic plant species, erosion and destruction of riparian habitats.
Originally, the cattle were introduced to Britain by farmers during the Neolithic. As it comes to the Highland cattle, the species has quite a long history, beginning with the 6th century AD. The first written references to the Highland cattle date back to the 12th century AD. The species was formed the Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland out of 2 types of cattle, which are now extinct. These two types are described in the herd book, written in 1885. It says that one was the West Highland, or Kyloe, brought from Western Isles. The West Highland cattle were relatively smaller with black coat and long hair, as a result of living in harsher conditions. According to the book, the other type was the mainland cattle. These animals were dun or red in color and larger due to pastures, providing them required nutrients. Nowadays, however, the difference between these two types has disappeared because of crossbreeding. With the beginning of the 20th century, the species has been exported worldwide, primarily to North America and Australia.