Highland Cows or as they are commonly known in Scotland Highland Coos are an ancient breed known to have grazed the rugged Scottish landscape since the sixth century.
Their genetic origins are still up for debate. They may be native to Scotland or introduced by the Vikings to Great Britain.
One scientific train of thought considers the Highland Cow to be the result of the blending of two ancient Asiatic breeds, the ‘Bos Longifrons’ and the ‘Bos Primigenius’.
The Longifrons gifted them their long horns, whereas the Primigenius giving them their hairy looks. Both breeds migrated from the Far East and Mongolia to the region of the Black Sea.
Around 6000 years ago, this breed slowly migrated west and north across the Baltic shores. Once in the Scottish Highlands though there can be no doubt about the breed’s significance as a beast of burden, bringing about changes to civilization across the ages.
In the highlands, crofters (farmers) who lived on the land used the Highland Cow as a source of meat and milk. Their hair was also used for spinning yarn. The calves were bought and sold at the annual trysts or cattle sales.
One popular marketplace or Tryst for the sale of the cows was in Stirling. Cattle from the islands were herded and swum across and then herded down to Stirling from whence they were driven south to England for resale.
In the olden days of droving the cows down to Stirling there was also black Highland cows also known as Kyloes. They were small and hardy but not as strong as the feiry haired variety, and so this darker haired strain of Highland Cows gradually died out as a result of selective breeding.
When I went to the Isle of Skye I was struck by the placid, kindly and passive nature of the Highland Cow, despite its immense size and strength, it was approachable and chilled out.
Ever since I saw them grazing on the sides of the road in ditches and in the fields, just hanging out I have always been besotted with them. They are like gigantic bovine teddy-bears.
It’s actually possible to see them in other parts of the world, the highland cow breeding societies present inCanada, USA, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Australia and New Zealand.