15 Things You Should Know About Kerry Cattle!


15 Things You Should Know About Kerry Cattle!

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  • The Kerry cattle breed is generally considered to be a special and quite rare animal. They originated in County Kerry, of course, and are used primarily for milk production. In fact, Kerry cattle are known as the first breed ever to be bred solely for dairy.
  • Some say that the breed is actually among the oldest in the world! Kerry cattle probably descended from an ancient form of Celtic Shorthorn, and first examples of their use in Ireland date back to 2000 BC!
  • There aren’t many Kerry cattle left in the world, and they’re considered by some as an endangered breed. There are a few herds in Ireland and the UK, and even some in North America. The USA breeders often collaborate with Irish owners to help protect the breed.
  • These cattle are totally black in colour, but have some white colouring on the udder area.
  • Kerry cattle come from the same ancestral stock as Dexter cattle, and both have their similarities. Dexter, however, is often used as both a dairy and beef cow. As well as this, Dexter cattle are slightly shorter and blockier than the Kerry breed. Experts say that the two breeds, after historical genetic separation, are now distinctly different and are not recommended to be crossbred to each other.
  • Kerry cattle are a horned breed, although some strains have actually been bred as polled! Farmers should think carefully on this point, as horned livestock in close proximity to other animals can sometimes be risky. However, some owners may not wish to go through the effort of dehorning their herd. When horns are allowed to grow, they are white in colour with darker tips.
  • This breed is known for its small stature! Bulls only reach about 450kg while cows can reach about 400kg. They’re fine-boned with light frames, while still producing a fair amount of beef for farmers wishing to go down that route.
  • Since the breed originates in the south-west of Ireland, they are optimised to thrive on our landscape. High rainfall and tricky terrains are no problem for Kerry cattle. Their hooves do not damage moisture-sodden soils as much as heavier breeds. During cold winters, their coat adapts and grows longer, insulating them sufficiently.
  • They have a pleasant temperament, and even bulls are considered to be quite docile. However, it’s vitally important that farmers take caution around all bulls, regardless of breed! Read our article on Bull Safety for more information on steering clear of danger.
  • Despite being a relatively safe breed, they are extremely agile and very active. Some farmers may consider this trait to be a bit of a hindrance; in this case, Kerry cattle might be more suited to experienced breeders!
  • They have long and quite healthy lives, meaning that farmers can spend less on herd replacements. This also means that more lactations can be gotten from each cow!
  • On average, a Kerry cow will produce about 3,000-3,700kg of milk in one lactation. Some cows are even known to produce nearer to 4,500kg! Their milk is of a very high quality, and the butterfat content is about 4%. It’s ideal for cheese, ice-cream and yoghurt production, due to the smaller fat globules that allow easy digestion in humans.
  • They calve regularly, even at 15 years of age! The birthing process is relatively uncomplicated, since the pelvic shape of Kerry cows is spacious for the passage of calves.
  • When rearing Kerry cattle, however, bullocks may take more time to mature. On average, they take about 4-6 months longer compared to other breeds.
  • Luckily for owners of Kerry cattle, there are a number of schemes in place to support the breed’s success. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine have certain measures in place as part of their ‘Conservation of Animal Genetic Resource’. Through the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF), help is available for the Kerry breed as well some other livestock types. On the Department’s website, it states that “a grant of €86.18 per calf registered in the Kerry Cattle herdbook is paid to herd owners with 5 or more breeding females that are bred pure. Further details may be obtained from Livestock Breeding Division, Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Food, Farnham St., Cavan.”

If you’d like to learn more, take a look at the Kerry Cattle Society’s website.

For a more general overview of how to choose a breed that suits your farm, you can also read our article on Beef Cattle: Choosing the Right Breed for You.

Image Source: Wikipedia

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