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Bad Hair Day: Highland Colors

Updated: Jan 25, 2023

Highland cattle are the oldest registered breed of cattle in the world! They have the longest hair of any cattle breed. When it comes to their hair many questions come up for new owners of the breed.

What are the different colors of highland cows? There are seven different colors of Highland cows, black, dun, silver dun, red, yellow, white and brindle. The most common color is red. Silver and white are less common.

How do I tell the difference between a silver dun Highland and a white Highland? When comparing the two they look very similar, both are white or cream in color. A silver dun will have a grey nose with black pigment in their hooves and on the tips of their horns. A white Highland will have a pink nose.

How do you get a white Highland or a silver dun Highland? A black cow may pass on one dilution gene which will produce a dun calf, if two dilution genes are passed on from a calfs parents it will produce a silver dun. If one dilution gene is passed on from a red cow it will produce a yellow calf, if two dilution genes are passed on from a calfs parents, then it produces a white calf. Black is a dominant gene, so a black, dun or silver dun cannot come from two red, yellow or white parents. All white animals have received a dilution gene from each parent, which means that neither parent could be red or black. Confused yet? Just remember, black is dominant over red, and no red animal will be a carrier of a 'black' gene because if it was, then the animal would be black since black is dominant.

Why is my cow a different color than what it was registered as? Let me confuse you even more... The picture on the left is a dun, yellow and red Highland cow. A yellow animal may be obvious on a DNA analysis, but it could have been registered as a red based on the breeder's perception of color from when it was a calf. A calf's color can change up to two years of age, so when an animal is registered it is not always the color it ends up. A red and a yellow calf can look very similar when they are born. An adult cow's longer winter coat will also oftentimes be lighter than its summer under coat adding further confusion to its true color. The most dramatic coat color changes occur in black and dun calves. Many of these calves are born "chocolate" in color and over the next 8-12 months their underlying black color becomes more apparent. The amount of pigment in the muzzle is said to be the best clue as to what color the calf will end up.

Is my climate too hot, or too cold to have Highland cows? Highland's have two layers to their coat, an oily cutter layer with long guard hairs, and a downy undercoat. In the winter the double layered coat helps protect the cows from cold and snow. The coat traps air inside that is then warmed by the animal, keeping the animal warm in harsh conditions. Because of their thick coats they often thrive in cold and snow. In the summer Highlands shed their long hair and the majority of their undercoat. Because they are able to shed their winter coat they will be fine in warmer weather, If they are born in a milder climate then their hair may never get really long. Highland's will shed and grow their winter coats differently, some may maintain more of their winter coat than others in the summer. Just like short haired cows in the winter need shelter, highland's also need shade in the summer.

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