While there are 6 registrable colours, there are various shades of these colours, and a few unusual colours that are also found in the Highland breed. These colours will have an explanation, some of which we are currently aware of, but others are only postulated at the moment. There are a few variations where the genetics behind them is unclear.

Some colours will vary with coat length and hence time of year - the longer the coat (winter) the lighter the colour will appear. Some animals genetically have longer coats, that are even held for the most part through summer. These animals will usually appear a lighter shade of their underlying colour. Some colours will vary with the age of the animal as well, often becoming less dramatic or faded as they age.

Silver Dun

Silver dun cow. Grey pigment on the muzzle.

This colour appears white but is actually a dilute dun, known as silver dun. This is actually a black animal with nearly all of the pigment diluted out. Genetically it is a black animal with both dilution genes, rather than the normal dun colour which is black with only one dilution gene.

Notice the grey pigment still on the muzzle in the photo on the right above (as well as the beautifully functional pink tongue!). These animals also have black feet. This is different from a truly white animal (or cream in some instances) which has a pink nose (see below). It is thought that these 'white' animals are red animals with both dilution genes.

White heifer. Pink muzzle.


The brindle colour only appears in red animals. We have postulated that a single brindle gene gives rise to a sparse brindling pattern, compared with both brindle genes causing much heavier brindling pattern. Some of the more lightly brindled animals will only have the black stripes obvious around the eyes (see photo below) in their first year of life, and usually are indistinguishable from red animals until after weaning when their calf coat drops out. It will always be more obvious when their coats are short, like in mid summer.

More subtle brindling pattern in an otherwise red heifer. More heavily brindled cow.
Black stripes becoming obvious around the eyes in a yearling. Sparsely brindled, dancing bull in summer, with little coat.

Whether you like the colour or not, it is quite interesting. It appears to be masked by certain other colours such as the dilutions (eg whites and yellows). It also appears to increase the chance of having black offspring. Although grossly this appears to make sense, the genetic reasoning behind this is unclear.

Shades of Red

What we register in the herd book as red can have numerous shades as adult animals. The differences here may be associated with differences in those with the 'wide type' red gene (1. below) (What is the 'wild type' gene?)and those that are plain red (2. below).

A classical 'wide type' colouring.1. Classical red colour.2.
Light red heifer.3. Light red cow.4.

There is a colour known in some other herd books as 'light red' (3. & 4. above). This colour appears to throw yellow more often but, especially 3. above, is more an orange colour than true yellow or red. We believe this orange colour is likely to be genotypically yellow, with another gene modifying it to be slightly darker. (How might these darker and lighter shades be explained?)