Grading Highland Cattle

calveshighlandThe Highland Cattle industry in New Zealand uses a grading system to denote what level of Highland genetics (or 'bloodlines') each animal enjoys.   It's a system that can be confusing for people not familiar with Highland cattle as a breed. 

Most cattle in New Zealand have been bred through grading up or cross breeding with another breed, until a pure status has been achieved.  However there are some cattle that have always had Highland ancestry.  These animals have either been imported from overseas, or bred in New Zealand from imported semen or embryos.

The following describes the grades generally used in the Highland Industry.

Fullblood (F) and Assessed Fullblood (AF)

Fullbloods are animals whose sires and dams are registered as Fullblood and whose ancestry shows no introduction of any other breed of cattle.

This classification was introduced to be able to give a distinction between animals that have come through a breeding up regime, and animals that have come from a totally Highland ancestry.  All offshore societies except Australia do not recognise bred up stock, and this category allows cattle with a 'blueblood' ancestry to be recognised in offshore herdbooks.  This allows New Zealand breeders to be able to export semen and embryos.

Pure Bred (P)

All animals which have been bred up to a Purebred level, whose ancestry shows some introduction of another breed of cattle.  The animals with a purebred status will also have a number after the P, denoting how many generations the animal has been purebred.  The number system is:

  • P1 - First generation purebred
  • P2 - Second generation purebred
  • P3 - Third generation purebred
  • P4 - Fourth generation purebred
  • PX - Over four generations purebred
A Grade (7/8th pure) or '3rd cross'

This is the last crossbred grade that can be achieved before purebred status.  These animals generally show very strong Highland characteristics.

B Grade  (3/4 Pure) or '2nd cross'

B grade cattle have been bred from 1st cross or C grade cattle, and generally start to show some Highland characteristics - horns, shaggy coats and for males, perhaps a dossan (the hair over the eyes). 

C Grade (1/2 Pure) or '1st cross'

These are the first progeny achieved when Highland genetics are introduced to another breed. 

Grading Grid

Also confusing is the grade that can be achieved when the various grades of cattle are bred together.  The grid below shows the resultant progeny grade from the various different scenarios.  The general Highland industry standard is that only bulls of P2 (purebred second generation) or higher grade can be used to breed from, and the following grid reflects that.

It should be noted that any good breeding programme should concentrate on improving genetics, not just grade.  Highlands are a generally known as a beef breed, and concentrating on breeding animals with better overall structure and Highland characteristics should be the aim of anyone considering owning and raising Highland cattle.  The Scottish Society (considered to be the parent body of all the Highland Societies around the world) has published a Highland breed standard which has been adopted in New Zealand.  This can be found at the Scottish Societies website www.highlandcattlesociety.com.

Use this grid to determine what grade the progeny of your cattle would be.

For example, the progeny of a P2 Bull and a P4 Cow would be P3  

Dam: Sire: P2 P3 P4 PX AF F
C   B B B B B B
B   A A A A A A
A   P1 P1 P1 P1 P1 P1
P1   P2 P2 P2 P2 P2 P2
P2   P2 P2 P2 P3 P3 P3
P3   P3 P3 P4 P4 P4 P4
P4   P3 P4 P4 PX PX PX
PX   P3 P4 PX PX PX PX
AF   P3 P4 PX PX F F
A   P3 P4 PX PX F F

 By Michelle Urquhart.


Michelle Urquhart is the National Secretary for the Highland Cattle Society.  She and her husband have been members of the Society for 9 years, and breed white Highlands on their lifestyle block near Rotorua.

The New Zealand Highland Cattle Society is the oldest Highland Cattle society in New Zealand, and has been registering cattle since June 1993.  The NZHCS Herdbook currently has over 5000 cattle registered, and has over 450 members.  For more information please visit their website www.highlandcattle.org.nz or contact Michelle on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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