Heritage Cattle


What is a Heritage cow?

  1. A True Genetic Breed. The breed is a true genetic breed of cattle. That is, when mated together, it reproduces the breed type.
  2. Endangered Breed. The breed is or has been endangered, as defined by the The Livestock Conservancy, and appears on the Conservation Priority List in the Critical, Threatened, Watch, or Recovering categories.
  3. Long History in US. The breed has an established and continuously breeding population in the United States since 1925. If developed since 1925, foundation stock is no longer available. If more recently imported, the breed is globally endangered. (Please refer to The Livestock Conservancy’s criteria for listing on the conservation priority list for details on this).
  4. Purebred Status. Heritage Cattle must be registered purebred animals or immediate offspring of registered purebred animals. Cattle that are the result of a breed association sanctioned grade-up program must have obtained purebred status.

See full definition.

Which breed should I get?
Get a breed that fits your purposes, can help you reach your goals, and fits your geographic and climatic niche. Once you’ve narrowed the field, be sure you’re willing and able to meet the stewardship responsibilities for your breed of choice. The more critically endangered the breed, the greater your responsibility for quality breeding, promotion, and participation in the breed association. For more information about breeds visit Conservation Priority List for cattle, and the websites of the breed associations. Go on a road trip and visit area breeders.

Where can I buy Heritage cattle and products?
It’s not that hard to find heritage cattle. Check the The Livestock Conservancy’s Online Products and Breeders Directory  and Classifieds area on the web.
Join The Conservancy to get a hard copy directory of members who are breeding and selling their animals. Breed associations often have a page dedicated to breeders.

Other Sources
Visit localharvest.org and search by region and breed. EatWild.com is another good resource, but will require some digging to find heritage animal products. Your local farmers market may be the perfect source for Heritage Beef products. Finally, local restaurants are turning more and more to locally produced heritage meats. Some have special evenings featuring a local producer and product. These are great opportunities to taste, support, and celebrate rare breed conservation.

Helpful Terms and Definitions

What are the differences between dairy/beef/multi-purpose breeds?
Dairy breeds produce significantly more milk than beef breeds. And beef breeds produce a meatier, better muscled carcass. A quick look at their bodies will reveal some of these differences. Dairy breeds will have very large udders and their bodies look boney. Beef breeds, when ready for market, look stout. Their backs are often as flat as a table, and their bodies are well covered with muscle, showing no hips or ribs. Multi-purpose breeds are intended to do multiple jobs. A dual purpose breed will typically have respectable milk production and carcass quality for beef. Triple purpose breeds will also serve effectively as draft animals. Multi-purpose breeds will not be the leaders in any single area but can do all the jobs put to it. These are ideal homestead breeds and are among the most endangered.

What is the difference between a standard size, guinea, or mini cow?
These are all terms that are used to describe size. A standard sized cow meets the size requirements as defined by the breed Standard or description. Standard size will vary from breed to breed with some being relatively small in stature and in weight, and others being taller and heavier. A guinea is a naturally occurring dwarf. Some breeds produce these. A mini is a miniaturized version of its larger, standard-sized counterparts. Miniaturization can be accomplished by breeding only the smallest animals. This can cause genetic aberrations to crop up. Miniaturization can also be done by crossbreeding to a smaller breed and then selecting for subsequent generations for breed type and small stature.

Cattle Care and Keeping
There are a number of good publications on cattle husbandry. Your goals will help you determine the right resource for your education. In addition, the Cooperative Extension service in each state publishes materials on agriculture. They have bulletins, both old and new, workshops and websites that will help you learn about how to care for your animals. Be sure you’ve done your homework and have your farm properly set up before acquiring your first animal.