Great Grassfed Heritage Cattle Breeds

These grassfed heritage cattle breeds will turn your grazing acres into meat, milk, and money.


| July/August 2012


Cattle have been a familiar part of the American agricultural landscape for centuries. In the last 75 years, however, most farmers have used just a handful of breeds for milk and meat production. During this time, the world lost about 25 percent of its cattle breeds, many of which were more suited to pasturing on a small farm or homestead than being grainfed. As the benefits of grassfed milk and beef become increasingly recognized, more and more small farmers are turning to rare heritage cattle breeds for their hardiness, ease of care, and ability to efficiently produce meat and milk on a small area of forage. Here are some exceptional historic heritage cattle breeds that might fit well into your farming operation, whether you have an acre or a section.

Ayrshire

Status: Watch 

Great for grass-based dairying, the Ayrshire breed combines beauty and utility to meet a farmer’s needs. The breed takes its name from southwest Scotland’s Ayr County where it was developed to excel on the rough, rocky terrain and in the drenching rains typical of the region. Scottish farmers purposefully developed the Ayrshire as a standardized breed. Many of these farmers depended on milk to make cheeses for market and to feed their families, and they wanted a rustic, hardy breed that was a reliable producer of quality milk.

The breed was first imported to the United States in the 1830s, and its popularity grew quickly, especially in the New England area. In the mid-20th century, as Holsteins and other “improved” breeds were introduced to the dairy world, the Ayrshire lost favor.



Today, the Ayrshire is regaining popularity. With its active, alert disposition, the Ayrshire makes an agile grazer that produces up to 20,000 pounds of milk per year. The breed is known for its long, productive life span, giving the farmer many profitable years of quality milk. The Ayrshire has a stylish appearance, sporting a white base-coat with dark red to reddish-brown spots and freckles. The breed has handsome, lyre-shaped horns, excellent udders, and sturdy feet and legs. Ayrshires are medium-sized cattle ranging from 1,100 to 1,600 pounds. The breed is often found in the North Atlantic states, but its adaptability makes it suitable for both warm and cold climates.

As niche markets for artisan cheeses and milk products continue to grow, the Ayrshire breed is riding the wave back into the limelight. Their bovine beauty, ability to graze well and high-quality milk make them an ideal fit for small-scale dairies, particularly those interested in making cheese.







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