Kerry cattle are indigenous to Ireland and are one of the oldest European breeds of cattle. They get their name from the county of Kerry where it was widely popular. The Kerry descends from the ancient, fine-boned, black Celtic cattle (Celtic Shorthorn) that occupied Ireland at the time of Caesar’s invasion of Britain.
According to the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, the Kerry was one of the most prevalent cattle in Ireland prior to the 17th century but was unknown outside of its native land. The importation of other cattle breeds and crossbreeding during the 1800s led to a breed population decline in Ireland. Pure Kerry cattle were left isolated in the impoverished southwestern regions of Ireland where their ability to thrive and grow on meager forage under harsh conditions made them an important asset to poor farmers.
Kerry cattle were first brought to the US (Pennsylvania) in 1818, but the breed never became widely popular. A small population exists today from re-importations of cattle and semen beginning in the 1960s. The breed is considered globally rare, and the population in North America could help re-establish the breed if the larger populations in the UK and Ireland are lost. North American Kerry breeders work with the Kerry Cattle Society in Ireland (who registers stock) to conserve these rare cattle.
Kerry cattle and Dexter cattle are two distinct Irish breeds. They were once registered in the same herdbook, which led to the confusing belief that the Dexter was no more than a dwarf version of the Kerry. Genetic studies have shown that the two are distinct breeds.
Kerry cattle are solid black with a small amount of white allowed on the underline. They’re small and lean, with cows averaging 800 lbs. and bulls 1,000 lbs. The cattle are fine-boned with delicate heads and upswept, lyre-shaped white horns with black tips, although some farmers choose to dehorn their cattle. They’re active grazers and browsers, hardy and long-lived, often continuing to be productive milking cattle into their teens. Their meat is also reputed to be delicious and of good quality.
Kerry cows are robust mothers that have little to no difficulty calving. They produce an average of 5,000 to 7,000 lbs. of milk in a lactation period, although there are many cows capable of yielding over 10,000 lbs. The globules of butterfat in the milk are smaller than those from most dairy breeds, making the milk more easily digested by people. Kerry milk is also well suited for cheese, yoghurt, and ice cream production.
Their agility, light weight, and small size allow them to navigate on inhospitable terrain, and they don’t cause as much damage to wet winter grazing fields as their larger cousins. Although a good fit for small farms, the active nature and extreme rarity of Kerry cattle make them best suited for intermediate to experienced cattle farmers. This beautiful breed is worth saving and is in need of new and dedicated stewards.
Did you know:
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