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A Rare Herd: Milking Shorthorn Cattle

Milking Shorthorn cattle

As expected, the horns of Milking Shorthorn cows aren’t very long—but the breed’s history certainly is. First called Durham cattle (after the English county where they originated), Milking Shorthorns came to America with settlers in the 1700s. The first herdbook for the breed dates to 1822, making Shorthorns one of the oldest recorded livestock breeds. The popularity of Shorthorns surged over the centuries, in part because the breed is dual purpose: Once its milking years are over, the animal can still be slaughtered for quality meat.

These days purebred Milking Shorthorns aren’t common. The Livestock Conservancy lists the breed’s status as “critical” on their Conservation Priority List, meaning less than 200 cows are registered each year in the United States—and less than 2,000 exist worldwide. According to the Swiss Village Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving rare and heritage livestock breeds, Milking Shorthorns were crossbred extensively after they arrived in the United States so they could compete with the milk production of larger breeds such as Holsteins. Today many Shorthorns still have Holstein ancestry.

Appearance and Temperament

A Milking Shorthorn’s coat can range from almost pure white to dark red, though most animals sport a lighter hue (a benefit come summertime, as they’re less likely to suffer from heat stress). On average they weigh between 1,200 and 1,400 pounds and stand about 55 inches tall—slightly smaller than a typical Holstein.

Milking Shorthorns are generally calm and get along well with other breeds. This docile temperament makes them a good pick for 4-H competitions—the fact that they aren’t as popular as other show animals is an added bonus.

“They’re known for strong disease resistance, low somatic cell count (which indicates low levels of pathogens in the milk), and good calving knees,” says Junia Isiminger, executive secretary of the American Milking Shorthorn Society. “When I was eight years old, my dad gave me a Milking Shorthorn calf to show in 4–H, and after that, I’ve always had them.” Isiminger currently has 40 Milking Shorthorns on her family farm in Union City, Pa.
This gentle demeanor doesn’t mean they can’t take charge, however. At Sprout Creek Farm in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., a Milking Shorthorn has been the herd leader for quite some time. “She’s definitely the boss,” says farm manager Brian Barber.

Milk and Cheese

Milking Shorthorns produce rich milk with a high protein-to-fat ratio—fabulous for cheesemaking, as it means higher milk solids and therefore a higher cheese yield per gallon. One animal produces an average of 15,000 pounds of milk annually, putting the breed on par with other American dairy darlings such as Jersey and Brown Swiss cattle. The fat molecules of Shorthorn milk are quite small as well, another boon for artisan makers, Barber says. “(Shorthorn milk) works really nicely because it’s easier to manipulate . . . and (cheesemakers) get higher yields with it.” At Sprout Creek Farm the team takes advantage of Shorthorn milk’s versatility, crafting several Alpine-style wheels and one bloomy-rind round.

Featured Image: Georgie Blaeser


Casey Walker

​Casey Walker is a Boston-based writer, constantly scoping out new recipes and restaurants.

One thought on “A Rare Herd: Milking Shorthorn Cattle”

  1. You’re article is very good on Milking Shorthorns. I know they are hard to find but my family has been breeding them for over 50 years. We have done our best to keep Holstein out as much as possible. If you find people looking for some, we are downsizing our herd. We have about 200 to sell of all ages. Our Facebook page is Sun Valley Dairy Milking Shorthorns and you can see some photos.

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