When we began planning our trip to Scotland last year, I knew that there was one thing I absolutely had to do: find some Highland Coos! Highland Coos, or cows, are just about the cutest things in the entire world. Their long, shaggy, generally orange-brown fur is a type of cattle that was bred in the Scottish Highlands and the Outer Hebrides to be hardy and sturdy, so that they could survive in Scotland’s unpredictable and sometimes harsh climate. We visited Hector’s Highland Coos in Sconser on the Isle of Skye, and spent some time with these gentle giants during a light drizzle.
Head to the Village of Sconser on the Isle of Skye, which isn’t a very big village, and you’re sure to see large fields with beautiful reddish-orange or reddish-brown, wavy fur grazing in the pastures. There are signs for “Hector’s Highland Coos”, and an area for visitors to pull off the road and park to visit the wee cattle. They are farm animals, and as such have no set schedule nor are they made to interact with visitors in any way. If you do stop by, drop a few GBP (£) in the donation box to help the farmer who lets people pull onto his property to see his lovely cows feed his furry friends and maintain the property so many people drive on. I recommend giving at least £10 per person. Of course, you may find Highland Cattle anywhere on the Isle of Skye, just as you’ll see sheep wandering all over. However, during our time on the Isle of Skye, we only saw a couple of Highland Cattle, maybe one or two at a time, outside of Hector’s Highland Coos.
Did you know that male Highland Cattle can weigh up to 1,800 pounds, and the females can way up to 1,100 pounds? They grow to be very large! For comparison, an average American dairy cow weighs around 900-1,000 pounds. They have the longest hair/fur of any cattle breed by far, and their hair is comprised of two distinct layers, a shorter, downier inner layer, and the longer, oilier outer layer that keeps them warm and dry in the rain, wind, and snow. A group of Highland Cows is called a “fold” rather than a herd, as they generally take shelter in manmade stone structures called “folds”. They have one of the longest lifespans of any cattle breed anywhere in the world, on average they live about 20 years, and they have very clear social structures unlike any other cattle, wherein the offspring of dominate, older cattle are viewed as dominate compared to other cattle. This means that they are quite intelligent, and they can even answer to specific names, the way humans do.
Please remember not to feed the cows anything, and do not whistle or yell at them, as they may be startled and run off. We stood quietly watching them, and I took photos of them from a respectful distance, and a young calf and another larger cow came over to us and began grazing nearby. If you wait patiently and quietly, they will walk up to you. Don’t try to touch them, because they may bite you, and the males have very long, pointy horns that could seriously injure a person. While they are farm animals, they are essentially wild animals with a lot of wide open space to roam, so keep away and keep respectful of them as you would any other wild creatures. They are generally very docile and mild mannered creatures, but they will be extremely protective of their young, and any other young coos in their fold, so give the little ones plenty of space to keep the peace with the older cattle.
They are such beautiful animals, and they make the sweetest little mooing sounds that sound quite different from the dairy cows we commonly see here in the United States. Observing and photographing these precious little (and not so little) creatures was one of the highlights of my time in the Isle of Skye. My husband and I agree that when we retire to Scotland one day, we want to have a big, wild pasture and a couple of Highland Coos to graze in it, I think that sounds like such a beautiful dream.
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