Red Highlands genetically carry the building blocks of red and red alone. That can vary slightly because red can be a result of the recessive red gene or the wild type red gene. Red is a base color and a starting point for any shade in the red spectrum. All red Highlands carry either two recessive red genes at the MC1R locus, or two wild type genes at this locus, or one of each.
Red is a recessive gene in the Highland breed. In order for an animals to appear red, it cannot carry a black gene.
Red does seem to vary in intensity and a summer coat will often seem slightly different than the same animal's winter coat.
Red cattle bred to red cattle get you more red cattle.
Because there is a wild type red gene that also manifests as red, there may be variations in the intensity of the coat color, and the ability to produce brindle.
Yellow cattle carry the same red genes possible in red cattle. However, the red color is diluted by the presence of a single copy of the dilution gene
This yellow cow is in her winter coat. She is still obviously a lighter shade than the examples of red cattle above.
Not all yellow cattle are so obviously a diluted form of red. It may be difficult to determine actual color classification as some red cattle will be light red and some yellow cattle will be darker than others.It can be particularly difficult to determine color as a calf.
Many yellow cows are registered as red.
White cattle are again, base red, with the presence of two dilution genes at the PMEL locus. This means they have inherited a dilution gene from each parent.
White cattle often appear to be purer white in their winter coat.
This is a photo of the same white cow as above, but in her summer coat. She definitely takes on a more yellow or cream coloration in her summer haircoat.
While the cow could be mistaken as pale yellow, there is no doubt that her calf is white.
This bull demonstrates the clues that determine that he is white rather than silver. White cattle do not have dark pigment around their eyes, or their nose. The nose pad itself may be a pale gray. This bull also has pale whitish hooves.
Black is the alternate color gene found at the MC1R locus. Black is dominant to red, so that if an animal inherits only one black gene, it will outwardly be black in color, but may produce red offspring if bred to other animals that carry a red gene.
Highlands that carry two copies of the black gene can only pass a black gene to their offspring, so will produce only calves that fall somewhere in the black spectrum of color. (black, dun or silver.)
Black cattle often have rusty red highlights on their dossan, top line, thighs, shoulders, and ears.
Back cattle are mostly commonly black at birth, but some will appear red with a black muzzle and hooves. As the calves mature, they will lose their red baby coat and shed out to be black.
Dun cattle carry at least one black gene at the MC1R locus, and carry one dilution gene at the PMEL locus.
In highland cattle, dun and silver are dilutions of black.
This cow demonstrates the most common, gray/mousy brown appearance of dun in the Highland breed.
Dun Highlands can be a number of unique hues. This yearling heifer is sired by a red bull, out of a silver cow. She has a definite red tint to her hair coat but is considered a dun because she carries a black gene. You can recognize this from her dark grey nose.
This is another reddish dun cow. She too could be mistaken for red, but her very dark gray nose and dark pigmentation around her eyes, gives her true color away. Her sire was dun and her dam was red.
This brilliant white calf is actually silver, and carries a black gene. She has a dark gray nose, dark pigment around her eyes and her hooves are gray. She carries two dilution genes; one from her dun sire and one from her white dam.
This calf matured into the silver cow that is pictured below. She is nursing a silver heifer sired by a dun bull.
As a carrier of two dilute genes, this cow can only produce diluted colors. She will always pass one dilution gene. Her mother was white,(diluted red) so she carries one red gene and one black gene. Depending on the color of the bull, she can only throw yellow, white, dun or silver calves.
We can make certain assumptions about the genetics of color, but what we can't know without DNA analysis, is
This is the daughter above as a yearling. She has the obvious dark nose that confirms she is a silver and not considered white.
This cow is a dark brindle. From what we know about color genetics in Highlands, she must carry at least one wild type red gene at the MC1R locus. She also must have at least one so-called Brindle gene at the Agouti locus
An example of several brindle animals. The wild type red gene permits both black and red pigment to be present and show up at the same time in the animals.
This brindle cow bred to a red bull produced this dramatically dark brindle bull calf.
Brindles vary considerably, sometimes to the point that you cannot really see any stripes or black areas to give away the fact that they are brindle. Many brindles are registered as red.
What we call frosting is the presence of white overlay on a black, dun, red or yellow colored animals. We do not know the genetic makeup that causes this variation. It appears to be a dominant gene, which means it should always show up if an animal carries the gene for frosting. (white and silver animals would be the exception to this rule.)
Frosting manifests most noticeably as a striking white switch of the tail. There is some white hair in the dossan but the amount can vary greatly, to the point of being barely visible.
There may be an overcoat of white along the topline and covering the upper shoulders and hips.
Frosting can occur in yellow and dun cattle, but would be impossible to detect in white or silver cattle.
Frosting is usually not detectable at birth and often doesn't show up until the calf is older.
Bus dubh is black coloration on the nose and muzzle. It may be related to wild type red, but the genetics of the pattern are unknown at this time. It often runs in families.
Highlights are what we call the variations in hair color that can occur on some animals, This does not appear to be the same as frosting. Red cattle may have a yellowish switch of the tail, and yellowish hair along the top line, ears and dossan. Dun cattle may have reddish highlights, and black cattle may have reddish highlights.
Dun and yellow cattle will sometimes have stockings that are a paler shade of their base body color. Again, this may be related to the wild type red gene, but at present we do not know the reason for this pattern. These stockings are also evident in the mature yellow bull pictured above.