Choose Your Cattle Wisely

This is a most frustrating step, because the first animals you see you will fall in love with. How could you not? But not all Highlands suit every situation. Take your time and do your homework, and you will reap the rewards for years to come. If you do not have the skills to pick a good animal, take someone along who knows about cattle. This saves you buying some one else's problems.

What Animals Are Right for You
Consider the following questions:
Q: Do you want to breed?
If you don't, then you are probably better off with steers (with or without horns) as they will not be coming on heat every 3 weeks like a female would and you don't have to worry about the bull from down the road jumping a few fences to get to them. Or indeed, your heifers or cows jumping fences to get to the bull.
Q: If you do want to breed, do you want a bull?
Getting 8-12 month old heifers will mean that you do not need to think about breeding for at least a year (see article on Age of Joining). Or even a cow in calf might suit as you will not need to think about a bull until 2-3 months after they calve. The general rule is don't buy a bull, at least initially, especially if you are new to cattle.
Q: Buy a bull, Lease a bull, or AI?
Generally, you need to have at least 4-5 females to warrant the expense and added management for a bull 12 months of the year. The alternative is leasing a bull - you really only need them for 8-10 weeks to do the job. AI means that you do not need a bull at all but can be more involved for the less experienced (see article on AI).
Q: Do you want to produce your own beef?
If you do, make sure you select animals with better beefing characteristics (more muscle). Perhaps hair and horns are not as important here.
Q: How do you pick a good quality animal?
This is very difficult for those not experienced with beef cattle structure. If you feel you can trust the breeder you are dealing with, this helps. Better still, get someone with appropriate experience with cattle (doesn't have to be Highlands) to have a look at them before you buy. Try an Australian Highland Cattle Society fields person (see Council web site page at the bottom) if you wanted assistance from some one experienced with Highland cattle.
Q: What Colour?

The classic red colour. Yellow is a red animal with one dilution gene. White is a red animal with two dilution genes. Black can often have some red on their dossal or mane. A dun cow - a black animal with one dilution gene. Dark brindle animal - a red animal with the brindle gene.
This makes absolutely no difference to the quality of the animals and is a personal preference only.  Expect to pay a little more for the less common colours (white, black, dun). (see articles on Highland cattle coat colour)
Q: Bloodlines / Pedigree?
This also has very little baring these days on the quality of the animal. Even if an animal has been graded up from another breed (Charolais, Jersey, Hereford), by the time they get to the 5th or 6th generation, you can not pick the difference anyway.  Some prefer "fullblood" Highlands (from "fully imported bloodlines" only) that have not been graded up from another breed, and other breeders have no preference. To know more about graded up animals and fullbloods, click here.
Q: Temperament?
Whether you are breeding for beef, the show ring or you just want some attractive lawn mowers, this is nearly the most critical characteristic, especially for animals with horns. Highlands are a naturally docile, trusting breed, but there is still variation within the breed. Expect to pay a little more for an animal that has been broken in & can be scratched in the paddock.
Q: How many Highlands?
Get a minimum of 2 because they are a heard animal and need company, but the main determinant here is the size and carrying capacity of your property. This varies quite a lot - from one animal per acre, to one per 4-5 acres in Victoria, and one per 10-20 acres in poorer country in Australia.
Q: Little heifers or cows in calf?
Most people want to start with just weaner heifers (6-12 months old) because they are smaller and thought to be easier to handle. This is not always the case. While younger animals are often of newer genetics, their temperament will determine whether they are easier to handle rather than their age. An in-calf cow (with a heifer calf at foot if you are extremely lucky) is an excellent way to get started in the breed. You know exactly what you are getting (you can see her udder, you can see what time has done to her horns,  feet, top line etc) and you will see your own calf born in less than 6 months.
** Every animal over 2 years old should be sold in calf (as proof of fertility).

Visit a Few Folds

While this breed is extremely easy to fall in love with, and you might be tempted to buy from the first fold you visit, always try to see a few different folds. You will see variation in type of animals, types of people breeding and if nothing else, you get to have a sticky beak at some other properties and get ideas for how to set up your own property.

Nearly without exception, Highland breeders are friendly, helpful and genuine people. They are not in it for sheep stations like might be the case with other, more commercial beef cattle breeders. They simply love the breed and want to find good homes for their Highlands. Looking around will help you see differences between styles of Highlands, and why some might cost more or less than others.

How much to pay?

This will vary considerably with characteristics such as:
* Quality of the animal - this will see the most variation & you might need help to be able to see these differences.
* Temperament - search for natural docility and whether they have been broken in or not.
* Colour - sometimes rarer colours cost a little more.
* Pedigree - less common genetics may cost more, proof of parentage by DNA testing is performed by some breeders.
* Breeder - consider the reputation & follow-up support of the breeder.
* Extras - Does the price include delivery, any guarantees of fertility, can you lease a bull from them down the track?

Transfer of registration with the Australian Highland Cattle Society (where you wish to maintain the animal's registration) is performed by & paid for by the vendor, so you should not have to worry about this.

The general rule with Highland cattle, as for everything is - "You get what you pay for!". Females might cost from $6-800 right up to $3-4,000 (in 2012 times) and the old addage is generally true - you get what you pay for.  And remember that a breeder will generally be selling animals from the bottom 1/3 of their herd, so don't expect to get 'pick of the litter'. The only way you will have access to the best sire and dam genetics of a breeder is by buying embryos, but not many breeders do embryo transfer (What is ET?).

How to get them home?

If you do not have your own truck or stock trailer, which most people starting out in the breed do not, you will have to arrange something. Either borrow a stock trailer or some breeders will deliver the animals to you if you are not too far away from them. You can pay a stock transporter to deliver the animals and you will pay per kilometer ($5-6.00 / km one way in 2012), but be careful to get someone patient with Highlands - there are some cowboys out there.