Heritage cattle breeds are valued for their ancestry as well as their distinctive physical triats, which make their meat and milk stand out from conventional cattle products. These in-depth profiles detail the history and characteristics of various heritage cattle breeds.
The Ayrshire cow is medium sized (50 to 53 inches tall when standing) and has a red-and-white combination coat that can be anywhere from white with red spots to mostly red. Breeders admire the Ayrshire cow for their low-cost, grass-based dairy production.
The American Devon, sometimes called the Beef Devon, is noted for its ability to gain and grow on grass alone. The breed also tolerates heat, especially the bulls, which maintain excellent fertility even in high temperatures. Despite a history of triple purpose — beef, milk and draft — the modern American Devon is primarily a beef breed.
Irish native Dexter cows are best raised as a family cow instead of part of a large herd, and breeders should also be aware of “dwarf factor” genetics. When a Dexter heifer has a calf, she'll probably produce 1 to 2 gallons of milk a day.
Dutch Belted Cattle
Dutch Belt or Dutch Belted cattle originate from Holland and are known for their high quality milk production and distinctive coat — jet black or red with a white belt from the shoulders to the hips that wraps entirely around its midsection.
Galloway cattle mature quickly and produce a lean beef on a diet of grass and fewer grains. The Galloway's coat is said to have more hair than any other domestic breed. It keeps the cattle warm and dry in winter and is shed off during summers.
The Guernsey cow is a British dairy breed with a great reputation as a milk producer. The Guernsey is an excellent choice for grass-based dairying or other less intensive farming techniques.
Highland cattle are suitable for rough terrain and harsh climates and are primarily a beef breed. Because of their heavy hair coat, Highland cattle deposit less fat under the skin. Highland beef is considered distinctive and lean.
Milking Devon Cattle
The Milking Devon is a triple-purpose breed that thrives on rough, hilly pasture. Under dairy conditions, Milking Devons can produce up to 12,000 pounds of milk annually with 5 percent butterfat.
Milking Shorthorn Cattle
The Milking Shorthorn is a heritage breed that efficiently produces milk high in protein. The Milking Shorthorn is renowned for more unassisted calvings, higher protein levels, better feed efficiency, and greater longevity than many other dairy breeds.
Randall Blue Lineback Cattle
The Randall Blue Lineback breed is good-natured and intelligent, and they're perfectly suited to alternative agriculture systems. Although these cows are capable of greater production, one Randall Blue cow averaged 10,000 pounds of milk on pasture in the summer and hay in the winter with absolutely no supplementary feeding.
Red Poll Cattle
Red Poll cattle have a reputation for being easy to handle because of their calm dispositions. Red Polls are early maturing cattle that produce a choice carcass of about 650 to 700 pounds at fourteen months.
Our thanks to Yale University Press for their kind permission to post these profiles from The Encyclopedia of Historic and Endangered Livestock and Poultry Breeds (Copyright 2001 by Yale University), by Janet Vorwald Dohner. This 500-page book is a definitive reference about heritage livestock, describing the history and characteristics of almost 200 breeds of poultry, cattle, pigs, goats, sheep and horses. The Encyclopedia of Historic and Endangered Livestock and Poultry Breeds is available on Amazon.
Photo courtesy of American Red Poll Association