Shaggy coats, long horns and large fringes are very fashionable in the Australian cattle market at the moment.
Scottish Highland cattle are in such demand that farmers have abandoned waiting lists as prices soar.
South Gippsland breeder Deniz Karaca said demand had increased over the past two years.
Mr. Karaca has been raising uplands for six years and currently owns 50 cattle in his lap.
He said he got a phone call almost every day from someone who wanted to buy.
“We’ve gone from readily available cattle to ranchers who have two- or three-year waiting lists,” he said.
“We got rid of our waiting list and are doing an auction now because we wouldn’t be able to meet demand. Our next sale isn’t until 2023.”
What is the engine price?
The Highland is the world’s oldest breed of cattle, traditionally bred for beef in native Scotland. It even has a royal connection, as it is understood that Queen Elizabeth II only eats Highland beef.
In Australia, the Highlands are considered rare and primarily a shop breed for hobby farmers due to their good looks and low maintenance.
Mr Karaca said interest in cows took off when more people started to leave the city during COVID and relocated to the countryside.
He said people who were not experienced farmers were moving into the country and buying smaller land holdings.
“Not having to rely on income, they go for something that looks attractive in the paddock, and the Highlands look really good,” Mr Karaca said.
“We don’t have accommodation, but we have people coming to the farm all the time to take pictures and hang out with them.”
Not just hobby farmers interested in the breed
With the growing popularity, it is not just tree changers who are taking an interest in Highland cattle, as commercial ranchers are also starting to take notice.
Gisborne vet Glen Hastie has been a Highland breeder for 26 years and has also seen a recent increase in the purchase of embryos.
“We’ve had people wanting up to 40 breeding stock, which can’t be provided right now, so they’re going for embryos,” Dr Hastie said.
“We’ve imported embryos a number of times to expand genetics into Australia, but so far it’s really only been small bits domestically.
“Financially, it’s a very good option. You get the best animals from someone’s lap.
However, Dr Hastie said it was frustrating to be a Highland breeder at the moment because demand was so high.
“I love raising them,” he said.
“But I fear what will happen when people start to despair, what kinds of animals we will see around.”
Breeds go in and out of fashion
Katie Lewis, livestock officer for Corcoran and Parker Wodonga, said Highland cattle used to be a novelty that farmers scooped up cheaply in sales, but in the past 12 months it has become a bidding war on line.
“When people call now about Highlands, the first thing you do is tell them about the price,” Ms Lewis said.
“These aren’t the accessible weaning pairs you used to find in the latest pens at a store sale. That’s how they used to be.
“We opened a Pandora’s box last year. We put them on [online portal] Auctions Plus, and it went ballistic. I have never seen auctions like this before.
“We sold a cow and a calf for $17,100, and a few weeks ago a commercial bull made north of $16,000 as well.”
Ms Lewis said it was not uncommon to see rare breeds go out of style in the market, and that Highland popularity was “a fad”.
“I don’t know how long we’ll see this price bubble, wherever the fad dissipates.
“However, the Highlands are difficult to crossbreed, so I think that’s what makes the prize, it’s their rarity.”
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