This is both a confusing and sometimes controversial topic. Some breeders, who may have been breeding for some time, still do not fully understand the terms and may inadvertently portray their animals incorrectly. 

When all is said and done, it doesn't matter a great deal to most people, as long as you are happy with the Highland cattle that you have - their breed character, structure, size, temperament, colour etc. Although we were confused and misguided when we started in the breed, we believe that more people lose out by choosing poor quality Highlands at their first purchase, than are disadvantaged by mixing up fullblood and purebred animals.



Highland cattle that descend only from 'fully imported bloodlines' and whose pedigrees can be traced back to the UK, Canadian or USA herdbooks (ie countries that do not allow intentional grading-up from other breeds of cattle). These fullblood animals can potentially be registered in the UK herdbook.


Highland cattle, fourth generation or higher, who knowingly have another breed in their pedigrees somewhere.                                    


Highland cattle who are first (C-grade), second (B-grade) or third (A-grade) crosses, that have been bred up from another breed.

'Old Cattle'

Descendents of the Highland cattle imported to Australia in the mid-1950's. These animals were bred with for many generations but never had records kept and were not registered in any herd book.

As noted in The History of Highland Cattle in Australia there were also a number of live animals and semen from numerous bulls brought into Australia, that were registered in other countries (eg United Kingdom, Canada, and USA) that did not allow intentional grading-up from other breeds. The pedigrees of such animals do not knowingly have any other breeds anywhere in them and can be traced back to the original animals registered in their country of origin, and usually back to the original animals registered in Scotland over a century ago. These animals, from fully imported bloodlines, have been termed 'fullblood'.

Foundation female - Airlie of Crannog Rhu ET (2571)

The Australian Highland Cattle Society, when first formed, decided that it would be quicker, and cheaper, for breeders to establish the breed in greater numbers by allowing animals to be bred-up from another cattle breed. This means that you could actually start with another dairy or beef breed (eg Shorthorn, Angus, Jersey) and use a registered Highland bull over them to achieve a first cross female that could then be put back to another registered Highland bull. This process was called grading-up and once the progeny reached fourth cross, they could be termed 'purebred'.

Question - If a first cross Highland is 50% Highland, how many generations do we have to breed to get 90%, 99% or indeed 99.9% Highland? (Assuming you use a fullblood bull every time - ie one with 100% Highland genetics.)

1st cross

1/2 Highland

50% Highland


2nd cross

3/4 Highland

75% Highland


3rd cross

7/8 Highland

87.5% Highland


4th cross

15/16 Highland

94.8% Highland


5th cross

31/32 Highland

96.9% Highland


6th cross

63/64 Highland

98.5% Highland


7th cross

127/128 Highland

99.2% Highland


8th cross

255/256 Highland

99.6% Highland


9th cross

511/512 Highland

99.8% Highland


10th cross

1023/1024 Highland

99.9% Highland




So to be 90% Highland, you need to have a fourth cross animal. To be 99% Highland, you need to have a 7th cross animal. To have 99.9% Highland genetics you need to have a 10th cross animal.

If you cross a fullblood with a fullblood, the progeny will always be termed fullblood. If you cross a fullblood with a purebred animal, the offspring will always be purebred, because on one side of the pedigree you will not be able to trace their lineage back to the UK Herd Book or a country where their society does not knowingly allow grading-up from other breeds. 

We defy anyone to consistently pick a 'fullblood' from a 'purebred' Highland animal on appearance alone - the difference is really only in the pedigree. Having said this, we personally believe in the long tradition of this majestic, old breed and want to keep our lines as fullblood and linked back to the original Scottish Herdbook that began in 1885. Indeed, Australian fullblood cattle can potentially be registered in the UK herdbook (and some have been). Some other breeders do not care to differentiate between fullblood and purebred animals, so long as they appear to be a good representative of the breed. This is personal opinion and certainly makes no difference to registering or showing animals.

Fullblood or Purebred?Fullblood or Purebred?







The Current Situation with the Australian Highland Cattle Society:

The society does not currently recognise or differentiate between purebred and fullblood animals. When the society was first formed, there was a differentiation on the pedigrees (a 'P' was assigned to purebred animals and an 'F' assigned to fullblood animals) but this was voted by the council of the time on and dropped soon after.

We feel that discerning between purebreds and fullbloods helps to allay any confusion on the matter for new members and some existing members, and may help with recognition of at least part of the herdbook with overseas Highland Cattle societies. New Zealand has addopted such a system and while the exact definition of a 'fullblood' will always be cause for debate, their open recognition would be a simple and useful step for the society. Other than recognising this difference in pedigrees, there is no overwhelming reason to separate these animals. All females, fullblood or purebred, can be registered in Australia and can be shown.

Currently purebred bulls need to be at least 5th cross (come from a purebred female) to be registered. In the early stages of the society, some fourth cross bulls were allowed to be registered. In the last few years, the numbers of graded animals (A-, B- and C-grade) has diminished significantly, simply because of the greater number of purebred and fullblood Highlands around.