In their native Scotland, the fundamental purpose of Highland cattle throughout the past seven centuries has been that of a beef producing animal. However in recent years, Highlands have maintained their popularity primarily due to their unique looks and distinctive personalities. Still, the versatility of Highland cattle has been well-known by their breeders for years. Their adaptability to adverse grazing conditions has made them an attractive beef animal to raise in harsh environments around the world.
Over the past thirty years, it has been the “hobby farmer” that has been the primary driving force behind the proliferation of Highland cattle in the United States. Now that there are over a thousand folds of Highlands in the U.S. alone, this breed must be redirected towards the beef industry in order to experience continued growth of market share. The Quality Highland Beef (QHB) program is designed to support this market share growth by assisting producers in developing local beef markets which in turn, underpin demand for the purebred animal.
The QHB program is a national promotional campaign that is available to individual breeders who market their beef on a local basis. We have combined this promotion with guidelines that create a consistent, high quality beef product. The advantages for the individual breeder go far beyond selling beef; they also include reducing the number of marginal bulls and demonstrating to other potential breeders that Highland cattle are beef animals with more than just a “pretty face”.
The most important aspect of the QHB is the contract agreement that breeders are required to sign, guaranteeing their desire to follow the product quality guidelines that will ensure a certain consistency of Highland beef produced from California to Maine.
By signature on this agreement and payment of the $40/year fee, the producer certifies that the beef marketed by him or her under the Quality Highland Beef 9QHB) program has been raised and finished in accordance with the recommendations and guidelines provided by the American Highland Cattle Association and as outlined below. The producer maintains full responsibility for the product and for the interpretation and application of the Association’s recommendations.
The producer certifies that any beef marketed by him or her and which uses the QHB advertising, logos, etc. has been raised and prepared as follows.
- The animals are purebred or at least one-half Highland: steers, spayed heifers, heifers, cows, bulls or AHCA Board approved.
- The animals have been raised and handled in a humane manner per Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) or similar guidelines.
- No added hormones, anabolic steroids or sub-therapeutic feed antibiotics have been applied/fed to the animals.
- Animals in a finish program will be slaughtered between 14 and 36 months of age. Surplus or aged animals (greater than 36 months) will meet the standards of items 1, 2 and 3 herein and will only be eligible for sale as ground or processed (hotdogs, sausage, etc.) products.
- The minimum carcass weight is 450 pounds.
- Carcasses will be aged a minimum of 14 days or otherwise in accordance with buyer guidelines or requests.
- Complete health records including vaccinations, inoculations, brands, anti-parasitic and all other treatments will be kept on all animals marketed as QHB.
- Animals sold as open should not be bred and animals sold as steers should be completely neutered.
- AHCA will retain the QHB Committee to direct along with the AHCA Board, the allocation of funds raised for further development of the QHB program and its promotional materials.
- Funds collected pursuant to QHB membership shall be utilized by AHCA for research and promotion of Quality Highland Beef and related products. This may include animal research, diet research for stock, product prep, advertising and related activities. Expenditures that are leveraged with other monies are encouraged.
There are a variety of feeding programs that will allow breeders to meet the conditions of the QHBP agreement. A great deal will depend on where the Highland cattle are being raised and under what conditions. It is not the intention of the QHBP to micro-manage the feeding programs of Highland breeders. It is assumed that producers will use the most economical and readily available feed resources in their program.
PRODUCING QUALITY HIGHLAND BEEF
The most important link in the QHB program is you, the producer. Your management and production skills will determine the quality and wholesomeness of the beef you raise. AHCA has provided a set of guidelines, an outline, in which you will produce QHB. It is your job to uphold these guidelines and produce the finest beef available.
Beef production can sometimes be more of an art than a science. Knowing which management practices to utilize or when an animal is finished just right is often a skill that cannot be taught. However, there are certain practices you can follow to help ensure an excellent well-finished product. Below is a short list of tips and suggestions to help you in producing QHB.
