BAIRNSLEY  HIGHLANDS

OUR GOALS IN BREEDING

This has evolved over the years as we have got to know the breed's strengths and weaknesses. Everyone's goals will be slightly different, or some characteristics will be emphasised more than others.

The strengths we wish to maintain in the breed:

  1) Structure and Movement— Highland cattle are generally very well put together animals as can be seen by their graceful movement. This is a big part of the reason that they can live as long as 20 years or more having calves each year. Structure can easily be forgotten in a breeding program when other characteristics are emphasized (e.g. size, colour).

  2) Character - This is the reason that we breed Highlands and not Angus or Simmentals. We like a good horn set, plenty of hair and a 'type' that is true to the breed standard.

  3) Temperament—A naturally docile animal, this is the last thing we want to sacrifice. We weigh all calves in front of their mothers the day they are born. We select quite heavily for this, culling those animals from our herd that have not got that established respect for humans. This is especially important with our bulls.
 

  4) Fertility—They are a natural breed that has few problems here. We also select for high scrotal circumference in bulls and inter-calving intervals approaching 365 days in females. Females must calve easily and we aim for birth weights between 28-35kg.

  5) Carcass Quality—Muscling in the live animal, and tenderness and marbling in the carcass are very important. Muscling is evaluated by eye and when our bulls are scanned at shows. Tenderness and marbling can be checked in living stock with DNA tests, and we view every steer  that is butchered.

The weaknesses we wish to improve in the breed:

  1) Feet—We believe this is a major problem in the breed in Australia. Whatever the reason for low pasterns and therefore overgrown toes back in Scotland, we are selecting for stock to improve this deficiency in the breed. (see Foot Problems in Highlands) We have culled females heavily over the years and select only bulls with good depth of heel.

  2) Udders—This area can easily be allowed to deteriorate in a breeding program (with weakness in the fore quarters and large teats). We have several lines with excellent udders and place great importance in this area.

  3) Weight gains—The majority of the breed is moderate in size at best and most lines are later maturing. While we do not want to change this significantly, we are aiming to improve weight gains and get some earlier maturing lines. Weight should be measured regularly in animals less than two years old - by scales or an accurate estimate can be made using girth circumference. (see Weight Estimation using Girth Circumference)

Breeding any animal is all about compromise and patience. There is no perfect animal and sometimes you may breed with an animal that has one weak characteristic because of one very strong trait. The way you get around this is culling. Those animals not up to scratch should be eaten.

Unfortunately all these selection criteria take time to make progress with. Considering one generation is about three years, and that most characteristics take 3-5 generations to make modest changes, we are going to be here a while.