Inspiration for the formation of The Livestock Conservancy; good option for a family cow; able to thrive in rough conditions
Country of Origin: United States
MILKING DEVON CATTLE
In the mid-1970s, during preparation for the American Bicentennial Celebration, Old Sturbridge Village and Plimoth Plantation attempted to upgrade the authenticity of their agricultural interpretation by exhibiting appropriate breeds documented in their respective archives. The historic documentation indicated that Milking Devon cattle should be one of the centerpiece breeds. The difficulty in finding this once-popular breed was the inspiration for the creation of the first North American livestock conservation organization, which has become The Livestock Conservancy.
Devon cattle come from the southwestern peninsula of England, where the breed was developed over several centuries. The name comes from Devonshire, though similar cattle were also raised in the neighboring counties of Cornwall, Somerset, and Dorset. Devons were valued both for the production of high-quality beef and the rich milk used to make Devonshire cream. They were also regarded as the quickest and most active oxen in the British Isles, reputed to trot at six miles per hour while pulling empty wagons. The breed had the reputation as an easy keeper, able to thrive on rough forage.
Milking Devon Bull
The Pilgrims brought Devon cattle with them to New England beginning in 1623. Devons were readily available near the ports of departure from England, and the hardiness and practicality of the breed made them an obvious choice for American settlers. The breed became well established in New England during the 1600s and were taken down the coast as far as Florida during the 1700s and 1800s. They also went west, as Devon oxen were among the draft animals of choice on the Oregon Trail. Devon herd books have been published since 1855.
By the late 1800s, the Devon had gradually been replaced by the Shorthorn, a more productive multi-purpose breed. By 1900, Devons were rarely seen outside of New England. It was only in this region that the breed remained popular for the qualities in which it was superior to the Shorthorn: its hardiness and ability to thrive under rugged conditions.
However, during the mid-20th century the breed faced pressure to specialize as a beef animal, and this population is now called the Devon, Beef Devon, or Red Devon. A small group of breeders disagreed with this trend and founded a separate organization to preserve dairy and draft traits in their cattle. Although this organization later disbanded, many of the genetic stocks were saved and in 1978 the American Milking Devon Association was formed to record and conserve the original, colonial-type cattle. The persistence of these New England dairy farmers and teamsters protected the breed from extinction.
Milking Devon cattle are red with black-tipped white horns. Cattle are medium in size, with cows averaging 1,100 lbs. and bulls 1,600 lbs. The appearance is compact yet fine, with a straight topline, square set legs, and well-formed udders. They typically have very few calving difficulties as they have small calves, though the calves are large and fat at weaning. Their milk is similar in quality to that of the Jersey but without the need for grain supplementation, and many are very productive milkers for the family farm.
As a triple-purpose breed, Milking Devons are still prized as draft animals. They are well adapted to low-input management schemes and harsh environments. The breed is a favorite exhibition animal at historic sites because of its attractiveness and well-documented history. This breed is in need of additional stewards and should be considered by those who are interested in raising multi-purpose cattle or who want a family cow.
Did you know:
The Livestock Conservancy is America’s leading organization working to save over 190 heritage breeds from extinction. We rely on the support of our members, grants, and donations from the public to raise the $1 million needed each year to maintain our conservation work with rare breeds of farm animals. Click here to learn how you can help.