Dairy Shorthorn

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Dairy Shorthorn
Dairy Shorthorn cow at Tullamore Show.jpg
A Dairy Shorthorn cow at the Tullamore Show in Ireland
Conservation status
Other names
  • Milking Shorthorn
  • Durham
  • Teeswater
Country of originEngland
  • Female:
    640–680 kg[4]: 163 
  • Female:
    average 140 cm[4]: 163 
Coatred, red-and-white, roan or white
  • Cattle
  • Bos (primigenius) taurus
Milking Shorthorn cows in Prince Edward Island, Canada

The Dairy Shorthorn is a British breed of dairy cattle.[5]: 132 [6]: 59  It derives from the Shorthorn cattle of Tees-side, in the North Riding of Yorkshire and in Northumbria (now divided between County Durham and Northumberland) in north-eastern England.[7] The Shorthorn was for this reason at first known as the Durham or Teeswater.[7]

Selective breeding for a dairy type began in the late eighteenth century.[4]: 162  This is known as the Dairy Shorthorn in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and South Africa, and as the Milking Shorthorn in Canada, New Zealand and the United States. The Illawarra Shorthorn of Australia is largely descended from the Dairy Shorthorn.

Worldwide, the conservation status of the Dairy Shorthorn, the Illawarra Shorthorn and the Milking Shorthorn is "not at risk".[1]: 144  In the United Kingdom the small remainder of the breed not affected by indiscriminate cross-breeding in the twentieth century is known as the Dairy Shorthorn (Original Population).[4]: 163 [5]: 132  It is critically endangered.[2][8] Both it and the Northern Dairy Shorthorn are listed as "priority" – the highest category of risk – on the watchlist of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.[9][3]

In the nineteenth century the Durham – as it was then usually known – was very extensively used for cross-breeding in many countries of the world; it has contributed to the development of more than forty different breeds.[7]


Short-horned cattle of good quality are documented on the Yorkshire estates of the Dukes and Earls of Northumberland in the late sixteenth century.[6]: 59  The first significant attempts at selective breeding of these cattle were made by Charles and Robert Colling in County Durham, who based their work on that of Robert Bakewell of Dishley, in Leicestershire.[6]: 59  The principal work of selection for dairy qualities in the Durham/Shorthorn was done in the early nineteenth century by Thomas Bates of Kirklevington (now in Stockton-on-Tees, North Yorkshire),[7] building principally on stock bought from the Colling brothers.[4]: 162  A herd-book for all types of Shorthorn cattle – the Coates Herd Book – was begun by George Coates in 1822,[6]: 59  and initially listed 850 cows and 710 bulls;[8][a] it was later taken over by the breed society, the Shorthorn Society of Great Britain and Ireland, which was formed in 1874.[7] Thomas Bates's herd was auctioned off piecemeal in 1850, which led to an expansion of interest in cattle of this type.[4]: 163  For the next hundred years the Shorthorn held a dominant position in British agriculture: in 1937–1938, just before the outbreak of the Second World War, the number of Shorthorn bulls registered with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries was 23 730, not far from double the number of all registered bulls of other cattle breeds (12 917).[8] Breed numbers reached a peak in 1949, after which increasing competition from the Friesian caused them to decline rapidly. The number of registered bulls, already much lower than before the war at about 35% of the national total in 1949, fell to little over 10% in 1960.[4]: 163  Separate sections for beef and dairy strains within the Shorthorn breed were created in 1958.[7]

In 1969 the breed society approved a programme of cross-breeding of the Dairy Shorthorn with a variety of other European breeds. Initially these were the Danish Red, the Meuse-Rhine-Yssel, the Red Friesian, the Red Holstein and the Simmental;[5]: 132  later, introgression from Angeln, Ayrshire, Norwegian Red and Swedish Red-and-White was also permitted, as was the use of any bull that the Society had approved. Animals with no more than 25% Shorthorn heritage could be registered in the Dairy Shorthorn herd-book.[4]: 163  The programme led to the development of a new composite breed, the Blended Red-and-White Shorthorn. It also led to the virtual extinction of the Dairy Shorthorn: by about 2009 there fewer than 100 breeding cows, and by 2012 there were no more than 50; in that year six purebred calves were added to the herd-book. The remnants of the breed were renamed to Dairy Shorthorn (Original Population)[4]: 163 [5]: 132  It is a critically endangered breed;[2][8] both it and the Northern Dairy Shorthorn are listed as "priority" – the highest category of risk – on the watchlist of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.[9][3]

In other countries[edit]

Shorthorns of both beef and dairy type were first exported to Maryland and Virginia in the United States in 1783.[10] With further imports through the 1800s the breed spread across the whole country.

