Basic Care of Highlands


Highland cattle are renowned for being a low maintenance, hardy breed, but they still need some care. When you get new animals, you need to check when they were last drenched and vaccinated, and what with. Are there any health issues with the animals you are getting or any history of problems in the fold you are buying from (unexplained deaths or  abortions for example). If they are in calf, when are they due to calve and if she has had any calving difficulties in the past, or the bull she is in calf to has been associated with problems in the past.

Once a calf (older than 3 months) has had 2 of these a month apart, cattle are given a vaccination booster once a year as an injection under the skin - usually a 5-in-1 (for the clostridial diseases - tetanus, black leg, pulpy kidney, malignant oedema and black disease). Some farmers will give some extra cover for leptospirosis (7-in-1) or pestivirus (Pertiguard) but for most circumstances, these are not necessary. Talk to your neighbours about what they use on their cattle. They are all available in multi-dose vials (minimum 50 doses per pack) but you may be able to purchase smaller quantities from your vet, or share a pack with a neighbour.

Worms are normally treated approximately twice a year and especially coming into the wet season when they cause more problems. The easiest treatments are the pour-on's and various brands are available. If you have dung beetles, be aware that only some will spare these (e.g. "Cydectin").
Lice are normally treated coming into winter as the colder months are when they breed and cause itching. Fortunately most of the drench products will treat for worms and lice. A new product called "Stampede" will give excellent control of lice by rendering eggs infertile & blocking the whole life cycle for a couple of months (we have used this & been extremely happy with the results).
Liver fluke needs to be treated in certain areas - generally properties with persistent wet areas.

** Remember to part the hair along the middle of the backline to get good skin contact with the pour-on product that you use.
For those who do not wish to use these commercially available products, or those with organic licensing, there are alternatives that can help.

Other Diseases
Fortunately other diseases are quite rare in Highlands. Eye cancers are pretty much non-existent in the breed because nearly all have pigment, and the dossan (fringe) provides protection from UV light.
Pink eye is rare for similar reasons but can still occur during the summer months when dust and flies are a problem.
Ask your neighbours about the occurrence of other diseases in your area such as grass tetany, or other mineral deficiencies that may exist. These can be prevented with supplements if you know which ones are a problem in your area.Terrible feet on a bull - long, broad toes (and vertical cracks in the lateral claws)

Foot Problems
Bad feet are a problem that the breed constantly confronts. The problem stems from weak pasterns and causes the toes to become long, further adding to this altered pastern angle (read more about Foot Problems in Highlands). While you can breed away from this very heritable problem, it takes several generations and some animals just need their feet trimmed now and then.
While some Highland's toes that grown long will chip off over the dryer months or when expected to walk longer distances, especially over rocky ground, some attention is required for 2-4 years for Highlands that don't have good feet. Professional foot trimmers are the best for this (in Victoria & NSW, try Boltons Hoof Trimming). Most of their work is at dairies but they certainly look after beef cattle as well. Alternatively a vet with experience with cattle feet can be used.


Care of the Coat
Nothing is required here as they shed nearly all of their coat in summer (see Coat in Summer). If you want to brush your animals with a comb to help get rid of some of this hair, or more appropriately, just to pleasure them, they will certainly enjoy the scratch. We do this for our cattle simply just to maintain a positive relationship with them. Some will come up to you when they see the comb, others will simply freeze when you walk towards them with the comb visible. It is a great way to build up trust.
The matts that do appear during spring as the coat is shed, will eventually drop off of their own accord. Many Highlands will love you to pull on these to get rid of them however - quite the opposite with out knotted hair!
We have only seen a couple of problems caused by long coats. Nursing cows can very occasionally get hair caught around a teat with the vigorous suckling of a calf. Left unattended, the teat can strangulate and drop off causing a nasty infection. They can also get wire and different things caught in their tails, as some are so long they drag on the ground. Yards and a crush are needed to fix these problems usually as it can be a bit fiddly (see article on Yard & Crush Design for Highland Cattle). The start of the maternal bonding.

Calving Problems
Thankfully this is another rarity with Highland cattle (see article on What to Expect with Calving). To this time, personally we have only needed to pull one calf because of malpresentation, once since 1996 in over 200 births. This is testimony to their ease of calving as a breed.
If you are buying Highland females in calf, find out as accurately as possible when they are due to calve so that you can watch them more closely around this time.

Johne's Disease (CattleMAP program or Beef Only)
Johne's Disease is a chronic, wasting disease causing diarrhoea and has no cure. All cattle that get this disease die from it. You can not totally prevent your cattle getting it, but there are certain measures you can take to make it much less likely that they will ever come into contact with the bug.
For smaller breeders there is no great need to worry about this disease as it is of very low incidence in beef herds in Australia (1-2% at the most). For those who are a little more serious about breeding and who may want to sell cattle interstate or show interstate, you may want to consider your options. Talk to your local DPI officer or vet about management of this disease. This is more a concern for farms in Victoria and some parts of South Australia and New South Wales where the disease is more prevalent because of the prominent dairy industry.