Randall Blue Lineback Cattle: Heritage Livestock Breeds

A unique heritage livestock breed, the Randall Blue Lineback Cattle are known as a high-quality dairy cow that can produce a good quantity of milk from a diet of pasture grasses. Docile and intelligent, a few herds of Lineback cattle were long held or closed. The Randall family of Arlington, Vermont, maintained a closed dairy herd of Lineback cattle for more than eighty years. The family had originally owned a Guernsey milking herd, and some Guernsey breeding was incorporated into the Randall strain of Lineback cattle early in its existence. However, it is believed that Randall Lineback cattle represent the original New England Lineback type that was multipurpose in use for dairy, meat, and draft.

After Everett Randall retired from dairying, the entire herd of bulls, cows, and calves was pastured together for about fifteen years. Following the herd’s dispersal in 1985, the cattle could have easily been lost to slaughter. Through the efforts of Robert Gear, Cynthia Creech, and other ALBC members, most of these cattle are now safely in the hands of a small group of like-minded breeders.

Blood-typing studies have revealed that this herd is uniquely isolated from other dairy breeds. These studies indicate a Dutch origin to the cattle with some addition of English and Channel Island or Brittany cattle, which is consistent with the history of the strain.

The ALBC regards these cattle as a landrace breed now called the Randall Blue Lineback. Some Randall Linebacks were originally also registered in the American Lineback herd book. The current owners of Randall Blue cattle are following a coordinated breeding program designed by Dr. Phillip Sponenberg, and the registry is maintained by the ALBC. The total breeding population was about 47 animals in 1995 but today numbers about 90. Cynthia Creech of Tennessee owns the largest herd, but small breeding groups are being established elsewhere, including Canada.

Fortunately, this small breeding group shows great variability and has maintained vigor, soundness, and fertility. The owners are encouraging hardiness, forage efficiency, and self-reliance through their management practices. The Randall Blue is an excellent low input or grass-based dairy cow with a good udder. 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. Randall Blues are also noticeably friendly, good-natured cows that also exhibit a strong native intelligence.

Randall Blue cattle are color-sided with spotting, or brockling. Most were dark or blue-black in color when Cynthia Creech began managing the herd. A range from light to dark is now appearing, including a solid black calf. An orange-red color similar to the Guernsey also historically appeared in the herd but is not currently expressed. There are two types or families within the population and a third type that exhibits traits from each family. The blue-colored animals tend to be larger with good dairy conformation similar to an Ayrshire or a Milking Shorthorn. The white horns of this type are long and tipped in black. A smaller, fine-boned type is also dairy in appearance with shorter, elegantly curved horns. The remaining cattle tend to appear more dual-purpose in conformation, though small in size. Their horns are shorter, and the face is shorter and broader. Randall Blue steers are also attractive working oxen.

The Randall Lineback, or just Randall Blue as some breeders prefer, is a unique group well deserving of preservation efforts. A more formal organization of owners would benefit this breed and will probably evolve as more individuals are able to purchase cattle for breeding herds. Randall Blue breeders are stressing that the main attribute of their breed is functionality, although owners are mainly using them in cow calf operations. There is only one dairy herd, owned by Phillip Lang of Connecticut. There is a need for more owners to both breed and use these cattle for their original dairy purpose. The Randall Blue can certainly make a contribution to alternative agricultural systems.

Our thanks to Yale University Press for their kind permission to post this profile 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 at Amazon.