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A Scottish Highland Cow Is Not a Yak!

Updated on June 9, 2011

When I used to live in the rugged mountains of Colorado, I had a Scottish Highland Cow for a neighbor.

I lived in the middle-of-nowhere in a town with one traffic light. Of course, my house was way out of “town,” up in a thick evergreen forest that got burned to the ground one year – but that’s a different story.

Down the red dirt road, past half-abandoned trailers and log homes that blended in with the forest, lived the Scottish Highland Cow. I didn’t always know that he was a Scottish Highland Cow. I used to call him a Yak. But a neighbor kindly informed me that it was indeed not a yak (no matter how fun that is to say) but a cow.

He was an orange mangy beast with knobbly horns on his head and a look of utter boredom on his face. His shaggy hair was left uncombed. He stood still under the evergreens, and I don’t remember ever seeing him move. I suppose he looked like a cow somewhere under his enormous coat of orange hair, but I always thought of him as a yak – you know, the kind of yak that the Yeti keeps in the Himalayas. But this was the Rocky Mountains, and I don’t believe the Yeti knows how to travel by sea.

Some things I've learned about Highland Cattle:

  • They are indeed from Scotland, originating in the Highlands and western islands.

  • Highlanders have existed for hundreds of years.

  • They are the oldest registered breed of cattle.

  • Highland cattle have been exported to many places around the world.

  • They were bred from black and reddish cows.

  • They can be colored black as well as orange.

  • They are hardy, long-living, and... nutritious.

  • A Highland cattle herd is called a “fold.”

  • Both female and male Highlanders have horns.

  • Highland cows enjoy harsh conditions.

  • They are smarter than other cows.


Courtesy Hendrik Harms through Wikipedia Commons
Courtesy Hendrik Harms through Wikipedia Commons

Why a Highland Cow Is Not a Yak:

  • Yaks are used to play polo; Cows are not.
  • Yaks are used to aid in uphill skiing; Cows are not.
  • “Yak” is fun to say; “Cow” is not.
  • Yak secretion is used in Nepalese medicine; Cow secretion (as far as I know) is not.
  • Yaks are not orange; Cows are sometimes.


Courtesy of vlastn dlo - through Wikipedia Commons
Courtesy of vlastn dlo - through Wikipedia Commons

A Scottish Highland Cow...

Courtesy John Fielding -
Courtesy John Fielding -

...Is Not a Yak


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    • Rose West profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose West 

      8 years ago from Michigan

      Hi Wesman, I'm so happy you liked this :) I thought it was so weird when I first saw a Scottish Highland cow - they really are very unique. I'm glad you like the photos - they're quite photogenic :)

    • Rose West profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose West 

      8 years ago from Michigan

      Hi Eiddwen, thanks for reading! I never really think of cattle as being beautiful, but they really are, in their own way :)

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      8 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      I don't think I've ever seen these animals even in pictures before.

      The pictures, btw, are AWESOME. I'd say that these Scottish cattle look like Texas Longhorns with long hair, but they're really built a lot differently, and clearly a VERY different species...but within the same family, of course.

      Definitely an education on this page!!!

    • Eiddwen profile image


      8 years ago from Wales

      These highland cows are beautiful and only one other will tip the scales as far as I am concerned and that is The Welsh Black.

      They glisten and are so beautiful.

      I really enjoyed this hub;and thanks for sharing.

      Take care


    • Rose West profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose West 

      8 years ago from Michigan

      Hi Brooks, yes, I have heard that the Highland Cow is very intelligent. Thanks for sharing your own experience!

    • profile image

      Brooks Warner 

      8 years ago

      not only can the highlanders be black and orange. but white, grey, and brindle....and it is clear how much more intelligent they highlander is than most cattle. two years ago i bought my first highland cow and she lives with my grandpas Aberdeen Angus, she knows when the fence is left down and walks into the next field and the Angus are clueless.

    • Rose West profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose West 

      9 years ago from Michigan

      Hi Amy, thank you for coming by! I've never seen a yak in person - it must be interesting raising them!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      they do look a lot like yaks and they are about as big but from what i have been reading they are a lot nicer than yaks i have yaks and they are not nice.

    • Rose West profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose West 

      10 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks for visiting, Chapter... it probably is a cousin of the bison.

    • Chapter profile image


      10 years ago from Indonesia

      It is similar bison. Perhaps it is a Europe Bison descendant

    • Rose West profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose West 

      10 years ago from Michigan

      Kendall, I never thought I would ever call a cow cute, but you're right, they are!

    • Kendall H. profile image

      Kendall H. 

      10 years ago from Northern CA

      Great looking animals and the young ones are pretty darn cute!

    • Rose West profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose West 

      10 years ago from Michigan

      rmcrayne, haha, I know it's so funny! It's tongue is even sticking out!

    • rmcrayne profile image


      10 years ago from San Antonio Texas

      What handsome animals. Great pictures, especially the first one! Rhianna-inspired side swept, beautiful auburn hair, brooding look. That animal is a rock star!

    • Rose West profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose West 

      10 years ago from Michigan

      NeilRF, oh my, I feel like I'm struggling through Stevenson's poetry again! Scottish is so hard to read! Thank you for the link... The Highlands must be a gorgeous place to live. Thanks for coming by!

    • NeilRF profile image


      10 years ago from NE Scotland

      A Heelan Coo is definitely no Yak! Thanks for clearing that up and some good info. I live in the "Heelans" and I dinna ken fit they do wi the hair o a coo!!

      Listen to a guid Scots accent (actually called "Doric") at: and click on voice clip 1 - it's afa informative!

    • Rose West profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose West 

      10 years ago from Michigan

      Uninvited Writer, so is that how you pronouce it?! :)

    • Uninvited Writer profile image

      Susan Keeping 

      10 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

      I love "heeland coows" :)

    • Rose West profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose West 

      10 years ago from Michigan

      Patty Inglish, good question. I know that their hair used to be spun into yarn back in the day, but I'm not sure if that is done anymore.

    • Rose West profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose West 

      10 years ago from Michigan

      barryrutherford, nope the Highlanders are quite different from Angus.

    • Rose West profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose West 

      10 years ago from Michigan

      Jane Grey, I really don't know exactly why they are smarter. I read that they have "superior intelligence" and that they are easily led. Plus, they can live in conditions in which other cows would die.

    • Rose West profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose West 

      10 years ago from Michigan

      D.A.L. thanks for reading and for being the first to comment! They are rather beautiful, in their own way.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Scots Highland Cows - Some of the most beautiful animals I have ever seen. Is their hair used for yarn, like Bison hair?

    • barryrutherford profile image

      Barry Rutherford 

      10 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Wow not the Aberdeen Angus I had in Mind ! :)

    • Jane Grey profile image

      Ann Leavitt 

      10 years ago from Oregon

      What a cute breed of cattle these are! I love their "bored" look and their shaggy hair. I wonder how much smarter they are than other cattle, and how they know that! Maybe that's why their meat is so nutritious. :)

    • D.A.L. profile image


      10 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Rose West, I have always admired this hardy breed of cattle. They are such rugged yet beautiful animals. Really enjoyed this hub and your excellent pictures.


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