A Field Guide to Heritage Cattle

Read the following and you soon may have a cow – and a hand in keeping livestock history alive.
Jennifer Nemec and Oscar H. Will III
July/August 2007
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Ankole-Watusi: Blood circulating through the Ankole-Watusi’s large horns help keep it cool.
Courtesy Becky Lundgren, La Dorada Ranch, www.LaDorada.com
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The small diversified farms of yesteryear are long gone in North America. Economies of scale, ever-increasing production costs and current conventional wisdom would have virtually every farm on the continent producing the same handful of crops – most without livestock of any kind. Operations where cattle still contribute to the bottom line are now limited to a small fraction of the many score of breeds once raised in this country.

The industrialization of agriculture has definitely kept down the price of food, but with an unexpected consequence: the extinction of many breeds of livestock. In the United States today, 83 percent of all dairy cattle are Holsteins, and 60 percent of beef cattle are of the Angus, Hereford or Simmental breeds. It’s estimated that 190 livestock breeds have become extinct in the past 15 years alone, and 1,500 more are at risk.

A “heritage” livestock breed is one that was raised in the not so distant past. These are the breeds that don’t fit our generalized modern production standards even though most are well-adapted to regional environments where they often outperform their conventional counterparts. Heritage breeds are profoundly important as a pool of genetic diversity. Because of their often quirky characteristics, downright good looks and uniformly self-sufficient nature, heritage cattle are often perfectly suited to acreage owners, small-scale operators and others who just want to keep a tighter rein on their own food supply.

In the entries that follow, we have compiled the key characteristics and some anecdotal information on 18 better-known breeds that fall far from the mainstream. If your favorite breed wasn’t included, please send us a photo along with some pertinent information on the breed, and we’ll try to get them into a future issue. Click on the breed name for a photograph and more information on each breed.

You might find our descriptions of these breeds’ size somewhat arbitrary. In general, adult animals weighing less than 900 pounds are small, 900 to 1,300 pounds medium, and above 1,400 pounds large. We typically based the size rating on cow weights. Bulls should be expected to weigh at least 25 percent more than cows. Exceptions are plentiful, so please just use our values as a guideline. With regard to temperature range, most heritage breeds are adaptable, but some cope with extremes better than others. We labeled the climate for all animals temperate unless they do particularly well in the heat or the cold. Horn size qualifiers were based on subjective observation and anecdotal information.

Ancient White Park

Ancient White Park cattle were raised in North America primarily to preserve their history and genetics. In support of that effort, the B Bar Ranch also has discovered that the largely self-sufficient animals produce some of the most flavorful, fine-grained and tender grass-finished beef available. Breeding stock for these unique cattle will be very difficult to obtain for the next three years. This ancient breed was  once a popular ornament used often to decorate English country estates.

size: medium
coat:  white with black points
horns:  large, lyre-shaped 
use:  ornamental and beef
origins:  Ancient Britain
availability:  scarce
climate:  temperate
ALBC  rating: critical

BBar.com/www/parkcattle
B Bar Land & Livestock - Big Timber 
1273 Otter Creek Road 
Big Timber, MT 59011
406-932-4197

Ankole-Watusi

The Ankole-Watusi is an extremely heat-tolerant animal that’s easily recognized by its broad-based and long horns. In North America, the breed is raised for beef, genetic conservation and the rodeo industry. East Africans prize the Ankole-Watusi for its milk, which contains 8 to 10 percent butterfat. Calving ease, disease resistance and ability to browse are among the breed’s other traits.

size: medium
coat:  various solid and spotted
horns:  large, conical
use: beef
origins: East Africa
availability: limited
climate:  warm temperate to hot
ALBC  rating: recovering

www.AWIR.org 
Ankole Watusi International Registry 
22484 W.  239 St. 
Spring Hill, KS   66083
913-592-4050

British White

British Whites are distinctively different from the Ancient White Park and are often freckled. The meat produced is lean with just enough marbling to make a great filet. Often described as gentle and easy to handle, cows exhibit strong maternal characteristics and perform well on grass. Sires are popular with some beef producers because their offspring calve easily and grow rapidly.

