Prices for ‘attractive’ Highland cattle soar in Australia as tree changers drive up demand for breed


Shaggy coats, long horns and big fringes are very much in fashion in the Australian livestock market right now.

Scottish Highland cattle are in such high demand that breeders have given up on waiting lists as prices skyrocket. 

South Gippsland breeder Deniz Karaca said the demand had surged in the past two years.

Mr Karaca has been breeding highlands for six years and currently has 50 cattle in his fold.

Highland cattle are listed as a rare breed in Australia.(Supplied: Mollie Agostino – Màili Fold)

He said he got a phone call almost every day from someone wanting to buy.

“We’ve gone from cattle being readily available to breeders who have waiting lists for two or three years,” he said.

“We got rid of our waiting list and just do an auction now because we wouldn’t be able to satisfy the demand. Our next sale isn’t until 2023.”

What’s driving price?

Highland is the oldest breed of cattle in the world, traditionally bred for beef in native Scotland. It even has a royal connection, as it’s understood Queen Elizabeth II only eats Highland beef.

A red highland cow with large horns look at the camera.
It is said that Queen Elizabeth II only eats Highland beef.(Supplied: Mollie Agostino – Màili Fold)

In Australia, Highland was still considered rare and was commonly more of a boutique breed for hobby farmers due to their good looks and low maintenance.

Mr Karaca said the interest in the cows took off when more people started to leave the city during COVID and relocated to the country.

He said people who were not country folks or experienced farmers were moving to the country and buying smaller landholdings.

“Not having to rely on income, they go for something that looks attractive in the paddock, and Highlands have very good looks,” Mr Karaca said.

“We don’t have any accommodation, but we have people come out to the farm all the time who want to take photos and just spend time with them.”

two calfs touch noses
The Highland cattle are known for having gentle temperaments. (Supplied: Mollie Agostino – Màili Fold)

Not just hobby farmers interested in breed

With the rise in popularity, it’s not just tree changers interested in Highland cattle, as commercial breeders are also starting to take notice.

Gisbourne vet Glen Hastie has been breeding Highlands for 26 years and has seen a recent increase in the purchase of embryos as well.

“We’ve had people wanting up to 40 breeders, which can’t be supplied right now, so they are getting into embryos,” Dr Hastie said.

“We’ve imported embryos a number of times to broaden genetics in Australia, but it’s really only ever been little bits and pieces domestically up until now.

“Financially, it’s a very good option. You’re getting the best animals from someone’s fold.

A mother and calf play in the grass.
The increased popularity has also seen a rise in registered breeders.(Supplied: Mollie Agostino – Màili Fold)

However, Dr Hastie said it was frustrating to be a Highland breeder at the moment as the demand was so high.

“I love breeding them,” he said.

“But I fear what will happen when people start to get desperate, what kinds of animals we will see around.”

Breeds come in and out of fashion

Corcoran and Parker Wodonga livestock agent Katie Lewis said Highland cattle were once a novelty farmers would pick up cheap at the saleyards, but in the past 12 months, it was becoming a bidding war online.

“When people call up now about Highlands, the first thing you do is warn them about the price,” Ms Lewis said.

“They are not the accessible couple of weaners you used to find in the last few pens at a store sale. That’s how they used to be.

“We opened up a can of worms last year. We put them up on [online portal] Auctions Plus, and it went ballistic. I’ve still never seen bidding like it.

“We sold a cow and calf for $17,100, and a commercial bull made north of $16,000 a few weeks ago as well.”

A mother cow with shaggy fringe, long horns with her calf.
Ms Lewis says the craze for Higland cattle will also wear off.(Supplied: Katie Lewis )

Ms Lewis said it was not uncommon to see rare breeds come in and out of fashion in the market, and Highlands’ popularity was “a fad”.

“I’m not sure how long we will see this price bubble, wherever the fad will wear off.

“However, Highlands are hard to replicate in cross-breeding, so I think that’s what’s driving the price is the rarity of them.”