- Shorthorn is a British cattle breed that is establishing itself well in Ireland. It was first noticed in the north-east of England around the 1700s, and through genetic diversity, the breed actually split definitively into the Dairy Shorthorn and the slightly bigger Beef Shorthorn! Although there are minor differences between the two types, both Shorthorns share many of the same characteristics and qualities.
- The cattle’s coat is usually a mix of red, roan or white. However, there’s a strain of Shorthorn that has been bred to be completely and consistently white! The Shorthorn’s feet and legs have good structure, with very few problems.
- Bulls usually weigh around 990kg while cows weigh about 800kg, making them a medium-sized animal.
- Contradictory to their name, some Shorthorns are naturally polled! Different bloodlines have an effect on whether or not these cattle will have horns, so it’s important to choose the right one for your farm. Some owners may not wish to go through the process of dehorning cattle, but it can be dangerous if livestock are in close proximity.
- Shorthorns have no problems with the Irish weather, considering they have been bred in England where the environment is extremely similar. A temperate oceanic climate with no extreme temperature changes is not likely to pose a problem for the Shorthorn!
- They have great longevity, which helps farmers who worry about the cost of herd replacements. Some dairy cows are known to produce about 5 lactations in their lifetime, making them very profitable.
- Shorthorn cows are docile, and easy to milk! This pleasant temperament is ideal for farmers who wish to run a smooth operation. However, dams have well-developed mothering instincts, and this can sometimes be both an advantage and disadvantage. Protected calves are an excellent reassurance, but aggressive cows can be dangerous to farmers and visitors. Shorthorn bulls are considered much quieter than other breeds. However, in the case of bulls, caution is always to be taken regardless of reputation. It may be a good idea to take a look at our article on Bull Safety to remind yourself of good protocol in dealing with these animals.
- Calving is fairly easy for this breed, with over 95% of births needing no assistance whatsoever. This can be comforting to farmers who worry about the tricky birthing process, especially when there’s only one person working on the farm! Calves are usually small, born at a weight of about 38kg, and cows can breed again in a relatively short time compared to other breeds!
- Bulls have high libidos and are aggressive breeders, while the breed generally has excellent fertility. Heifers reach puberty quite early at about 359 days old!
- Shorthorns have good disease-resistance and immune systems; essential for keeping a healthy herd. Cases of mastitis and lameness are rare.
- However, there are some genetic problems associated with this breed. One defect is called Tibial Hemimelia (TH), and this is caused by an abnormal gene in some strains of Shorthorn. It causes calves to suffer from serious deformities in their legs, joints, skulls, and abdomens. It’s usually fatal, as affected calves are unable to suckle. However, since the gene is recessive, it should only surface when both the sire and dam are carriers. Keep this in mind when breeding your Shorthorn cattle!
- Pulmonary Hypoplasia with Anasarca (PHA) was also discovered in quite a few Shorthorn calves, whereby excess fluid builds up in the body. Under-developed lungs can also be a problem for calves born with PHA.
- The cattle are natural grazers, and convert feed to beef and milk with great efficiency. 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!
- The dairy qualities of the Shorthorn are praised, as they have high yields with some cows producing around 8,000kg of milk per lactation. Their milk also has a decent ratio of protein against fat.
- With regards to beef production, these cattle are well-liked for their efficient weight gain and suitability for low-input systems. They also finish quite early, which is an advantage for farmers wishing to produce in a short, intense period. Shorthorn beef is nicely marbled, adding to its tenderness, and the average yield of carcasses is about 60.5%.
If you’d like to learn more, take a look at the Irish Shorthorn Society 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.
Photo Credit: Robert Scarth, Wikimedia Commons