A Shaggy, Scottish Beast

Having been in the registered Angus business (In Montana) earlier in my life, and associated with cattle all of it, I have a deep love of beef cattle. It is a glorious scene to see a group of sleek matrons grazing on a hillside against a green background. There is something about that scene that still “plucks” a chord in my psyche. Genetic traits, favorable or not, are of great interest to me. Once in Scotland, we came in contact with some most interesting beasts.

The Scottish Highlander is an ancient breed that has very long horns and very long hair. They can be red, black, brindled, yellow, or dun. The harsh Scottish climate required the development of cattle with long hair and stout hides to withstand exposure to the highland elements. Their breed standards require a great profusion of hair to go along with an impressive set of horns.The horns on the cow are usually longer than the bull’s – a surprise. The breed’s registration Herd Book was established in 1885, and breed standards have not varied much since that time.

The Highlander coat is made up of two layers – an inner down and a longer, coarser outer layer. Weather conditions stimulate the growth or shedding of their hair. The heavy hair inhibits the laying on off surface fat which results in a leaner carcass that is well marbled. Breeders claim that the hides can be sold for almost as much as the meat.

This breed seems to have a genuine ease of calving. They are, however, slower maturing. The positive side of this trait is that they can hold their condition longer under poor environmental conditions.

The mature individuals looked a bit “rangy”, but the calves were most adorable. They would make a good cuddly toy – competitive with Teddy Bears.

Highlander calves at home on the Scottish hills

Highlander calves at home on the Scottish hills

Hair: Sometimes you have it, sometimes you don’t!

(Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus in early summer hair exchange)

I sit and watch, with amusement, the removal of a hair piece and instillation of another. The older one is worn and needs replacing. The new piece is glued into place and a trim blends it all in. One would rarely know that it was not the real deal! I laugh and decide that hair is a worthy subject for a short essay.

Animals periodically get rid of, or acquire new hair pieces (i.e. coats). It’s a blessing to either keep one warm or allow one to cool-off. Primates (animals with thumbs – apes, monkeys, and such) are especially concerned with their hair. They spend many hours picking through and grooming a partner’s plumage. The result is hygienic. As warm weather critters, they need not be too concerned with seasonal changes in the weather.

But ungulates (hoofed beasts), go through the annual cycles of shedding and growing new winter coats. The Barren Ground Caribou (pictured), in late summer, grow white-tipped guard hairs that are hollow. These special hairs give buoyancy while swimming and act as guard hairs providing an insulating layer to conserve body heat and keep them exceptionally warm. Also, in winter, hair grows between the toes and around the rims of their hooves. This provides protection by keeping hoof pads from coming in contact with the frozen ground. Coat color will vary seasonally. In spring, a molt gets rid of the light beige, warm outer coat. But August finds them dark brown with white hair on their neck, chest, and belly. For the rut, bulls develop heavy white manes. Diet affects hair health. Good nutrition will give hair an attractive sheen.

No matter the species of mammal, hair is an essential commodity – both for utility purposes, and attractiveness. Healthy hair in males send signals that his offspring will probably be vigorous and stand a good chance for survival in a competitive environment.