by Wendy Komancheck
Milking Shorthorn cattle are one of the oldest and most durable breeds in North America. This breed first came to the U.S. in 1783 from Great Britain. At that time, they were called "Durhams," and early pioneers loved the breed because of their suitability for multipurpose use, such as providing milk, meat and horsepower on the farm.
"They were the first dairy breed to come to America, and the cows were typically seen tied to the rear of a covered wagon crossing the country. They were used for their milk and meat," said Nedra Koller, a Milking Shorthorn dairywoman.
The Milking Shorthorn was declared a dairy breed in 1969, and in 1972 the breed joined the Purebred Dairy Cattle Association. The breed's association, the American Milking Shorthorn Society (AMSS, www.milkingshorthorn.com
), is located in Beloit, Wis.
Milking Shorthorn profile
"They are excellent cows for grazing," says Jason Heeter, president of the Mid Atlantic Milking Shorthorn Society (www.midatlanticmilkingshorthorns.com
). "Milking Shorthorns are extremely docile animals and do well in many environments. The cows have excellent health traits, low somatic cell count, and are able to stay in the productive herd for many years."
The Milking Shorthorn is a unique breed. The three main colors are red, white and roan, but the color patterns are different in each cow and bull. Koller says that the Shorthorn's high protein and butterfat are about 3 and 3.8 percent, respectively.
Heeter is the first in his family to own Milking Shorthorns. He got his start with the breed when he was 8 years old and joined 4-H. Now, 23 years later, Heeter owns 10 Milking Shorthorns. One of the things he likes most about Milking Shorthorns is the breed's temperament, and he enjoys perfecting his herd through genetics.
"Since the breed is small [in numbers], the options for the genetic pool are limited. There are not as many choices for bulls; this can make the genetic progress slower than other breeds," Heeter explains.
Koller raises Milking Shorthorns on her farm in Shoemakersville, Pa., and her family has bred, raised, milked and shown Milking Shorthorns for over 70 years.
"It is a breed that we just happen to love," she says.
"They eat the same food as any other cow," Koller continues, "although less food is needed, because a Milking Shorthorn will convert her feed to milk more efficiently than any other breed."
Koller notes that the Milking Shorthorn cow can typically weigh between 1,400 and 1,600 pounds. According to the AMSS, a mature Milking Shorthorn will generate over 15,000 pounds of milk, 500 pounds of fat and 465 pounds of protein throughout lactation. Additionally, a Milking Shorthorn can be butchered for meat after it's done as a dairy cow.
The AMSS lists the breed's other attributes as:
. high milk production
. generally immune to common dairy cattle diseases
. good mothering instincts and easy calving
. low somatic cell count
. the only dual-purpose breed used for dairy and beef
"The average amount of milk produced by our Milking Shorthorns currently is 71 pounds per day, per cow," Koller says.
Heeter notes that an average-sized herd is between 40 and 80 cows. However, herds can range from a few to over 400 cows. He also says that Milking Shorthorns fill a niche for grazing cattle because of the breed's ability to quickly turn their food into milk.
Breeding and genetics
"The farmer should look at the genetic potential of the bull, such as the dam and sire of the bull and back through his pedigree. The farmer looks at the production, type and health traits to determine which bull to use on which cow," Heeter explains.
He adds that farmers, when looking at pedigrees and genetics, are typically looking for animals that have a good set of feet and legs, good body capacity, milk production potential and a well-attached udder.
The typical gestation period for a Milking Shorthorn is nine months.
"Most of the cows today are bred using AI [artificial insemination]. This is a quicker way to better the genetics, and gives the farmer a larger selection of bulls [to choose from]. Also, it's much safer than having a bull on the farm," Heeter says.
Koller adds that the bulls are evaluated for strengths and weaknesses in breed characteristics.
"As a farmer, you try to improve your cows, overall, by mating with bulls that will improve the cows' areas of weakness," Koller explains.
Even though Milking Shorthorns are not an overabundant breed, they are not dying out. Heeter states that the breed has grown over the past five years or so.
"Farmers continue to have the Milking Shorthorn breed for their excellent health traits, low somatic cell count and the longevity," Heeter notes.
Even though they can be crossbred with Holsteins and other breeds, most bulls are still pure Milking Shorthorn. By keeping the genetic pool pure, breeders can perfect the Milking Shorthorn breed.
"There are a few bulls that are half Holstein to make the genetics progress faster, but the majority of the bulls [are] still 100 percent Milking Shorthorn," Heeter says.
Overall, the Milking Shorthorn is a breed for farmers who want a docile, strong animal that has dual purposes when it comes to making money as well as feeding a family.
"The investment in a Milking Shorthorn is reasonably priced," Heeter says. "The Milking Shorthorn is versatile and can fit into many operations, from tie stalls to free stalls to grazing. They can efficiently convert feed into milk with good components. Also, they require very little veterinary costs."
Wendy Komancheck writes for and about the green business industry from her home in Lancaster County, Pa. For more information, visit http://wendykomancheckswriting.wordpress.com.
Photos courtesy of Nedra Koller.
Purdue University, U.S. Dairy Breeds: Milking Shorthorn
Four-year-old Milking Shorthorn