7+ Surprising Uses of Highland Cows You Didn’t Know About

Highland cows are versatile animals used for beef, high butterfat milk, conservation grazing, house cows, show cows, pets, and working animals.

what are highland cows used for

Before we learn what are highland cows used for, we’ll take a few moments to talk about the exciting aspects of this breed. As mentioned in the description, they are a hardy breed of cattle native to the highlands of Scotland. 

They have a long shaggy double layered coat to protect them from the elements. The outer layer of fur has an oily coating that helps keep out the rain and dampness. Since they don’t need to expend as much energy keeping themselves warm, this double coat also allows them to retain extra fat so that they don’t need to eat as much in the leaner months. 

They are one of the oldest registered cattle breeds in the world, and they are highly sought after in the highlands of Scotland and the world. Despite being native to Scotland, they can be found in several countries worldwide where their unique traits allow them to live happily on less forgiving terrain. 

Their fur can come in various colors, including dun (tan with dark brown spots), grey, and black. They are a large breed known for being affectionate and gentle with humans. This makes them an optimal choice for households, petting zoos, and farms open to the public. 

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7 Surprising Uses of Highland Cows

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the different ways a highland cow is used.

Beef Cows

Portrait of highland cow

One thing that highland cows are most known for is beef cows. Because of their breed characteristics, highland cows move any available fat near their skin to help keep them warm. This makes their beef fairly lean as it’s not marbled with fat like other cows. You will not be making wagyu out of a highland cow

Despite being very lean, the cuts of meat themselves are very high quality and are considered delicious by most chefs. 

One of the most interesting aspects of using a highland cow for beef is its price effectiveness. Many other breeds of cow need high-quality and expensive grazing to produce the highest quality beef. This is not the case for the highland cow. They don’t mind rough terrain and are happy to graze on many plants that other cattle or grazing species will not touch. 

It is widely considered that the best way to raise a highland cow for beef is to let them graze in a poor field with the grazing plants of their native Scotland. This combination makes the best-tasting beef overall and is very cost effective, as farmers do not need to spend thousands on seeds or field preparation to make a place for their highland cows to graze. They are happy anywhere.

Due to the preferred way of raising a highland cow for beef, which is long grazing out in the wilds, they are perhaps not the best for full-scale beef production that puts out millions of pounds of beef yearly. Rather, these are the perfect cow for small-scale farmers who want to keep the beef for their own family or can sell it to a niche market, such as restaurants or those who are simply interested in these lean cuts. 

High Butterfat Milk

Fresh butter

Another use for the highland cow is for their milk. Highland cows make very thick and delicious milk that is high in butterfat content. This makes it perfect for baking or even for enjoying it.

Despite not being particularly thought of as a dairy breed, highland cows can still be milked and produced just as much as a production dairy cow found on a dairy farm. 

This, in combination with their gentle nature and ease of grazing, makes them the perfect cows to keep for household use. 

Conservation Grazers

Highlander - Scottish cow On the Swiss Alps

In many ecosystems, plants have adapted to constant grazing or otherwise other circumstances that would require them to grow back quickly. The plants of the highlands of Scotland and other similar parts of the world are no different. These plants have evolved to grow thick and quickly to make up for a grazing cow coming along and eating them.

Unfortunately, when cows are no longer grazing the lands where these plants live, the plants can quickly take over an area and strangle out any other vegetation.

This is where conservation grazing comes into play. In conservation grazing, a group of grazing livestock, in this case, highland cows, are set out to graze on land overgrown with these plants.

Ideally, the cows set out for conservation grazing should be semi-feral or at least used to free roaming without any or all interference from a farmer or other caretaker. 

Since highland cows aren’t particularly picky about what they eat, they can also be a great option for weeding out invasive species from a spot of land. This is another form of conservation grazing. 

House Cows

Beautiful brown scottish highlanders graze from a manger at a pasture on a farm in Heemstede, the Netherlands. There are no persons or trademarks in the shot.

Highland cows are among the best options for a personal house cow. Especially in the highlands of Scotland, highland cows are often kept in households to supply a family with milk or beef.

