A BREED IN CRISIS

 

The Dairy Shorthorn breed of cattle belongs to the wider Shorthorn group of breeds which includes also the Northern Dairy Shorthorn, Whitebred Shorthorn, Beef Shorthorn and, in earlier times, the Lincoln Red Shorthorn. The original animals were developed as a type from the early eighteenth century onwards when they resulted from mating local cattle in North-East England with bulls imported from Holland. They became fixed more clearly as a breed from the late eighteenth century but rapidly diverged into different breeds. Coates Herd Book, published in 1822, was the first book of registrations and ancestry to be compiled for farm livestock.

The area of origin of the Dairy Shorthorn was Tees-side in Durham and North Yorkshire. It was dual-purpose type that combined a robust conformation with good dairy qualities. It was red, white, red-and-white or roan in colour, with short horns. It prospered to become the dominant breed in Britain and exert a significant influence abroad. Its popularity declined as the Friesian expanded in Britain, and it was no longer the dominant breed by the mid-twentieth century.

A drastic decision was taken in 1969 when the Shorthorn Cattle Society, in contravention of its primary objective to protect the purity of the breed, adopted a programme of ‘blending’ which permitted crossing with a range of other red breeds. The resulting ‘Blended Red-and-White’ (which has a strong Red Holstein influence) has infiltrated the breed, reinforced in 2006 by renewed approval of crossbreeding, until the population of purebred Dairy Shorthorn cattle has declined to a critical state of endangerment. Only representations to the EU authorities by Irish breeders prevented further acceleration of the process.

The ‘rare breeds’ organisation in UK (RBST) has not listed the Dairy Shorthorn as a rare breed, and the UK governmental organisation (Defra) only took action when required to do so by EU. In this context RBI has taken the initiative to conserve an historic and important breed through the following programme:

1) survey the exact status of the breed in UK and discover if any remnant populations of pure animals remain in other countries.
2) develop a DNA profile for Dairy Shorthorn cattle.
3) compile a register of purebred animals.
4) ensure that organisations registering Dairy Shorthorn cattle follow procedures to protect the purity of the breed.      

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