All About Highland Premium Beef

September 16, 2012 17 Comments

All About Highland Beef

Move over Angus, there is a new cow in town!

Most of us have heard of Angus beef but how many of you have heard of this long haired breed with horns called Highland Premium? Not many I bet but the meat from Highland beef is just as good if not better than what most of us are used to.

I recently had the pleasure of learning all about Highland Premium Beef from Jon Cordonier of Great West Cattle Company. With his help, I was able to put this article together to learn about Highland cattle and how they compare to mass produced beef in this country.

What is Highland Premium Beef?

It is beef that comes from Highland cattle that is superior in flavor, tenderness and cooking. Highland (sometimes called Scottish Highland) is a distinct breed of cattle that are generally smaller than Angus and unique in their looks because of their long hair and horns. It is one of the oldest purebred cattle breeds in the world, extremely hardy and first developed on the cold north Atlantic coast of Scotland.

Why are Highland cows not used as a high growth – high performance cattle breed?

Do you remember the lyrics from the great 60’s play Hair? “Long haired freaky people need not apply”? Highland cows have the same problem.

Their long hair and horns make them unsuitable for commercial operation. What rancher wants to deal with horns these days? They are more dangerous to work around and when the cattle fight, they can cause all kinds of problems. Besides taking up too much room at the feed trough at a commercial feedlots, the slaughter houses don’t want to deal with them because they slow down production.

And what about that long hair. In a modern feedlot, the long hair gathers large mud balls so cattle buyers complain and discount their prices. Cattle ranchers quickly figure out it’s easier to switch to a different breed if they want to make more money.

What makes Highland Beef “Premium”?

Premium suggests superior to other products in its field. The taste has to be more intense in flavor and it needs to be more tender than other breeds. The ability of Highland breeders to trace the sire/dam of each cow permits them to select back the better animals to produce “premium” cows. This is a big plus for small operations over the large mass production ranches.

How does Highland Premium Beef compare to “choice” or “prime” graded beef?

According to Jon Cordonier of Great West Cattle Company, the butcher at the USDA slaughtering facility they use gives them verbal grades that amount to 50/50 between choice and prime. Because they produce only a small number of cows each year, it is too expensive for them to hire a federal USDA grader. What this means they are not able to sell their beef as prime at a much higher price even though 50% of it is likely to be prime. They hope to soon be in the position to start using a USDA grader in the next year or so.

What are the advantages of raising 300 head of cattle versus 5,000?

It’s more personal” says Jon Cordonier ” We know our cattle at 300 head. We don’t have manure disposal problems, odor problems, etc. We have a very clean feedlot. The other advantage in a small feedlot is we have lower disease problems.”

Because they are working with smaller numbers, they don’t have to automatically feed their cattle a bunch of antibiotics to prevent disease from occurring. By keeping it simple and feeding their cows a diet of corn, oats and hay and giving them more attention, they produce a more “all-natural” product.


Last modified on Sun 15 December 2013 3:13 pm

Filed in: Steaks

Comments (17)

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  1. Grant says:

    In my opinion feedlot raised cattle will not produce premier Highland beef. Traditionally Scottish Highland cattle range in open paddocks and more importantly on hill country. Feedlots do not provide this kind of environment. Grassfed, hill country raised animals will produce superior beef.

  2. Gaticus says:

    We raise scotch-highland cows in middle Tennessee and I could not imagine their beef tasting good after being raised on a feed lot. Our cows are rotationaly grazed on 6-10 acre tracts and moved everyday. These cows love walking up and down the hills and hollers here, so I can’t imagine the environment of a feedlot, no matter how small the herd, being conducive to raising these animals to have good prime beef. 300 head of highlands is a lot anyways. Also, just find a USDA approved butcher instead of getting a USDA approved farm, that way you don’t have to use any antibiotics on your cows, thus not passing the antibiotics on to your customers.

    • dale says:

      going to butcher my first steer in march all hay fed .i hope you are right on the taste and tenderness

      • mike says:

        Hi Dale! Let me know how it turned out. I want to know how tender it was, how old the steer was, and did the steaks have fat marbled in.

      • Peter Kernohan says:

        I have three Highlands on my small hobbie farm (two heifers and a steer). The steer will be the first to the freezer but I’m not sure at what age to do this. He is nearly two years old now. Can anyone advise? Thanks.

        • Eddie says:


          Hopefully you already found an answer to your question. I have two steers coming up a on year old that I plan to have processed in the 18-24 month age range. At this point they should have reached their maximum weight so you are just feeding to keep them going at that point. As far as taste, well, there is lots of opinion on that too. I’m going to go with size and hope the meat is good because the cows got good feed and are supposed to be tasty anyway. Best of luck.

  3. Rusty Christian says:

    Steak is a primary food group in our house because we raise Highlands. Our small herd is only 20 head and they are on pasture 24/7/365. Let’s not let everyone know how good this beef is or there will not be enough to go around. I don’t like this articles mention of a feed lot, if a Highland is on a feed lot I wouldn’t want any part of it.

  4. James McAllister says:

    Can their long hair be used as wool?

  5. Susan says:

    we are about to buy our first highland calf for beef. There are two horses on the same 9 acres that the calf will use. OK? If not, why?

    • Brenda says:

      We raised our Scottish Highlands with our horses but you need to be cautious. For many years we did not have a problem but then we got a cow that was aggressive towards the horses and we ended up with lots of vet bills from injuries the cow inflicted on the horses with her horns. We ended up having to keep them in different pastures and also be cautioned as Scottish Highlands can be escape artists and most times need better fences and enclosures than horses.

  6. Ginger Hackney says:

    We are a small Highland and Hereford cattle farm in Talladega, Al. We have two full blooded Highland bull calves for sale (one is 14 months old & the other is 1 year old.) We have been having good luck with selling crossbreed calves (Highland/Hereford) at market but anticipate poor results with our two hairy “boys” at auction. Most folks want even know what they are.

    Any suggestions on how to market them in this area? They are totally grass fed animals (100 acres of pasture land for our herd of 20.)

    • David Severson says:

      I am interested in your bulls please call me 770 710 1317 l live just across the border near Cedartown ga.

      • Ginger Hackney says:

        So sorry that I missed seeing your reply until today! We had a man from Bristol, TN purchase one of the bulls. We are in Kentucky on a trip but will call you soon. Cedar Town is not a bad drive at all from Talladega,

        Will touch base with you when we return home.

  7. Kim Weber says:

    What is the going market price for Highland cattle?
    Someone locally is wanting sell their herd (age range 1-8 yrs of age) for $600. each. Is that a good price?

  8. Kenny Adams says:

    I am looking to get a herd started and am looking for breeding heifers or cows. I am located in west central Ohio, but will travel to purchase within a reasonable distance.

    • j.p.mcnaughton says:

      we are in west ky,if that is not to far.we are registered with the american highland many cows are you interested in and we also have a 6yr old bull for sale.

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