PHOTO: Nick Saltmarsh/Flickr
Heidi Strawn
February 4, 2011

Use: The Red Poll is a rare, exceptionally hardy, dual-purpose cattle breed raised for beef in North America, but it makes a fine household dairy cow, too.

History: Red Polls originated in eastern England, where cattlemen created a medium-sized, all-red, polled (hornless) dual-purpose breed by combining small, hardy, red-and-white, horned beef cattle from Norfolk with red, dun or brindle, polled dairy cattle from Suffolk. Recognized in 1846 as the Norfolk and Suffolk Red Polled cattle, in about 1880 the name was shortened to simply Red Poll.

The first Red Poll cattle were exported to North America in the 1880s. Breeders chartered the American Red Poll Association in 1883, five years before the British society was founded. Importation was a thriving business for a few years, but after 1902 few additional Red Poll cattle were brought over. The Red Poll cattle breed was established in the United States on only about 300 head from Britain. The breed spread from the United States into Canada.

Conformation: Red Poll cows weigh about 1,200 pounds; bulls weigh about 1,800 pounds. The cattle are solid red, though a splash of white on the underline is acceptable. Genetic consistency is the hallmark of this cattle breed and individuals are very uniform.

Special Considerations/Notes: Red Poll cattle are noted for their hardiness, longevity, quiet yet inquisitive demeanor and the ability to thrive on marginal pasture. Calves are born small and grow quickly, making calving problems practically nonexistent. Red Poll meat is fine-grained, tender and tasty, and cows give a good amount of milk for a dual-purpose breed. Red Poll cattle generally produce 1,250 gallons of milk per year through their teens or about 10,000 pounds of meat. In 1933, one Red Poll cow, Florabel, had an 11-year milk total of 108,310 pounds- an all-breed record for the era. The Red Poll is listed as Threatened on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy’s Conservation Priority List, and it’s listed as endangered on the Rare Breeds Canada conservation list.

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