The Native Milking Shorthorn

Add heritage to your herd and improve production with the dual-purpose qualities of Native Milking Shorthorns.

  • Milking Shorthorn
    One of the most versatile breeds, the Milking Shorthorn is disease resistant and can produce large amounts of high-quality milk.
    Photo by Lynne M. Stone
  • Durham Ox
    The famous "Durham Ox" toured around Britain with his owner, raising awareness for the Shorthorn breed in the early 1800s.
    Photo by Wiki Media: John Boultbee
  • milking shorthorn calf
    Milking Shorthorns can be easily identified by their coat patterns. The co-dominant appearance of red and white will often result in the presentation of roan coloration, as seen in the coat of the Milking Shorthorn calf featured above.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Courtney
  • Norris Albaugh
    Norris Albaugh discusses his heritage breed efforts with The Livestock Conservancy's Executive Director, Alison Martin.
    Photo by Jeannette Beranger
  • mineral salt supplement
    Commercial mineral salt supplement blocks, such as this, can be a nice addition to herd diet but may not supply your cattle with all of the minerals they need.
    Photo by Getty Images/Jacqueline Nix

  • Milking Shorthorn
  • Durham Ox
  • milking shorthorn calf
  • Norris Albaugh
  • mineral salt supplement

One of the unsung heroes of heritage livestock farming is Norris Albaugh. He has dedicated his life to bringing back an important historic cattle breed — the Native Milking Shorthorn. I had the great pleasure of meeting Norris in 2011 in my role as senior program manager for The Livestock Conservancy. Norris’ passion to produce high-quality Shorthorns that are robust and most importantly, profitable, helped change my outlook on cattle breeding.

Establishing Breed Standards

The Milking Shorthorn breed was first developed in the 1700s in the county of Durham in northeastern England. These cattle are fairly large, with bulls weighing 2,000 pounds or more, and cows averaging from 1,200 to 1,500 pounds. These fast growing animals are dual-purpose, for either milk or beef. They can be solid white, or red, or any combination of the two. Because of their easygoing temperament, Milking Shorthorns make excellent oxen, even for beginners.

Despite its popularity in the past, the genetically true Milking Shorthorn breed is currently listed as critically endangered by The Livestock Conservancy. The decline of the historic purebred Shorthorn began in the 1950s. The Shorthorn herdbook — the breed registry — was opened at that time, making it possible for many purebreds to be crossed with other breeds for “improvement.” This created the modern Beef Shorthorn that’s popular among Midwestern ranchers. These animals are no longer the true genetic Milking Shorthorn and are more specialized for beef production, rather than being dual-purpose.

Thankfully, there were dedicated farmers who refused to cross their beloved Shorthorns, and they continued to keep purebred lines. These animals and their descendants are managed by the American Milking Shorthorn Society. They’re designated separately from the Beef Shorthorns by having the word “Native” on their registration to identify them as the original, uncrossed, dual-purpose cattle breed.

The Famous “Durham Ox”

The famous “Durham Ox” (also called the “Durham Bull”) helped to solidify the Native Milking Shorthorn as a British icon. The massive ox was born in 1796 and grew to more than 3,000 pounds! He was used by his owners to promote the breed throughout England and Scotland, and was seen by tens of thousands of people. His fame spread like wildfire and made Shorthorns in high demand by the early 1800s.

The breed was considered the height of achievement for early improvement of production traits first pioneered by Robert Bakewell with British Longhorn cattle. The Shorthorn breed surpassed the success of the British Longhorn, and its influence on other breeds still resonates in many of today’s cattle.

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