Devon Cattle

These red-colored cattle offer beef producers a superb product; they're especially appealing to farmers on the grass-fed or organic plan.

by Dani Yokhna

Use: Devons are hardy, efficient beef cattle noted for producing well-marbled, succulent and flavorful beef on a forage diet, making them a perfect choice for organic and grass-fed beef production. Devon steers dress out at 50-60 percent live weight.

History: There are three breeds of Devon (DEV-un) cattle: beef Devons (they’re called North Devons in their British homeland), South Devons (known as the “orange elephants”, they’re the largest of all British breeds), and Milking Devons. Devons are the modern beef version of the ancient Milking Devon, while South Devons are unrelated to the other two. Small, red cattle roamed the hills of southwest Britain beginning in ancient times; the Romans wrote about them as early as 55 B.C. Developed as triple-purpose draft, milk, and meat cattle, they were frequently carried by settlers to foreign lands; this was due to their own merits but also because the seaports of Devon and Cornwall were the last ports of call for sailing ships departing for Britain’s colonies abroad. In 1623 the British ship Charity brought “red cattle”, one bull and three heifers, to Edward Winslow, agent for Plymouth Colony, making Devons the first British cattle to set hoof on American soil. Cattle became an important source of wealth in the colony; the average cow sold for £28 in 1638. So valuable were they that in 1627 Edward Winslow “sold unto Capt. Myles Standish his sixth share in the red cow”, indicating that one cow was often shared by several families. There was a great need for draft oxen throughout the colonies and Devon oxen perfectly filled the bill. They were strong, calm, willing, and they worked at a good, honest pace, traits that endear them to oxen teamsters even today. Cows gave rich, high-butterfat milk perfect for crafting cheese and butter. Spent oxen and milk cows were eaten and excess young stock was raised for beef. Devons remained triple-purpose cattle until 1952, when the American Devon Cattle Association decided to take the breed in a new direction. By selecting primarily for beef qualities they felt they could breed Devons that were longer, taller, and trimmer, while accelerating their rate of maturity. One group, however, wanted to keep the ancient breed exactly as it was; in this manner the Milking Devon breed was formed.

Conformation: Devons are invariably red. A deep, blood red color described as ruby red is the preferred hue (this is why fanciers call Devons the Red Rubies). Their muzzles are flesh-colored and they have slightly lighter colored patches of hair around their eyes. The tail switch is creamy white and their skin, yellow-orange. Beef Devons come in both horned and polled varieties. Modern beef Devons are intermediate- to large-size size cattle. Cows weigh 950-1300 pounds; bulls fall into the 1700-2200 pound range.

Special Considerations/Notes: Devons adapt to every climate extreme with ease; cows are milky, maternal, and calving problems are all but nil; and Devons are extremely fertile. If you’re looking for a hardy, good-natured, long-lived breed for forage-based beef production, you simply can’t go wrong with red Devons.

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