A family may keep a couple of these cows to suit their needs. Since they are known to be gentle and affectionate around people, they are very well-tempered for household life. 

An interesting fact about keeping a small herd of cows for household use is Queen Elizabeth II was known to keep some highland cows at her Scottish residence, the Balmoral Castle. Aside from the royal family, the highland cow also makes an excellent choice for homesteaders or those who like to live remotely. 

Show Cows

This one may surprise some people. One variety of the highland cow, known as the brindled cow, has distinctly fluffy, ginger coats and long, wide horns.

When these cows are groomed, they become incredibly fluffy and simply adorable. This and its gentle nature make it an excellent show cow to be entered into a competition or shown off at a local fair. 

The calves of these cows are small and often very fluffy as well. These Scottish grats also produce oils in their coat that will give their coat extra shine and luster. 


What are highland cows used for, they can be pets! Yes, highland cows can make wonderful pets for the right owner. They are fairly docile and easygoing and don’t require much other than some grazing land and access to water.

For those interested in just keeping one on your property for the company, note that you can also get a mini variety that is a fair bit smaller than the working variety, but this makes them much easier to handle overall. 

Working Animals

Due to their large size and considerable strength, highland cows have grown increasingly popular as working animals on small farms. They make a great option for a beast of burden, helping with moving heavy loads or a cart around as needed.

Do note that if you are considering a highland cow for a working animal, there is a limit to how much it can work, just like any animal. 

Frequently Asked Questions

In this last section we’ll go over a few common questions that come up about highland cows. 

Are Highland cows used for milk? 

Yes! They have rich, creamy milk that’s perfect for baking. 

Do Highland cows make money? 

A highland cow can be a very economical way to raise cattle for beef to sell. They are also great dairy producers if you want to sell their milk or milk products. 

What meat do you get from Highland cows? 

Highland cows make very lean but delicious meat

Is a Highland cow dairy or beef? 

They can be both. 

What do Highland cattle eat? 

Highland cows graze on grasses and other vegetation. They are known for eating species that other grazers avoid. 

Where do Highland cattle live? 

Highland cattle are best known for living in the highlands of Scotland. However, they have found homes all over the world including Canada, the United States, and Australia. 

More FAQs

What is the purpose of the Highland cow?

The purpose of the Highland cow is primarily for its meat, which is gaining popularity because it has lower cholesterol compared to other types of beef. These cattle are a resilient breed, specifically bred to endure the harsh conditions found in the Scottish Highlands.

Why do people farm highland cows?

People farm highland cows because they have a double-layer of hair that enables them to adapt to various weather conditions. Highland cattle, which are one of the oldest breeds globally, have gained popularity among modern beef farmers.

What are the benefits of owning highland cows?

The benefits of owning highland cows include their excellent quality beef production, hardiness, ease of training, docility, intriguing nature, adorable appearance, and intelligence. If you have the necessary property and resources to care for them, raising highland cows for meat can be a wise investment and livestock choice.

Are Highland cows milk or meat?

Highland cows are primarily recognized as a beef breed, but they can also be used for milk production. Although the milk production of Highland cows cannot rival that of dedicated dairy breeds, it is still rich and has a high butterfat content.

Can you make cheese from Highland cow milk?

Cheese can be made from Highland cow milk, as traditionally, Highland cattle were used as house cows in the Highlands and Islands, providing milk, butter, and cheese for families.

Do people raise Highland cows for meat?

People do raise Highland cows for meat because the breed’s exceptional ability to produce high-quality meat without the need for costly feeds makes it an ideal choice for those looking to produce beef using natural inputs. Additionally, the cows’ horns offer protection against predators.

What are the pros and cons of Scottish Highland cows?

The pros and cons of Scottish Highland cows can be summarized as follows: These animals have a calm temper, which is a significant advantage. Despite their intimidating appearance and large horns, Highland cows can coexist peacefully with both wild and domestic animals. They only display aggression when they feel threatened. While there are a few cons that can be mentioned, the Highland breed is generally considered to have very few drawbacks.

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