In the early 1960s Golden Guernsey milk was prized – the Guernsey cow was second only to the Holstein. Today Guernsey numbers continue to fall despite the needed characteristics she has had all along and she is officially a “watch” breed with the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. This designation tells there are fewer than 200 annual registrations in the U.S and an estimated global population less than 2,000. According to some sites this is roughly the same numbers as wild pandas – yet pandas get much attention. The Guernsey is just a cow.
Also on that “watch” list is the Ayrshire, milking Shorthorns and Galloway cattle. Not far up the ranks is the Brown Swiss. Critically endangered is the Kerry, milking Devon, Canadienne and a beef breed, the Florida Cracker. Less than 500 of these animals remain – and they need small farms for existence…they could simply cease to exist.
This is an urgent situation and most of society is blissfully unaware of it. The modern dairy uses the common black and white Holsteins, a breed which for decades has been developed for a high confinement, high grain, high production situation. She is not one for longevity – only highly exceptional cows are 7 or 8 years in the herd. Consumers interested in purchasing milk – or meat – from animals raised on grass are less likely to find it among these confinement animals simply because that has not been a selection trait. She has not needed to walk for hours per day grazing. Even the high butterfat Jersey is often a confinement animal in today’s farm situation. The above breeds, however, CAN supply a good amount of milk on grass. Volume is not everything.
The Guernsey cow is a smaller sized animal, fawn and white or a golden and white color that is very distinctive. Often this high yellow is carried down into the fat of the animal, something that makes her less than appealing to many as a beef producer. She was developed as a grazing animal on a small island in the English Channel, and first brought to the US around September of 1840. Today, with the use of artificial insemination and an aggressive young sire program a young bull might have 1,500 offspring in up to 400 herds across the US. This provides a sound genetic base – but with that the Guernsey needs the other critical thing – demand. Only a demand for products from these less popular animals will truly make keeping them a viable option for more than purists with a love for the breed. The Guernsey is known for producing high butterfat and protein in her milk with 20-30% less feed per pound of milk than larger breeds. She also contributes a high concentration of betacarotene in the milk and adapts to warmer climates. American Guernsey Association, 7614 Slate Ridge Blvd., P.O. Box 666, Reynoldsburg, Ohio 43068-0666. Phone: (614) 864-2409.
The Milking Shorthorn breed was developed when the shorthorn breed split into milking and beef registries. It is said the milking shorthorn comprises best the characteristics for dual purpose – using for milk and meat. The first shorthorns came to the US as “Durhams” in 1783. They were actually known as a “triple purpose” – having not only meat and milk for the early pioneers but also steer calves were trained for draft use as oxen. They are a colorful breed, being red, white, red and white spotted or roan, the latter a mix of red and white that is unique to the shorthorn. The breed’s hardiness and adaptability along with efficient production made them very popular in early America. They are long lived, easy calving and economical to run especially on grass. They are easily managed and an animal that is injured or not kept for breeding is good enough to provide a good amount of meat for the family. More information can be found at the American Milking Shorthorn Society, P.O. Box 449, Beloit, Wisconsin 53512-0449. Phone: (608) 365-3332 or http://www.agdomain.com/web/usmilkingshorthorn
The Scottish developed Ayrshire cow is arguably one of the most efficient grazing cattle on the planet. Said by some to be nervous, the breed was developed to provide milk and meat to smallholders and dairies in their native Scotland. They are red and white, only – although the red varies from light to dark. Color markings vary widely from almost all red to nearly all white often with jagged, flashy spots. They were known for years for their beautiful horns – something unwanted in today’s confinement system. They are ideal for less than ideal conditions as they were developed under tough conditions with rugged terrain and varied climates. The bull calves can be raised as steers, providing meat for farm families. The overall average for the breed is over 12,000 pounds of milk with some herds as high in average as 17,000 pounds of milk. The current world record for an Ayrshire is 37,170 pounds of milk and 1592 pounds of butterfat. Overall the Ayrshire, like the other breeds, can’t compete with confinement developed Holsteins for volume. A pasture as their food source however and she’ll turn the tables on a good many confinement cows.
The Red Poll is at threatened status with the ALBC – another English native developed on tough pasture for both milk and meat. They are naturally polled – that is they do not have horns – and have been in the US since 1873. They’re a smaller breed, good for rougher less than ideal conditions.
The Dutch Belted breed was a dairy breed originally brought to the US by PT Barnum for his famous circus. There were outstanding individuals milking as the breed became better known as one of the supreme dairy producers alive in the early 1900s. A distinct white belt found only in this breed and the belted Galloway (more of a beef breed) makes them easily recognized.
The Kerry, a small breed usually black in color, were developed as a family cow, for longevity. She was expected to produce a calf every year, either females for breeding or the males not needed to breed for meat. She could still be producing at 14-15 years old. Her small size makes her no longer favored and this breed is highly endangered.
The milking Devon, like the milking shorthorn, was originally a triple purpose animal. Her calves are still used for milk, meat and oxen power. Unlike many breeds where the draft purpose was a side benefit the Devonshire cattle were known for their speed, intelligence, strength and willingness to work as well as the ability to adapt to many climates. The Devon cows provided good milk for cream and cheesemaking. Oxen are no longer a main power source and the beautiful red colored horned animals have dwindled, their characteristics of hardy ability to survive on low quality pasture no longer important in a world of high confinement. Because they were developed as working animal and often handled by children the breed is noted for their excellent docile temperament. There is more information at American Milking Devon Association 135 Old Bay Road, New Durham, NH 03855. Phone: 603-859-6611
Can we continue the specialized highly industrial pace of many modern confinement farms? What if consumers demanded something else…what if by way of disaster the qualities these breeds have are needed and they are no longer alive? Our food supply could well be saved by these animals – we must save them. Using them for food – both milk and meat – and creating a demand for them allows those raising them a means to continue to do so. There are no zoos or conservation places for cattle. Attempts to form one have been met with “great idea!!” but no donations to do so.
These breeds must be conserved. Extinction is forever.