PHOTO: Robert Scarth/Wikimedia Commons
Heidi Strawn
February 4, 2011

Use: Shorthorn cattle were once triple-purpose beef, dairy and draft cattle, but since 1948, there have been two main types of registered Shorthorn cattle: Shorthorns raised for beef and Milking Shorthorns.

History: The Shorthorn is one of the most influential cattle breeds in the history of agriculture. It was among the first livestock breeds to be improved and had one of the first herd books, which was established in 1822.

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Charles and Robert Colling began developing Shorthorn cattle in the Tees River valley of northeastern England during the late 1700s. Shorthorns, then known as Durhams, came to the United States in 1783. Many were subsequently imported to New England where they were treasured for their meat, milk and plowing abilities.

The American Shorthorn Herd Book was first published in 1846. The American Shorthorn Association was formed 26 years later in 1872. The registry originally recorded both dairy- and beef-type cattle in its herd book, but in 1948, breeders of dairy-type Shorthorn cattle formed their own breed association.


Conformation: Both breeds of Shorthorn cattle are usually red or white, often with brindle markings or roaning. Milking Shorthorn bulls weigh between 1,800 and 2,200 pounds, and cows weigh between 1,200 and 1,400 pounds. Beef Shorthorn bulls weigh about the same as Milking Shorthorn bulls, but beef Shorthorn cows are beefier, thus heavier, at 1,450 to 1,800 pounds. Most have small, cream-colored horns, though polled strains exist.


Special Considerations/Notes: Both breeds of Shorthorns are unusually even-tempered. They calve with ease, graze efficiently, and are long-lived and hardy. The average Milking Shorthorn cow produces more than 1,820 gallons of 3.6-percent butterfat in a typical lactation; it’s the quintessential household dairy cow. Shorthorn beef from either breed is close-grained and tasty. Genetic testing has shown that among beef breeds, beef Shorthorns have one of the highest percentages of the tenderness gene. Milking Shorthorns are listed as critically endangered, not only by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy but by rare-breed societies in Canada, Britain and Australia.

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