A Field Guide to Heritage Cattle

Read the following and you soon may have a cow – and a hand in keeping livestock history alive.

| July/August 2007

  • LEAD
    Belted Galloway
    Courtesy Anderson Hill Farm, www.AndersonHill.com
  • Ankoli-watusi
    Ankole-Watusi: Blood circulating through the Ankole-Watusi’s large horns help keep it cool.
    Courtesy Becky Lundgren, La Dorada Ranch, www.LaDorada.com
  • AncientWhitePark
    Ancient White Park: This ancient breed was once a popular ornament used often to decorate English country estates.
    Courtesy Wes Henthorne, B Bar Ranch
  • beltedgalloway
    Belted Galloway: The Belted Galloway’s white belt likely came from Dutch Lakenvelder cattle in the early 18th century.
    Courtesy Anderson Hill Farm, www.AndersonHill.com
  • BritishWhite
    British White: Grain-fattened British White steers often produce 90 percent combined choice and prime beef cuts.
    Photograph by Julie Atkinson, www.JAPhotographic.com
  • dairyshorthorn
    Milking Shorthorn: The first Shorthorns arrived in Virginia in 1783.
    Courtesy the Shorthorn Society of UK and Ireland, www.Shorthorn.co.uk
  • devon
    Devon: The first Devon cattle in North America landed at Plymouth Colony (Massachusetts) in 1623.
    Courtesy American Devon Cattle Association
  • DutchBelted
    Dutch Belted: Showman P.T. Barnum was one of the first Americans to import Dutch Belted cattle.
    Courtesy Winifred Hoffman, Dutch Belted Cattle Assoc. of America
  • Dexter
    Dexter: Dexter cows produce one to two gallons of milk per day on average.
    Photograph by Patrice Lewis
  • galloway
    Galloway: The Galloway is an ancient beef breed that originated in the borderland hills between England and Scotland.
    Courtesy Judy Decker, American Galloway Breeders Association
  • EnglishLonghorn
    English Longhorn: English Longhorns may be related to Texas Longhorns through an ancient Hamitic Longhorn ancestor.
    Courtesy The Longhorn Cattle Society
  • FloridaCracker
    Florida Cracker: Florida’s Cracker breed was the basis of a thriving beef business in Florida into the 1950s.
    Courtesy Timothy A. Olson
  • milkingdevon
    Milking Devon: Milking Devon cows can produce more than 12,000 pounds of milk in a single lactation.
    Courtesy American Milking Devon Cattle Association
  • Highland
    Highland: Highland cattle descended from Neolithic stock brought to Britain during the second millennium B.C.
    Courtesy Dave Van Antwerp, www.WildRoseMeadows.com
  • MUSTBrahman
    This Brahman bull exhibits many qualities that define a zebu, including excess skin.
    iStockPhoto.com/Linda & Colin McKie
  • Kerry
    Kerry: Once the most important dairy breed in western Ireland, Kerry cows produced up to four gallons of milk a day.
    Courtesy the Plimoth Plantation, www.Plimoth.org
  • RedPoll
    Red Poll: Once prized for its milking characteristics, the Red Poll in America is now officially a beef breed.
    Photograph by Jeannette Beranger, courtesy of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy
  • Randall
    Randall or Randall Lineback: The Randall Lineback is Vermont’s first official state heritage breed.
    Courtesy Phil Lang, www.HowlandHomesteadFarm.com
  • Pineywoods
    Pineywoods: American Indians and settlers used Pineywoods cattle for power, meat, milk and hides.
    Courtesy Mary Penick, Kerr Ctr for Sustainable Agriculture, www.KerrCenter.com
  • Rodeo
    Brahman and Brahman-cross bulls are eager participants on the professional rodeo circuit.
    iStockPhoto.com/Sarah Burns
  • TexasLonghorn
    Texas Longhorn: On the brink of extinction in 1927, the Texas Longhorn was saved with a $3,000 Federal appropriation.
    iStockPhoto.com/Bob Ainsworth

  • LEAD
  • Ankoli-watusi
  • AncientWhitePark
  • beltedgalloway
  • BritishWhite
  • dairyshorthorn
  • devon
  • DutchBelted
  • Dexter
  • galloway
  • EnglishLonghorn
  • FloridaCracker
  • milkingdevon
  • Highland
  • MUSTBrahman
  • Kerry
  • RedPoll
  • Randall
  • Pineywoods
  • Rodeo
  • TexasLonghorn

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.

Karen
4/19/2015 1:44:16 PM

what is the best cattle for a small farm of 11 acres. I want to graze farm. Do the Heritage Cattle have grants to start this type farm? What are the benefits to having a heritage farm?


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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