size: medium
coat: white, black or red points
horns:  polled
use: beef
origins: England
availability:  limited 
climate:  extreme temperate 
ALBC  rating: not rated

www.BritishWhite.org 
British White Cattle Association of America 
P.O. Box 281
Bells, TX  75414
903-965-7718

Devon (beef)

Devon cattle were initially a multipurpose breed that offered Colonials meat, dairy products and moving force as oxen. Today, Devon cattle are prized for their excellent fertility, maternal characteristics and ability to thrive on pasture. The breed is so well adapted to converting grass into meat that it is recognized as one of the top candidates for high-quality grass-finished beef production.

size: large 
coat:  ruby red 
horns: medium  or polled 
use: beef 
origins: Devonshire, England 
availability:  plentiful 
climate:  extreme temperate 
ALBC  rating: recovering

www.AmericanDevon.com 
American Devon Cattle Association 
43 Lenior Lane
Canton, NC   28716
828-235-8269

Milking Devon

While most North American Devon breeders were concentrating on beef production in the 1940s, a small group of farmers based their selections on preserving the breed’s multipurpose characteristics. These more traditional cattle provided most of the foundation for the Milking Devons of today. Like their 17th-century colonial ancestors, Milking Devons are prized today for beef, milk and pulling power.

size: medium 
coat: red 
horns:  medium 
use:  multipurpose 
origins: Devonshire, England 
availability:  limited 
climate:  temperate 
ALBC  rating: critical

www.MilkingDevons.org 
American  Milking Devon Cattle Assoc. 
135 Old Bay Road
New Durham, NH   03855
603-859-6611

Dexter

Billed as the perfect family-size cattle, the diminutive Dexters can provide ample milk and meat in a package that is far from intimidating. Although the Dexter’s small stature was developed over scores of generations of careful selection and breeding, today’s population is not 100 percent free of dwarfing genes. Select your breeding stock carefully to avoid problems with genetically dwarf cattle.

size: small 
coat:  black, rarely red or dun 
horns:  small, sometimes polled 
use:  multipurpose 
origins: Ireland 
availability:  limited 
climate:  temperate 
ALBC  rating: recovering

www.DexterCattle.org 
American  Dexter Cattle Association 
4150 Merino Ave. 
Watertown, MN   55388
952-446-1423

Dutch Belted

Dutch Belted cows are known for their good nature and ability to produce large quantities of high- quality milk on a pasture diet. These characteristics make them especially valuable to grass-based seasonal dairy operations where 70-pound average birth weights are also appreciated, as cows generally don’t need help with calving. Dutch Belted cattle mature early and exhibit high fertility.

size: medium  to large 
coat:  black (rarely, red) with white belt 
horns:  small 
use:  dairy 
origins: Netherlands 
availability:  scarce 
climate:  temperate 
ALBC  rating: critical

www.DutchBelted.com 
Dutch  Belted Cattle Assoc. of America 
P.O. Box 477  
Pittsboro, NC   27312
919-542-5704

English Longhorn

The English Longhorn is extremely rare in North America, although worldwide, its population is in good shape. Cows are known for their ease of calving, long lives and high butterfat content milk. Bulls are sometimes crossbred with other British breeds to produce lean and flavorful beef. English Longhorns are excellent foragers and, like the Texas Longhorn, can thrive outdoors year-round even in harsh climates.

size: large 
coat:  various, colorsided 
horns:  large, forward curving 
use: beef 
origins:  west central England  
availability:  scarce 
climate:  temperate 
ALBC  rating: not rated

www.LonghornCattleSociety.com 
The  Longhorn Cattle Society 
Southcott  Farm, Chawleigh
Chulmleigh,  Devon, UK EX18 7HP

