Hardiness and vigor: Highland cattle are noted for their hardiness and vigor. Natural selection over the centuries in the harsh climate of Scotland ensured that only the most efficient animals would survive to breed. The gene pool today remains largely intact allowing them to thrive where other breeds struggle.
Hair Coat: The double coat of hair (long, coarse, outer layer and soft woolly inner layer) is one of the most notable differences between Highlands and all other breeds. The coat reduces the need for expensive barns and shelters. It is not unusual to see Highlands grazing a day or two after a winter storm with snow still melting off their backs as they are that well insulated. The long hair over the eyes (dossan) helps reduce the incidence of pinkeye and other fly borne problems.
According to one breeder, Highlands feed intake does not increase until -18 degrees F compared to 32 degrees F in many other breeds. In addition, the long hair means that the animal does not have to produce a layer of fat to stay warm. This allows the animal to marble naturally on low input forage while producing lean, low fat, high quality cuts of beef. Highlands shed out earlier in the spring and produce less hair in warm climates making them suitable throughout the U.S.
Easy Handling: Highlands have a long, close history of living with humans. Early Scots would keep the cows downstairs to provide warmth for the family on the second story and to make sure the neighbors didn't help themselves to the family's wealth. Highlands tend to be docile and calm, do not stress easily, and are easy to work with despite their long horns. The horns are used primarily for knocking down brush to graze on, predator control and scratching. Horns on females are generally upswept and finer textured than are the males. Male horns are more forward pointing and massive.
Unlike other breeds, Highlands are slow maturing making the meat fine textured and succulent. In a recent study at Manyberries Research Station, Canada, groups of Hereford, Highland, and Highland Herefords crosses were tested. The Highland group produced 2,000 pounds more beef than the purebred Herefords, while the Highland/Hereford crosses produced 6,000 pounds more than the pure Hereford group.