1. Breeding – Here, the most important thing to remember is to use high quality Highland cattle.
2. Calving to weaning – This is a good time to select your prospects for the QHB program. As a purebred producer you might, for example, plan to keep the top 10-20% of your bull calves as herdsire prospects and market the remainder as QHB. Remember, any animal that is to end up as QHB may not be given any growth hormones or stimulants at any point during its life! At this time, those bull calves that are not kept as breeding stock should be castrated. While castration may be done to older cattle as well, increased stress and weight loss may result. At weaning, calves should be wormed and vaccinated. Check with your local veterinarian for an appropriate health care schedule suitable for your area. Finally, be careful when giving injections to your cattle. Improper handling and administration of injections can cause lesions and scarring that will affect quality of the meat. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has worked hard through its Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program to develop and promote proper injection procedures. Contact your state or local cattlemen’s organization for more information.
3. Weaning to finishing – During this time, it is important to first determine the desired age and weight of your animals at finishing. Some animals will, of course, need to be heavier. A very general rule of thumb is that a steer will be finished at its dam’s weight, however, this can vary. Smaller framed cattle should finish in the 900-1000 lb. range while larger frames will be heavier. The time frame will depend on your philosophies, available feed and the animal’s ability to gain. Once you have determined these factors, make sure the animal’s nutritional needs are met. Extension agents and feed/mineral dealers are good sources to help you select an economical, nutritionally-balanced program. Also, maintain and thoroughly document a proper herd health program to ensure performance.
4. Finishing – When your animal is within 100-200 lbs. of the desired slaughter weight, it is time to “finish” it. Finish is to help ensure a degree of marbling and finish to the beef. Marbling adds flavor and juiciness to the meat. A small amount of external finish is necessary to enable the carcass to hang. Make sure you either weigh your cattle periodically and/or have your feedstuffs tested to make sure the animals are able to gain the required amount. In the end, the animal will appear fleshy and the brisket should be filling out. Unfortunately, determining when cattle are finished is one of the aforementioned arts. It is not the purpose of this program to dictate how you finish your cattle. Producers must decide what system works for them based on available feeds, etc. Below are some methods already in use:
-High quality pasture. Cattle can gain over 2 lbs. per day on good quality grass, legume, annual or a combination of such pasture systems. Some producers and consumers prefer forage fed beef. External fat on grass fed carcasses can have a yellowish tint which does not affect the flavor. In some areas of the country this can be a seasonal product that coexists with the flush of fall and spring vegetation.
-Pasture plus 1-10 lbs. grain. This system works well particularly with poorer quality pasture. The supplemental grain changes the yellow fat to white. This system requires more time and management.
-Free choice hay plus 1-20 lbs. of grain. Unless you have extremely high quality hay, this alone will not give you the required gains. Supplementing with grain or silage is necessary.
- Free choice corn silage plus limited hay.
5. Slaughtering and packing – Here, years of hard work directed towards the production of a high quality product can be wasted with poor procedures. A good idea to prevent this is to first investigate the plant that you are planning to use. Is it state and/or federally inspected? Will they hang your carcass for the required time? Will they cut and wrap the meat well and to your or the buyer’s specifications? When you are satisfied, make your appointment to drop off your cattle. Make sure the loading and hauling process is as easy and stress free as possible. If an animal is frightened, has been chased all over the pasture, etc., the quality of the meat will suffer.
Knowledge is the key to good management. Good management is the key to producing great beef. Utilize available resources, extension agents, feed experts, other producers and cattle organizations to learn as much as possible.
There are a variety of ways in which Highland beef producers can sell their product, ranging from carcass to boxed beef. The QHB program provides marketing tools, which include merchant bags, 3” peel-off sticker logos, meat cut posters and brochures. These can be purchased from AHCA for a nominal fee. The 3” peel-off sticker logos are designed to be used on individual meat packages and/or point of purchase displays. The posters and brochures can also be used in displays or given to potential customers. Your only limitation in marketing is your own creativity.
Click here for the QHB Contract