Florida Cracker

Florida Cracker cattle trace their ancestry to those brought to the New World from Spain or the Canary Islands by Spanish explorers. Compared with the Texas Longhorn, Cracker cattle are smaller and somewhat lighter muscled. Today’s interest in the breed is almost entirely for genetic conservation. Crackers, like their ancestors, are hardy, self sufficient and perfectly adapted to Florida’s heat and humidity.

size: small  to medium 
coat:  varies widely 
horns:  large 
use: beef 
origins: Florida, U.S.A. 
availability:  scarce 
climate:  warm temperate 
ALBC  rating: critical

Florida Cracker Cattle Assoc. 
3125 Conner Blvd. 
Tallahassee, FL 32399 
352-392-2367

Galloway

Galloways are renowned for easy calving and strong maternal characteristics. Their double coat sheds water and keeps them warm in the winter, while thinning sufficiently by summer to avoid heat stress. Commercial cows crossbred with Galloway bulls produced beef with top marks in flavor, tenderness and juiciness. Though distantly related, the Galloway and Belted Galloway are genetically distinct.

size: medium 
coat:  red, black, white, dun 
horns:  polled 
use: beef 
origins: Scotland 
availability:  plentiful 
climate:  temperate to cold 
ALBC  rating: watch

www.AmericanGalloway.com 
American Galloway  Breeders Association 
2417 Holly Lane
Ottawa, Ontario,  
Canada K1V 0M7

Belted Galloway

Belted Galloway cattle are known for excellent performance on pasture where they efficiently convert grass to high-quality, flavorful beef that is remarkably low in saturated fats. Beltie cows make excellent mothers, calve easily and readily breed back within a 60-day window. Calves are known for their vigor, and all Belties make the best of available forage or browse, no matter the season.

size: medium
coat: black, dun, red with white belt
horns:  polled
use: beef
origins: Scotland
availability:  plentiful
climate:  temperate to cold
ALBC  rating: recovering

www.Beltie.org 
Belted  Galloway Society, Inc. 
P.O. Box 316
Bendersville, PA 17306
717-677-9655

Highland

Well known for their affinity for brushy browse, Highland cattle are among the most self-sufficient and hardy breeds. In spite of their long, shaggy coats, these adaptable little animals thrive from Texas to Alaska. The Highland breed is known for its tasty, lean beef, excellent maternal abilities and confident disposition.

size: small 
coat:  red, black, dun, white 
horns:  medium to large 
use: beef 
origins:  Highlands of Scotland 
availability:  plentiful 
climate:  temperate 
ALBC  rating: recovering

www.HighlandCattleUSA.org 
American  Highland Cattle Association 
4701 Marion St.
Denver, CO 80216
303-292-9102

Kerry

The Kerry breed is described as elegant, dainty and graceful, but it is also well known for hardiness, excellent maternal abilities, fertility and good disposition. First imported into North America in the early 1800s, Kerrys never really caught on. The breed has achieved a mild resurgence in popularity of late as a multipurpose family cow that will feed your family well and has good manners to boot.

size: small 
coat:  predominantly black 
horns:  small 
use:  dairy 
origins:  Ancient Britain 
availability:  scarce 
climate:  temperate 
ALBC  rating: critical

www.KerryCattle.ie 
The Kerry Cattle Society Ltd. 
Cahernane, Killarney
Co. Kerry, Ireland

Pineywoods

The Pineywoods breed developed in the wild through natural selection. Descended from Spanish cattle first introduced in the New World in the 1500s, Pineywoods animals are characterized by extreme tolerance for heat and humidity, excellent forage and browse utilization and self sufficiency. The breed was kept small because regional farmers and loggers preferred compact oxen.

size: small  to medium 
coat:  varies widely 
horns:  medium 
use:  multipurpose 
origins: Mississippi, U.S.A. 
availability:  scarce 
climate:  warm temperate 
ALBC  rating: critical

www.PCRBA.org 
Pineywoods Cattle Registry
Secretary Mrs. Julie Brown
183 Sebron Ladner Place
Poplarville, MS 39470
601-795-4672
cowpencreek1@aol.com

