But now a New Zealand farmer has successfully bred a type of Highland cattle without horns, after finding his horned herd was unwelcome at vets, in transport trucks or even at the slaughterhouse.
Organic farmer Tim Gow – who has kept Highland cattle at his Mangapiri Downs Organicstud Farm in New Zealand’s South Island since the 1980s – has spent 20 years perfecting a new breed of the Scottish coos, with the help of his late uncle, Scott Dolling, a geneticist from South Australia. Gow says the cattle, known as the “Tufty” breed, make good pets, as well as being bred for meat.
The “polled” cows were created by breeding animals in the herd which had poorly developed horns, which would usually be avoided when breeding.
Gow, who began his attempts to phase out the horns around 20 years ago, but has only in recent years become consistently successful, said: “People went completely against horned cattle. It started with the vets – there were some accidents when a cow swung round and hit someone in the eye with a horn. We had one vet who split his arm open on a horn. That put the vets off.
“Then some of the abattoirs said they couldn’t take them, unless they were dehorned, which doesn’t work well for organic cattle.”
The problem inspired Gow to look for an alternative solution.
He said: “I took cows that didn’t have good horns and keep breeding from them. I had the biggest herd in Australasia at one time, so there were a lot to choose from. It was sort of forced on us – I liked seeing cattle with those great horns – but it has had a silver lining.”
Without their horns, Gow has also found that the animals, which are in a herd of around 100 Tufties, have become more docile.
He said: “People love them, they are really good-natured and unique. This week, when the new bull calf was born, the mother and the auntie were just looking at me, saying, ‘Go on, have a look’. They are so friendly. We have actually sold quite a lot of them as pets, although they are also starting to take off on dairy farms, because they are so placid.”
The 100-strong herd has welcomed a new bull calf this week, a brown-and-white mix trademarked the “Cupcake”, named by Gow’s daughter when she was a child.
He said: “My daughter, Nikita, said the first cow we had like this – which can only be bred from two brindles together of the Tufty polled type – was as pretty as a cupcake and the name stuck.”
His herd are descended directly from Scottish cows imported to New Zealand in the 1970s, including some from the Queen’s herd at Balmoral.
Gow said: “When I first had Highland Cows, which I got from a breeder who had imported them from Scotland in the 1970s, I invented an advertising trademark of ‘hardy, hairy, horny’. Now we’ve got rid of the horns, I have had to change it to ‘hardy, hairy, happy’, which doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.”