Ewok showing her 3 yro horns
We all love the appearance of a horned highland cow – the horns lend an air of majesty to the breed, and make the breed instantly recognisable (in addition to the luxurious, long coat). Horns help keep the animal cool in summer, make predators (eg dog packs) more wary about approaching smaller animals and calves, and are also very useful for self scratching!. Bull horns are quite differently shaped to those of the highland cows: the former curl forwards whilst the cow horns rise up and out. The horns can be a hindrance for animals loading on a truck or moving through the yards, although we tend to find our older girls know exactly when to cock their head to negotiate the bars, whilst the younger ones work it out with practise. So, the traditional style of highland certainly has its followers, and many don’t consider highland cattle to be highland cattle, if they don’t have their horns!
In contrast, we are seeing the popularity of polled highlands rising every year. This happened with the hereford breed many years ago, and now there are more polled hereford in Australia than horned. It can be quite confronting when you find yourself in a small yard with large horned animals, plus they can bruise each other on transport trucks and in the yards, so there is a move for some people to breed polled highland cattle. Farmers who want small paddock pets and have young children, often request the polled variety or a highpark (essentially part highland, part white galloway/speckled park) which are naturally polled for their paddocks. The temperaments are similar, there are really no other differences, except there are generally less polled cattle available in Australia. You can register poll and miniature cattle with the poll cattle society but not with the Australian Highland Cattle society. This is because both miniature and polled cattle will have had other breeds in their background (eg galloway for the poll gene) and so are not truly pure. Despite that, there are many advantages to having large fluffy cows without horns and tiny, hairy cows for pets – which is reflected in their ongoing popularity. Just remember that temperament and conformation are still the main focus when breeding these animals.
Luckily at our farm, Sentinel Park, we breed both polled and horned miniature highlands!