With their long horns and flowing coats, Highland Cows are born and bred to deal with the extreme weather conditions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland they have grazed since the sixth century.
Yet in the past two years, ‘heilan coos’ have become more and more noticeable in the Australian countryside thanks to a soaring demand and popularity Down Under.
It’s a demand that saw what is believed to be a new world record price for a heifer achieved in an online auction earlier this month.
A 14-month-old heifer, named Calmore of Bairnsley, was sold for $67,500 (£37,850) at the Bairnsley Highland Cattle Stud Stock Sale (Spring 2022) online auction on Sunday, November 13.
The winning bid is reported to have been made by a buyer in New South Wales, who intends to start a new fold.
Six heifers which were also offered and sold at the sale, which attracted nearly 2,000 ‘watchers’, averaged $38,533 (£21,600), which is also believed to be a world record for the breed.
Bairnsley Highland Cattle, which hosted the auction, have been breeding Highland cows at their fold in Sunbury, located around 30 miles outside Melbourne, since 1996. They have had a significant influence on the breed in Australia, with 19 out of the last 28 Australian Highland Cattle Society's National Show Grand Champion cows and bulls having their sire or dam as a Bairnsley animal.
The sale came amid a huge increase in demand for the breed in the past 12 months which has produced a string of new breed record prices for bulls and registered females sold at auction in Australia.
Commenting on the sale, Bairnsley Highland Cattle stud principal Glen Hastie said he has never seen such demand for the historic breed.
“It’s out of this world for us, it’s definitely going to take care of our next batch of imported genetics and set us up a shed,” Mr Hastie said.
“She’s a very nice heifer, out of a bull and a cow that we bred. However, we did not expect this kind of price. The average price across all six lots was $38,000 and in the previous sale we had six months ago the average price was $13,000, which we thought was incredible at the time.”
Mr Hastie concluded that the sale of the 14-month-old heifer Calmore of Bairnsley was a world-record price at auction having contacted other breeders both in Scotland and the United States.
He said that the Scottish breeder, a former chairman of the Highland Cattle Society, was “astounded” by the price fetched.
“It certainly was a record for us and a record for Australia for the breed. I have made some contacts with people in Scotland and North America and it's roughly double the previous records for each of those countries.
"I contacted a Scottish breeder that we import from, he is an ex-president of the Highland cattle society over there and he was astounded”, he added.
Highland cattle were first imported into Australia by Scottish migrants in the middle of the 19th century, with artificial breeding being the major tool for the development of the breed Down Under.
Interest in the breed grew further in the 1980s, aided by the appearance of Highland cattle across Australian media, and has peaked with the advent of social media, with their photographic appearance seeing the animals earning the nickname of “the social media stars on the bush” Down Under.
Another reason for the dramatic rise both in interest towards the breed, and prices achieved at auction sales within the Australian livestock market as a result, has been down to the covid pandemic.
Post-pandemic, more Australians who are not experienced farmers have swapped city life to relocate to regional areas, buying smaller landholdings.
Not having to rely on income and in looking for a breed that is low maintenance, these landowners, alongside wineries and B&B owners, are purchasing “trendy” Highland cattle as an attraction.
A recognisable symbol of Scottish Agriculture across the world, Highland Cows are one of the oldest registered breeds of cattle in the world and one of Britain's oldest, most distinctive and best-known breeds.