Rare and Heritage Cattle Breeds
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
- Milking Shorthorn
Fewer than 5,000 surviving animals in the world.
- Red Poll
Fewer than 10,000 surviving animals in the world.
Breeds that have exceeded Watch numbers, but are still in need of monitoring.
- Belted Galloway
- Beef Devon