Why do we all love this magnificent breed? What attracted us to them in the Highland cow & calf.first place? Is it their high quality beef, their versatility and hardiness or their extremely docile nature? I would not be stretching the truth to say that nearly all were attracted to the Highland breed by their 'look'.

This natural, majestic eye appeal is a package that is difficult to break down but surely stems form the hair and the horns for the most part. While hair is genetically controlled with its expression being influenced by climate, season and gender (mature bulls having a lot less), horns have only genetic influence as to their size and shape, except for the occasional accident that may cause them to be mis-shapen.

There are often some breeder preferences to how horns should look on a Highland cow or a bull. Both the UK Breed Standard and the Australian Breed Standard describe classically what the appearance of the horns should be.

(Wondering how they get through a race or crush -  Read about yard & crush design for Highland cattle.)

A Highland Female's Horns:

These are narrower at the base, longer and finer at the tip than those of a bull. They can take one of the two classical shapes shown but should always rise after exiting the head more or less horizontally. They suggest majesty and femininity.

Majestic back-twirling horns.

Standard horn shape of a cow.

A Highland Bull's Horns:

Bulls horns suggest masculinity and strength. They  more or less come out from the body level with the ground and curve slightly forward. They may rise slightly towards the tip but nothing more than this.

Bulls horns coming out level with the head curving slightly forward.

Classical mature bull with slight upward inflection of the horns towards the tip.

Variations of the Classical Horn Set:

Bulls horns that are thicker at the base.

Bull's horns naturally curving forward.

Bull with a little too much upward curve to the horns.

Classical horn set in a mature cow.

Backward triwling horns in an aged cow.

Mature cow showing fine, feminine horns.

What Happens to Horns as the Animal Grows:

An interesting progression to watch for those new to the game is how the horns grow out in younger animals. Of course all Highlands are born without horns. Most bulls & heifers will have their horns grow out from their heads more or less horizontally or with a slight upward inflection in some. By 18 months, a heifers horns will usually be starting to curve upwards gently and between 2-3 years old they will be taking their mature shape. After three years of age the growth continues but at a much slower rate, reaching some extreme proportions in particular animals.

7 month old heifer with horns just showing through.

9 month old heifer with hooks on the horn tips still.

7 month old heifer

9 month old heifer

Yearling heifer with obvious hooks on the horns.

Yearling heifer with whose horns will develop into back-twirling horns.

12 month old heifer

13 month old heifer

18 month olf heifer.

18 month old heifer with tips still in tact.

18 month old heifer

18 month old heifer

Horns starting to head up.

Horns maturing at nearly 2 years old.

21 month old heifer

23 month old heifer

Horns showing their obvious mature shape.

An aged cow with a majestic set.

28 month old heifer

Mature cow

Damaged Horns:

Horns can be damaged when the animals are young (especially up to 7-8 months old) and this damage can change the direction of the damaged horn and make it appear crooked, or not symmetrical. It appears that some animals, and some lines, have genetically weaker horns and are more prone to injury. A perfect young heifer's horns will have a hooked tip on them until around 18 months of age. This suggests there has been no trauma and that the animal will have a lovely set of horns when mature.

One obviously damaged horn (not genetic).

Two mis-shapen horns - may be an accident but may also be genetic.

Horns on Steers:

Steers are interesting because when they are not dehorned, we notice that their horns will grow quite long and usually in an upward form more characteristic of a female. It is thought that the male hormone, testosterone, keeps a bulls horns down, and the lack of that hormone allows upward growth (as in females and steers).

5 year old steer with horns 1.7m tip to tip.

10 month old dehorned steer.

Some ask why we don't just dehorn all our Highlands, because they are actually a beef animal and you don't eat the horns! While we do this for all our steers, we would be breeding Angus or Galloways if we didn't want to look at the horns. The horn set is as much a part of the Highland breed as the centuries of rich history that surround these magnificent cattle.