Nevada rancher Norris Albaugh, his family's third generation to raise Milking Shorthorns, explains his love for this critically-endangered breed by telling an old story.
His children, who were young and just starting to follow him during chore time, always wanted to pick flowers in the fields for their mother. Usually, the best flowers could be found right in the middle of his cattle herd.
Albaugh always knew where the children were, because the cows would carefully move out of their way to form an open circle of space around them. As the flower-gathering children moved, so did the cattle without any fuss or panic.
That calm, mild disposition is not only easy to manage for a farmer or rancher, but it ultimately reflects in the animal’s meat quality, Albaugh says. Because they don’t panic when heading to the processor, their adrenaline levels remain low, making the meat more tender.
Milking Shorthorns are considered a rare breed and are listed as “critical” by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. That’s perplexing, considering that few cattle breeds in history have had the fame and influence as the Milking Shorthorn.
The breed, first developed in the 1700s in England’s Durham County, is easily recognizable from its coloring. They are solid white, solid red, or any combination of the two.
The Milking Shorthorn became a British icon that was considered the height of achievement for early improvement of production traits in cattle. They were created to be large, fast-growing cattle that could serve as both a milk or beef cow and work around the farm as a draft animal.
One of the most famous Milking Shorthorns that brought much acclaim to the breed was the “Durham Ox,” a massive creature born in 1796 that grew to weigh more than 3,000 pounds. The ox, used to promote the breed, toured for nearly six years in a custom traveling carriage and was viewed by tens of thousands throughout England and Scotland.
The Durham Ox’s fame spread like wildfire and accomplished its owner’s mission by making Milking Shorthorns in high demand by the early 1800s.
The Milking Shorthorn made its way to America in 1783 and was considered a premier dairy breed through the 1850s. Beef producers, however, saw it as a superior beef cow, and used it extensively in crossbreeding programs to improve other breeds.
Early in the 1900s, the breed was formally split into a beef type, called Beef Shorthorn or simply Shorthorn, and a dairy type called Milking Shorthorn. Most breeders favored the Shorthorn for beef, and this trend has continued, especially with the rise of the Holstein as the dominant dairy breed.
The Milking Shorthorn, despite its many fine qualities and history of dairy selection, could not compete with the quantity of milk produced by the Holstein, and the breed lost favor.
Genetics on the Albaugh ranch, however, reach all the way back to the original Milking Shorthorns and have had no outside blood in their pedigrees.
Albaugh’s work with the American population of the Native Milking Shorthorn is crucial, particularly because crossbreeding has diluted the pure, authentic breed, which is in steep decline in England and around the world.
Through the continued commitment of the American Milking Shorthorn Society and dedicated breeders such as the Albaugh, the future of this breed is secure in America.
Jeannette Beranger is the Research & Technical Program Manager for the ALBC.
LEARN MORE ABOUT MILKING SHORTHORNS
For more information on Shorthorns and other endangered breeds visit www.livestockconservancy.org.