Randall or Randall Lineback

Randall or Randall Lineback cattle trace their origins to the Randall family farm in Sunderland, Vermont. The breed is known for excellent foraging ability, low maintenance and docile disposition. With a landrace heritage, Randalls, though highly variable in their conformation, are a true multipurpose breed perfect for providing milk, meat and power on subsistence-style farms.

size: small  to medium 
coat:  colorsided; black, red 
horns:  variable 
use:  multipurpose 
origins: Vermont, U.S.A. 
availability:  scarce 
climate:  temperate to cool 
ALBC  rating: critical

www.RandallCattleRegistry.org 
The  Randall Cattle Registry Inc.

www.RandallLineback.com
Randall  Lineback Breed Association

Red Poll

Like many multipurpose cattle originally imported to North America, the Red Poll’s multipurpose genetics were used to create more specialized lines. In Canada, more emphasis initially was placed on dairy production, while the United States saw a big push to take advantage of meat-producing traits. In either case, Red Poll cows are easy keepers, and bulls are in high demand in the crossbred beef industry.

size: medium  to large 
coat: red 
horns:  polled 
use: beef 
origins: Suffolk County, England 
availability:  plentiful 
climate:  temperate 
ALBC  rating: threatened

www.RedPollUSA.org 
American  Red Poll Association 
P.O. Box 147
Bethany, MO   64424
660-425-7318

Milking Shorthorn

Shorthorn cattle were brought into the United States as a multipurpose breed, and the Milking Shorthorn represents the pinnacle of the colonial cattle’s dairy potential. Milking Shorthorns were officially recognized as a dairy breed in 1968. Cows are known for their ability to calve on their own and for efficiently converting self-harvested forage into high-quality milk.

size: large 
coat:  red, white or roan 
horns:  small or polled 
use:  dairy 
origins:  northeast England 
availability:  plentiful 
climate:  temperate 
ALBC  rating: watch

www.MilkingShorthorn.com 
American  Milking Shorthorn Society 
800  Pleasant St. 
Beloit, WI   53511-5456
608-365-3332

Texas Longhorn

Descendents of the first cattle brought to North America by Spanish explorers, Texas Longhorns were formed from a few hundred years of natural selection. These once-wild cattle know how to fend for themselves in practically any environment, exhibit unprecedented parasite and disease resistance, have remarkably long lives and produce quality beef.

size: large 
coat:  varies widely 
horns:  large 
use: beef 
origins:  American Southwest 
availability:  plentiful 
climate:  temperate 
ALBC  rating: not rated

www.TLBAA.org 
Texas Longhorn Breeders Assoc. of America 
P.O. Box 4430
Fort Worth, TX 76164
817-625-6241

Jennifer Nemec , an associate editor for Grit, was raised by a cattleman and spent the first 11 years of her life watching purebred Simmental go from the pasture to the tank and back again.

Cattleman turned Grit editor Oscar “Hank” Will III looks forward to stocking his Osage County, Kansas, farm soon with at least three heritage breeds.


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Post a comment below.

 

CORINNE TALKIN
3/11/2013 10:05:19 PM
Also have Dexters, a Highland heifer and a couple of heifer Kingshires (lowline mix between Herford, Dexter and Angus). We just tested our bull for the gene and no problem. Also we have bred our bull to the Kingshires and our Highland for very adorable and hardy babies---especially with the Highland. Found that these animals are calm, hardy and curious. Great on the land and will eat many things I had read cattle won't eat (heads off thistles).

Denise
6/19/2009 11:40:33 PM
We have Dexters. They are a wonderful little cow that is perfect for the small holding and the beginner. However, I must object to the way you say that the dwarf gene hasn't been 100% bred out. Sure there can be a problem if two carriers are bred. To avoid this know if the animals you intend to breed are carriers or not, and don't breed to another carrier unless you have to or you really want the blood line. Not everyone wants to breed the gene out totally. It is good to know if your animal is a carrier, but just because an animal is a carrier doesn't mean it's not just as good as the non carrier animals.








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