The first dairy cows imported into 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.[11] Shorthorn herds were established by the early 1840s, and for a long time Shorthorns were New Zealand's most popular cattle breed.

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 Ayrshire ancestry). The Ayrshire cattle breed was originally formed from dairy-type Shorthorn cattle in Scotland.

The Milking/Dairy Shorthorn breed has seen population growth in several countries in the past decade after many years of population decline. The Canadian Milking Shorthorn Society had their highest registration and membership totals in over 25 years in 2012.[12] All major populations have seen an increase in interest in Milking Shorthorns by dairy producers, artificial insemination organisations, and crossbreeders.


The Dairy Shorthorn is an average-sized breed, with mature cows averaging 140 cm (55 in) tall at the tailhead, and weighing 640 to 680 kg (1,410 to 1,500 lb). They are red, red with white markings, white, or roan. Red and white coat colour genes in purebred Milking Shorthorns are co-dominant, resulting in the roan coloration and unique colour patterns seen in the breed. 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 highly suitable for low-input dairy operations in various production environments.[13] Milking Shorthorns are known for their durability, longevity, and ease of calving as well as their versatility in a number of production environments.

Original strains[edit]

There are small groups of Milking/Dairy Shorthorns that have not been affected by cross-breeding and so remain true to the conformation and production levels of Shorthorns from the early twentieth century. These include the Dairy Shorthorn population in Australia,[14] the Native Milking Shorthorns of the United States[15] and the Dairy Shorthorn (Original Population) in the United Kingdom.[8] In some countries, these animals may be known as Dual Purpose Shorthorns.


  1. ^ It is sometimes claimed that this is the "oldest" or "first" cattle herd-book; elsewhere it is suggested that the first cattle herd-book is that kept for the Braunvieh by the monks of the Monastery of Einsiedeln in Switzerland from 1775 to 1782.[16]: 718 


  1. ^ a b Barbara Rischkowsky, Dafydd Pilling (editors) (2007). List of breeds documented in the Global Databank for Animal Genetic Resources, annex to The State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Rome: Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. ISBN 9789251057629. Archived 23 June 2020.
  2. ^ a b c Breed data sheet: Dairy Shorthorn (Original Population) / United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (Cattle). Domestic Animal Diversity Information System of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Accessed November 2021.
  3. ^ a b c Watchlist overview. Kenilworth, Warwickshire: Rare Breeds Survival Trust. Accessed November 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Valerie Porter, Lawrence Alderson, Stephen J.G. Hall, D. Phillip Sponenberg (2016). Mason's World Encyclopedia of Livestock Breeds and Breeding (sixth edition). Wallingford: CABI. ISBN 9781780647944.
  5. ^ a b c d Marleen Felius (1995). Cattle Breeds: An Encyclopedia. Doetinchem, Netherlands: Misset. ISBN 9789054390176.
  6. ^ a b c d John B. Friend (1978). Cattle of the World. Poole, Dorset: Blandford Press. ISBN 0713708565.
  7. ^ a b c d e f History of the Shorthorn Breed. Kenilworth, Warwickshire: The Shorthorn Society of United Kingdom and Ireland. Accessed 20 November 2021.
  8. ^ a b c d e Dairy Shorthorn (Original Population). Kenilworth, Warwickshire: Rare Breeds Survival Trust. Accessed November 2021.
  9. ^ a b Northern Dairy Shorthorn. Kenilworth, Warwickshire: Rare Breeds Survival Trust. Accessed November 2021.
  10. ^ Oklahoma State University breed profile Archived 26 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ Beginnings of New Zealand’s dairy industry Retrieved 7 February 2009
  12. ^ "CMSS Improver 2013 by Ryan Barrett - Issuu".
  13. ^ http://www.cmss.on.ca Canadian Milking Shorthorn Society web site
  14. ^ FAO, DAD-IS: “Dairy Shorthorn/Australia”. Accessed 15 August 2016.
  15. ^ The Livestock Conservancy: “Milking Shorthorn - Native”. Accessed 15 August 2016.
  16. ^ Marleen Felius, Marie-Louise Beerling, David S. Buchanan, Bert Theunissen, Peter A. Koolmees and Johannes A. Lenstra (2014). On the History of Cattle Genetic Resources. Diversity 6 (4): 705–750. doi:10.3390/d6040705

External links[edit]