If this is our breed’s only genetic fault, we are truly fortunate. Compared with most other breeds that have multiple genetic disorders that can pop up in calves, this ear deformity is usually easy to recognise. The photos below show a steer with what appears to be small ears, and when most of the hair is clipped off those ears, you can see that the ears are deformed – about half the normal size.
This dominant gene has been in the breed for centuries. It is thought to be only present in Highland cattle, although there are some very old reports that is existed in Airshire cattle many years back. The degree of deformity of the ear can be mild, with a small notch out of the tip of the ear only, through to ears that are a crumpled up mess, much smaller than in the photos above. The problem here is that tattoos and ear tags can not be used in the ears to identify the animals.
The Australian Highland Cattle Society has always tried to keep the gene out of our Highland population. It has been inadvertently brought into the country a couple of times, in embryo calves and a white bull some years ago, but these animals, and their progeny, have not been bred with. So, we are probably the only country in the world where we can say that our Highlands are free from crop ear.
All these photos came from animals in the USA. In all other countries except New Zealand, this defect is not condoned (including Scotland), and in fact is not even mentioned on pedigrees.
This neat little introduction to crop ear deformity in Highlands was written by a long standing Highland breeder and vet, Glen Hastie. His site, Bairnsley Highlands has many fantastic articles about the breed and a more in depth discussion on crop ear genetics. Well worth a read!