Milking Shorthorn

Milking Shorthorn
Milking Shorthorn cows in Prince Edward Island, Canada

The Milking Shorthorn or Dairy Shorthorn is a breed of dairy cattle that originated in Great Britain. It developed from the Shorthorn, which itself came from County Durham, Northumberland and Yorkshire in north eastern England.[1]

The breed is known as Milking Shorthorn in the United States, Canada, and New Zealand, and as Dairy Shorthorn in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and South Africa. The Illawarra breed of Australia is also closely related to the Milking Shorthorn breed and have full registration reciprocity arrangements with international Milking Shorthorn populations, while at the same time being a unique sub-population.



Attributes of the breed include ease of calving, ease of management and economy of production, especially on home-produced roughages and grass. Milking Shorthorns are an average-sized breed, with mature cows averaging 140 cm (55 in) tall at the tailhead, and weighing 640 to 680 kg (1,400 to 1,500 lb). They are all-red, red with white markings, all-white, or red roan. Average milk production for the breed is about 7,000 kg (15,000 lb) in an annual lactation of 305 days, with 3.8% butterfat and 3.3% protein.

Milking/Dairy Shorthorn cattle are also known for high levels of fertility, grazing efficiency, and ease of management that result in the breed being high suitable for low-input dairy operations in various production environments.[2]


Dairy Shorthorn cattle, known at that time as Durhams, were among the first cattle to be imported into Australia.

The first dairy cows imported into in New Zealand were Shorthorns, when in 1814, they were shipped from New South Wales. Shorthorns were used as draught animals in bullock teams, were good milkers and provided good meat.[3] Shorthorn herds were established by the early 1840s, and for a long time Shorthorns were New Zealand’s most popular cattle breed.

The first importation of Shorthorns to the United States was to Maryland and Virginia in 1783.[4] With further imports through the 1800s the breed spread across the whole country.

One of the first official demonstrations of the production ability of Milking Shorthorns was made at the World's Exposition in Chicago in 1893 where two of the leading cows of the test were Kitty Clay 3rd and Kitty Clay 4th, the latter standing third in net profit over all breeds. These sister cows became the foundation for the Clay cow family of Milking Shorthorns, developed at Glenside Farm, Granville Center, Pennsylvania.

The breed has served as part of the foundation for other red dairy breeds, including Swedish Red cattle, Angeln cattle and Illawarra cattle in Australia (with some significant Ayrshire ancestry). The Ayrshire cattle breed was originally formed from dairy-type Shorthorn cattle in Scotland.[citation needed]

Current Status

The Milking Shorthorn breed is seeing a steady increase in popularity again after many decades of decline. The hardy, efficient nature of the breed and its suitability to pasture/forage-based dairying is leading this recovery. As well, the breed has embarked on a program of genetic expansion over the past 30 years in order to continue making genetic progress for dairy characteristics while at the same time counter-acting a diminishing gene pool by incorporating some of the best genetics from other red dairy breeds. American and Canadian Milking Shorthorn populations have incorporated genetics from the Illawarra breed in Australia to a high degree, as the Illawarra population has a high degree of Shorthorn ancestry. The North American populations have also made strategic use of Red Holstein genetics and in recent years have started to use some Swedish Red Breed sires as well. In the UK Dairy Shorthorn and Australian Illawarra populations, this level of genetic expansion or "blending" has been even more pronounced than in North America, incorporating Danish Red, Swedish Red, Red Holstein, Red Friesian, Ayrshire, and Red Angler genetics in varying degrees.

While these genetic expansion programs have been embraced, national breed associations have been instrumental in ensuring that the breed works to retain the characteristics that make it an efficient alternative in the dairy industry. National breed associations have been active in either approving sires for use or directly selling semen on a range of sires of varying purity percentages. All countries have different herd book mechanisms for tracking the percentage of purity on each registered animal.

There are small groups of Milking/Dairy Shorthorns that have not incorporated outside genetics and remain true to the conformation and production levels of Shorthorns from the earlier part of the 20th century. The Dairy Shorthorn population in Australia, as well as the Native Milking Shorthorns of the United States are examples of such groups. There are also breeders in the United Kingdom that have only 100% pure Dairy Shorthorns. In some countries, these animals may be known as Dual Purpose Shorthorns, as they tend to have higher fleshing capabilities than traditional dairy cattle.

Breed Societies

The Milking/Dairy Shorthorn has a strong pedigree following with breed societies in all the major countries where Milking/Dairy Shorthorn are typically bred. The Shorthorn Society of United Kingdom and Ireland own the rights to what is thought to be the first pedigree herd book for cattle in the world, which became known as "Coates's Herd Book".[5] Despite shorthorn beef breeders creating their own herd book in 1976 the "Coates's Herd Book" is still going strong with in excess of 2500 registrations in the 2010 herd book.


External links

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