Over the years we have often found that owners of pedigreed Highland Cattle in Australia are surprised to learn that their animals have been graded-up from another breed of cattle. While this revelation did not affect the quality or looks of their animals, they had thought that because they had a pedigree that the cattle were from a 100% Highland Cattle Lineage. Some people felt cheated and others didn't care.
This article aims to highlight the difference between the various terms that the buyer or breeder of Highland Cattle may hear, and in an attempt to ensure that purchases of “Highland Cattle” in Australia are made on an informed basis.
Unlike the UK, America, and Canada the Australian Highland Cattle Society regulations allow for intentional “grading-up” from other breeds of cattle, both dairy and beef, so the pedigrees of Highland Cattle registered in Australia may well contain breeds of cattle other than Highland in their pedigree.
Since all Highland Cattle in Australia have Scottish Genetics and UK Herd Book Bloodlines somewhere in their pedigrees it makes it all very confusing as to the origins of any one animal, and the only way to work it out is with pedigree research. In other words advertising Scottish Genetics or UK Herdbook Bloodlines does not necessarily exclude the animal from having a graded-up lineage.
Pedigrees are used only to determine the lineage of an an animal. The physical appearance and quality are completely separate. There are some magnificent graded-up animals and this article is not intended to deride their quality in any way.
The term is reserved for stock that have 100% Highland Cattle genetics derived from fully imported bloodlines.
These animals are the basis for the future of Highland Cattle, preserving and maintaining the genetic purity of the breed.
The pedigrees of these cattle can be traced back to the Highland Cattle Society in Scotland. For genetics imported from Canada or America tracing is via their respective herd books all the way back to Scotland. There is no known introduction of other breeds since the Highland Cattle Society UK was formed in 1884.
The Australian Highland Cattle Society (unlike UK, Canada and America) allows for registration of animals purposefully graded up from any other cattle breed, either dairy or beef, and considers such animals "pure" at 4th cross for females and 5th cross for bulls.
A registered Highland bull must be used to produce the animals to be eligible for registration.
The grades are as follows -
'C' First cross or 50% or 1/2
'B' Second Cross or 75% or 3/4 (produced from a grade C cow)
'A' Third Cross or 87% or 7/8 (produced from a grade B cow)
'P' Pure. Fourth Cross or 93% or 15/16 (produced from a grade A cow)
Normally refers to graded cattle (cross-bred) that are fourth cross and above. Graded cattle can have origins from any breed (beef or dairy).
At fourth cross the calculated purity is 93%. Further dilution of the cross-bred genetics can be achieved by using "Fullblood" bulls over the subsequent generations. Of course this does not necessarily remove any dominant genes inherited from other breeds.
However, some breeders choose to use graded bulls over their herds. These bulls can be of various purities (5th, 6th, 7th cross etc.). In my opinion using such bulls does little to dilute the genetics from the other non-highland breeds and certainly does nothing to preserve and maintain the genetic purity of the breed.
Progeny of cattle that were imported to Australia during the 1950's.
The imported cattle were used for breeding over quite a number of years but it seems that no official records had been kept. Some breeders then used the offspring of these cattle as the early basis of their herds.
When the Australian Highland Cattle Society was formed an inspection program was initiated to look at cattle derived from the "old cattle" and as a result some of those were given a grading of 'A' (equivalent to 3rd Cross), or 'B' (equivalent to 2nd Cross).
There was a lot of debate as to whether some of these cattle should really have been recognised as having 100% Highland Genetics. However, without paperwork to back the claims, the Society Council at the time stayed with the grading given by the inspectors. Debate still continues today as to whether that was a fair decision.
The intent of this article is to help with making an informed decision. Genetics are just one part of the story when it comes to animal selection, but I feel there needs to be clear transparency in this area. It is then a matter of personal choice what people choose.
The Australian Highland Cattle Society currently have no means of clearly identifying the genetic origins on their pedigrees. (see History of Grading-up below)
The only way to trace genetic origin requires Pedigree research and this can be carried out on the Australian Highland Cattle Society database run by ABRI. Follow this link ... Animal Enquiry. In some cases it may be required to go back quite a number of generations to identify the origins of a particular animal.
If "Foundation Highland" is found within the pedigree on the AHCS website's database then its highly likely that the animal has been graded-up from another breed of cattle.
Cruachan Highland Cattle choose to breed "Fullblood" Highland Cattle with no grading-up or genetic modification within their pedigrees.
Buying Highland Cattle?
Please visit our SALES Page to check our current availability of stock.
The Highland Cattle Society in the UK was formed in 1884 to preserve and maintain the genetic purity of the cattle breed known as Highland Cattle.
Both Canada and America have Highland Cattle Associations with America forming an association in 1948 and Canada in 1964.
None of the aforementioned associations or societies allow for anything other than full Highland genetics to be registered, in other words grading-up from other breeds is not permitted. In fact grading-up Highland Cattle is only allowed in Australia and New Zealand and nowhere else in the world.
So then how did we in Australia come to allow "grading-up"??
Prior to the formation of the Australian Highland Cattle Society in 1988 a number of people in different States had introduced a cross breeding/grading-up program using imported Highland semen over both dairy and beef cattle. There were also some who had used "old cattle" offspring.
In my opinion the reasons for this were primarily cost savings as importing live animals and embryos was extremely expensive at that time. The first crossbred animal was classed as 50% Highland and by using different imported Highland semen over each subsequent cross it was established that at 4th cross (93% pure) the animals were close to looking like "Highland Cattle". Consequently a number of cross-bred herds of graded-up "Highland Cattle" were formed.
At the same time a very small number of people imported live Highland Cattle and embryos and produced Highland Cattle with 100% genetics with no grading-up. These breeders were very much in the minority due to the aforementioned high costs of importation and running embryo programs at that time.
By this stage there were a number of independent breeders all doing different things, and of course there was a lot of talk about what was best in terms of both animals and in going forward with the breed. Some of these breeders felt it was time to have some standards, and a meeting was called for interested parties with the view to forming a society.
In 1988 the Australian Highland Cattle Society was formed and after much debate, between those with 100% Highland Genetics and those that had Cross-bred, or Graded-Up Cattle, it was agreed that graded-up cattle at 4th cross would be classed as "Pure" or "Purebred". (Later it was agreed that bulls would need to be at least 5th cross.)
At the time of the formation of the Australian Highland Cattle Society, and as part of the debate, it was also agreed that the pedigrees for both graded-up cattle and those with fully imported bloodlines would have clear identification so that buyers could determine whether they were buying cross-bred stock that had been graded-up, or buying cattle with fully imported 100% Highland genetics.
Sadly that practice was discontinued in the early 90's. Therefore buying Highland Cattle today with Australian Highland Cattle Society registration papers gives no indication of the origins of the cattle, and for those without knowledge on how to research the pedigrees it is impossible to know whether the animals purchased are graded or fullblood.
As a result of lack of identification it is also unfortunate that not everyone may realise they have graded-up stock and because they have 'papers' may misrepresent their cattle's lineage.
The discontinuation of clear identification created attempts to identify the differences between Highland Cattle found on the Australian market and the various unofficial classifications as outlined at the start of this article were born.
Update : In April 2016 the members of the Australian Highland Cattle Society voted to recognise those cattle with 'fully imported bloodlines'. These animals will be recognised in the AHCS database with the letter 'F' or similar and it is expected this will be implemented soon.
As at December 2017 this should happen in the first half of 2018. It's taking a lot more time than expected and this page will be updated again when the database reflects 'fully imported bloodlines'.