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Rare and Heritage Cattle Breeds

Updated on December 4, 2010

Everybody knows that whales are endangered, but relatively few people know that there are many breeds of livestock that are endangered as well, some of them critically.

The cattle industry is dominated almost entirely by three main breeds: Hereford and Angus for meat and Holstein for dairy.

These breeds are specialized for their purpose and well suited to commercial production. However, they may not be the best choice for homesteaders and small farmers.

For farmers who want a small herd, heritage breeds may be a better choice. Many heritage breeds are dual purpose, meaning they produce both good milk and good meat. Most were also specially bred for life on small farms. They are typically hardier, healthier, better foragers, and better mothers than their more commercial relatives.

Dutch Belted cow, by Hans S
Dutch Belted cow, by Hans S
White Park cow, by me'nthedogs
White Park cow, by me'nthedogs
Devons, by RobAtSGH
Devons, by RobAtSGH
Florida Cracker cattle, by Twodimes
Florida Cracker cattle, by Twodimes
Kerry cow and calf,by mozzercork
Kerry cow and calf,by mozzercork

Critically Endangered Cattle Breeds

The following breeds are listed by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) as "critically endangered," meaning that there is an estimated global population of less than 2000 animals:

Dutch Belted

One of the handsomest and most distinctive cattle breeds around, the Dutch Belted is easily recognizable by the wide white stripe around its belly. The rest of the animal is black or red. Dutch Belted Cattle are a dairy breed whose European population was hit hard by World War 2. In the United States, it was nearly eradicated in the national dairy herd reduction programs of the 1980s. Recently, they have experienced a revival of interest, especially among grass-based dairy farmers, but the population remains critically small, with less than 1000 animals known to survive in the world.

Dutch Belteds are reknowned for their long productive lifespans, with cows often producing well into their teens.

Ancient White Park

Cattle matching the description of Ancient White Parks were first mentioned in Ireland more than 2,000 years ago. They were also mentioned in late medieval Welsh texts. Curiously, they share little genetic connection with any other British breed.

In Britain a small population survives in both domesticated and semi-feral herds, most famously at Chillingham. There is a breeding population of about 50 in the United States.

Ancient White Parks produce excellent quality meat and are hardy and efficient foragers.

Florida Cracker

One of the oldest breeds in America, Florida Crackers are descended from cows brought over by the Spanish conquistadores. The Spanish established largely free-ranging herds of cattle during their exploration of Florida and the resulting breed of cattle emerged extremely heat tolerant, long-lived, and resistant to pesticides and diseases. Florida Crackers are also productive even on poor quality forage and make fine mothers.

Milking Devon

Despite their names, both Milking Devons and related Beef Devons (a recovering breed) are dual purpose cattle, producing good quality milk and meat. They are also renowned as excellent oxen. The Pilgrims brought Devon Cattle with them on the Mayflower and the breed has been established in America ever since, though its population had been steadily declining since the late 19th century, until a recent revival of interest. Milking Devons are hardy and perform well on poor quality forage.

Kerry

Another good dual purpose breed, the Kerry is small, but hardy and long-lived. The cows are excellent mothers. Kerry milk is especially well suited to cheese production.

More Endangered Cattle Species

Critical

  • Canadienne
  • Milking Shorthorn
  • Pineywoods
  • Randall

Threatened

Fewer than 5,000 surviving animals in the world.

  • Red Poll

Watch

Fewer than 10,000 surviving animals in the world.

  • Ayrshire
  • Galloway
  • Guernsey

Recovering

Breeds that have exceeded Watch numbers, but are still in need of monitoring.

  • Ankole-Watusi
  • Belted Galloway
  • Beef Devon
  • Dexter
  • Highland

Comments

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    • profile image

      Audrey M 2 years ago

      Is the white park the same breed as the british white?

    • profile image

      Alice 6 years ago

      If cows going to be extinct then I can't drink any milk.

    • profile image

      Ed 6 years ago

      There is a reason why they are rare although the farm animal genetics are worth conserving. It can take a very long time compared to a commercial breed to produce a carcuss. Horned animals are harder to handle and transport. There ok for a hobby and they do taste nice but so does good quality commercials.

    • profile image

      Eli 6 years ago

      How many belted cows are in the us?

    • Chapter profile image

      Chapter 7 years ago from Indonesia

      great cattle. we should conserve them.

    • profile image

      Andrew Ferris 7 years ago

      I am really interested in endangered cattle breeds now!

    • profile image

      manyinterests 8 years ago from North Carolina

      This was great! I used to show Dexters and I want to get into belties!

    • MagicStarER profile image

      MagicStarER 8 years ago from Western Kentucky

      I am so sorry to see Guernseys on this list! Very good job researching. Most people don't know about the danger to our heirloom animals! We need to get the word out! Thanks for writing this!

    • Cindy Letchworth profile image

      Cindy Letchworth 9 years ago from Midwest, U.S.A.

      This is a wonderful piece. I am so fascinated by the ancient breeds. I have seriously thought about raising heritage chickens because of their hardiness, and their longevity, but have yet to do so. Maybe in the future I can fulfill that dream and help the world save the creatures that initially made us strong.

      Thanks for enlightening the world about the cattle situation.

    • The Empire profile image

      The Empire 9 years ago from Napa, CA

      Wow, there is a farm by my house with 5 or 6 Dutch Belted Cattle. I never thought they could be endangered, I just thought they were cool looking!

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