BAIRNSLEY  HIGHLANDS

WHEN TO JOIN HIGHLAND HEIFERS

Most breeders join Highland heifers around two years of age. Some will even do so at three years of age, while others will treat them as purely commercial and get them in calf at around 15-18 months. This applies both to natural matings or when AI is used (see 'Use of AI' article).

Generally you want cows to calve without any problems. (What does a normal calving look like?) While Highland calves traditionally have lower birth weights, making this process easier, Highlands are usually  slow maturing and so take a little longer to reach full body weight. They are not considered mature/fully grown until around 4-5 years of age. This is balanced by the fact that they live longer. We expect our cows to continue calving until they are at least 15-20 years old.

In the commercial world, with nearly every other breed, they like to have their heifers calving at two years of age because they cull their cows at 7-8 years of age - this is when other beef breeds can start to become less productive, less fertile. Since we do not need to cull our Highland cows at such an age, we are comfortable that we do not need to get them in calf as early just so that we can squeeze an extra calf out of them. So we generally have them calving at around three years old. Some in Scotland will not have them calve until they are four. Some in the USA I have seen calve their Highlands at 2 years old in more commercial ventures, with larger framed, more growthy animals. In the end, it is a personal choise as to what suits your situation.

 A good guide as to a minimum age at joining is their weight. Heifers become sexually mature (start cycling) at around 250-300kg live weight. We like to join them at a minimum of 400 kg (ideally 420-440kg). These weights normally correspond to around two to two and a half years old for Highlands. These weights can be checked if you have a set of scales but a very good estimate can be made by measuring girth circumference and converting it to kilograms (see Weight Estimation by Measuring Girth Circumference).

Another factor that might influence when you get your heifers in calf might be in what season other cattle breeders in your area calve the cows. Most areas will be "spring calvers" (August / September calving) but some, like us, will calve in autumn (March / April). This is determined by rainfall patterns and when you have the most reliable feed on the ground. Ask your neighbours about this. To work out when to get them in calf, if you know the desired calving time, use a gestational calendar (Click Here) to find out when to AI or put the bull in. Remember, they are in calf for approximately 9 months.