Throughout the British Isles and continental Europe localized “races” of cattle developed, each in their own way being bred to satisfy the demands of the populous. Development, distribution and sustainment of each of these “races” were all associated with the general improvement in agriculture. Military and naval actions, conquests, geography, government, laws and the general condition of the people all impacted them as well.
Shorthorns are the most widely documented breed in the history of cattle. The history, foundation and development of the breed has been recorded in print since the publishing of the Coates Herd book in 1822. Few if any breeds can pre-date this documentation. From these beginnings it is not surprising that they have reportedly contributed to the development and general improvement of more cattle breeds than any other. With this long and distinguished history it is thought that they have contributed their genetics to as many as forty other breeds of both beef and dairy cattle throughout the world, hence the saying: “Shorthorns, the Universal Improvers.”
Owing to their early development, promotion, and their inherent qualities of adaptability, versatility and maternal strength, they became at one time the most widely distributed and most numerous cattle breed in the world. For those seeking to gain the assets of more than one breed into what in today’s language is called a “composite” it is not surprising that breeders and researchers reached out to Shorthorns as part of their foundation stock.
Angus (previously Aberdeen-Angus) at present are the leading beef cattle breed in numbers throughout the US and since inception there has been the presence of the red gene in their cattle. The first Angus herd book was published in 1862 in Great Britain containing both red and black cattle. There was a period in the early 1800s when it was said that the Shorthorn breed actually “threatened” the Angus breed. Publicity and promotion of Shorthorns spread throughout Scotland and many breeders looked with favor on the use of Shorthorns to improve the native cattle. Subsequently good herds of Shorthorns were established in Scotland and the cattle were used in the improvement of native stock. The use of Shorthorns on the black native cows was a very common practice of the period for producing commercial stock. This practice of crossbreeding threatened the Aberdeen-Angus with extinction, and this may have been the origin of the red color. Some authorities, however, reject the notion that Shorthorn breeding was introduced into the Aberdeen-Angus breed in the early stages of its existence.
The Santa Gertrudis breed was founded in the early twentieth century with an effort to improve heat resistance, tick resistance and general performance of the range cattle in the Southwestern US. The King Ranch of Texas first used a half-blood Shorthorn X Brahman bull on a group of purebred Shorthorn females. Subsequent crosses were made with Shorthorn bulls, percentage Brahman bulls, percentage Brahman cows and Shorthorn cows. Selection for the “cherry red” color was also one of the criteria set forth in the establishment of this breed. The population then stabilized at five-eighths Shorthorn and three-eighths Brahman and achieved the objectives of the breeders of creating cattle that could thrive in this hostile environment. The adaptability of the Brahman influence and maternal influence of Shorthorns were keys in allowing these cattle to gain favor throughout many countries of the world. Santa Gertrudis have gone on to be parent stock in other “eared” (Bos indicus influenced) breeds such as the Barzona and the Santa Cruz.
The Droughtmaster developed in Australia also used the Shorthorn and Brahman breeds as their foundation stock.
In South Africa the Bonsmara breed relied on Shorthorns and Herefords as part of their parent stock in combination with the Afrikaner (Bos indicus), a South African breed, and they have become one of the most popular in that country.
Beefmasters are another Brahman influenced breed that drew from the Shorthorn influence as a portion of their foundation stock. After a series of crosses the population stabilized at levels of slightly less than fifty percent Brahman and slightly more than twenty-five percent of both Shorthorn and Hereford. In their establishment selection pressures were placed on pounds of beef produced under range conditions that were often adverse. There was no selection for color pattern or those characteristics that did not affect the carcass. There was a strict culling program based on disposition, fertility, weight, conformation, hardiness and milk production. The Shorthorn impact on these factors can be well recognized.
In Australia the Murray Grey breed stems from an original cross of a roan Shorthorn cow and an Angus bull with the resulting progeny being a gray calf. Subsequent matings from this cow with Angus bulls produced more of these uniquely colored gray calves. The breeders who maintained these gray cattle were convinced of their superiority and they have made a good record in carcass desirability.
Development of the Mandalong Special began in New South Wales, Australia in the mid-1960s. Five base breeds were used – Charolais, Chianina, Polled Shorthorn, British White and Brahman. After four generations the breed was stabilized with a content of 58.33 percent, European, 25 percent British and 16.67 percent Brahman bloodlines.
As early as 1839 improved Durham (Shorthorn) cattle were introduced into France from England and they became an integral part of the Maine-Anjou breed. These early Durhams when crossed with the Mancelle breed from the northwest agricultural area of France gave rise to the Durham-Mancelle dual purpose breed. Cows were milked for the family and bull calves were fed for market. Docile dispositions were necessary on the small farms where the majority of these cattle were raised. Approximately sixty percent of the foundation breeding is credited to the Durham (Shorthorn) breed and their name was changed to Maine-Anjou in 1909.
The presence of Shorthorn “blood” has impacted the world population of cattle with its use as a contributor to many cattle breeds as foundation stock in numerous countries across the globe. Just a few are mentioned above. The maternal strength and disposition of the breed has been an asset since the early days of their development and continue to be admired traits today. Incorporation of these traits has always been considered essential whether the rest of the foundation stock was used to improve environmental adaptability or beef making or milking ability.
“Shorthorns – the Universal Improvers.”
Breeds of Cattle, Herman R. Purdy and R. John Dawes.
Modern Breeds of Livestock. 4th edition. Hilton M. Briggs and Dinus M. Briggs.
Author Profile: Dr. Bert Moore
Bert Moore proudly admits that he “grew up on Shorthorn milk.” Raised on a north central Iowa farm the only cattle that he knew were the red, white and roans. His first Milking Shorthorn came as a gift from his grandfather to his sister and him with the provision that they would receive every other calf and their father would receive the alternating year’s calf to pay for feed. With ten stanchions in the barn, when eleven cows were “fresh” it was Bert’s job to milk that eleventh by hand. This did not enamor him to the dairy business. Beef Shorthorns were added and comprised all his 4H projects. Shorthorns were the only breed both of his parents and both sets of grandparents raised making him a third generation Shorthorn breeder (on both sides of his pedigree).
After graduating from Iowa State University with a degree in Animal Science he went to North Dakota State University where he received MS and PhD degrees. As a faculty member there for over forty years he taught a wide variety of courses, advised students, conducted applied research and coached the livestock judging team. He has judged livestock shows at the local, state, national and international levels in 29 states and 4 Canadian provinces and has given presentations in Great Britain and New Zealand. After leaving North Dakota State he served as the Executive Secretary of the American Shorthorn Association. He and his wife Millie currently live in Indianola, IA where they maintain a herd of Shorthorn cattle, a portion of which are Heritage Shorthorns. Because of his deep interest in beef cattle history he is in the process of co-authoring a book on the history of Shorthorn cattle to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Shorthorn Association.