The Dairy Shorthorn, or the Milking Shorthorn as it is known in New Zealand, the US and Canada, is a breed first developed in the UK, from Teeswater and Durham cattle types.
The foundation of the breed came about in the 18th century after brothers, Charlie and Robert Colling, decided to try and improve the Durham breed. They subsequently crossed four of their favourite cows and through an intensive breeding programme developed the Dairy Shorthorn.
A polled breed, they are now one of the most productive dairy cows in the world and has actually been used as the foundation stock for breeds such as Swedish Red, Angelyn and Ayrshire cattle, which is why they all feature the similar red, roan and white colouration.
(Picture Below - ICBF)
But why go with Dairy Shorthorn?
- Versatility - One of the best attributes of the breed, the Dairy Shorthorn breed can adapt to almost any climates and thrive, in fact, making them more than suited to Ireland. They can maintain production levels in pastures of all shapes, types and sizes.
- Disease Resistance/Durable - One costly problem for farmers is medication for their animals and vet bills. This problem is more or less eradicated with Dairy Shorthorns as they are highly disease resistant and rarely succumb to mastitis. Dairy Shorthorns are also a very strong and durable breed, meaning less problems issues such as lameness. They are also known for their superior leg structure and feet.
- Milking Prowess - A highly productive dairy breed, Dairy Shorthorn’s generally produce up to 8,000kgs of milk per lactation with ease. Their milk has a very desirable protein to fat ratio, with cows generally producing milk with a Butterfat content of 3.8% and Protein content of 3.3%. They also produce milk with a low Somatic Cell Count and have a lactation period of approximately 305 days. Most Shorthorn cows can have at least five lactations per lifetime.
- Superior Fertility & Constant Improvements - Known for their excellent fertility, farmers rarely have issues with Shorthorn cows getting in-calf, thus reducing A.I bills. They can also maintain a 356-day calving interval, with milk yield and quality improving with every lactation.
- Efficient feeders - Dairy Shorthorn cows are also efficient converters of forage to milk. They are very efficient grazers, maintaining condition and production levels on most feed types. This makes them more than suitable to low-input dairy systems. One study on Shorthorns found that they have the lowest feed cost per hundredweight of milk and the lowest total dry matter intake per hundredweight of body weight!
- Temperament - Known for their Docile nature, Dairy Shorthorn cattle are suited for regular handling and are often turned into pets. They generally have a calm temperament, though as always, one should remain cautious around new mothers and bulls.
- Easy Calving - An easy calving breed also, what more could you want? A reported 97% of Dairy Shorthorn births require no assistance.
- Beef - Dairy Shorthorn cattle also have their uses in beef production, with mature cows reaching up to 800kgs and bulls topping the scales at up to 990kgs. Although calves are born small, 38kgs, they mature quickly and can even reach maturity and 12-months old. Shorthorn animals usually finish quite early, with well marbled, tender meat at an average carcass yield of 60%!
- Crossbred benefits - If you do not want to go for Purebred Shorthorn cows, crossbreeding can also see some of the desirable traits passed on. The traits usually passed onto offspring include milk quality, ease of calving, temperament and disease resistance.