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.