Opportunities With Heritage Shorthorns
Without finding an economic niche in the livestock industry Heritage Shorthorns will be condemned to the history books like so many other cattle breeds. Fortunately there are marvelous opportunities for Heritage Shorthorns that can be seized on by anyone interested in pursuing a Heritage Shorthorn breeding program.
Heritage Shorthorns are in a favorable position compared to other heritage breeds of cattle because of the tremendous genetic diversity & attributes that still exist in Shorthorns through the extensive number of Heritage Bulls that had semen collected on them in the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s. At that time Shorthorn popularity was still extremely high and Shorthorns had not yet been openly “contaminated” by other cattle breeds such as Maine Anjou or Red & White Holsteins. This “semen reserve” has maintained a rich genetic diversity that can be used today to produce any type of Shorthorn. As an example, there is semen from Heritage bulls that weighed 1800# and bulls that weighed 3000#, bulls who’s daughter’s milk production reached 20,000# on a 305 day milk test period, and bulls that had carcass data/growth rates that are on a par with Modern Beef Shorthorns.
It is important to note what sets Heritage Shorthorns apart from other heritage breeds and cattle breeds in general. The significance of Heritage Shorthorns can be measured in two ways. First they literally could be called the “mother of all breeds” because at least 38 other cattle breeds have used Shorthorn blood as part of their formation. Secondly, since the heritage lines can all be traced to the Coates herd book of 1822, their purity as a cattle breed is unparalleled. This is documented through what is called the “Lincoln Letter” research paper where the purity of Heritage Shorthorn DNA was compared to other cattle breeds and found to be much more tightly related.
The many positive attributes of Heritage Shorthorns include: docility, feed efficiency, excellent milk production, ease of marbling in a pasture environment, longevity (they commonly live into their teens), and genetic purity (no integration of outside cattle breeds). Given these very useful characteristics it is worthwhile to formulate a list of the opportunities in raising Heritage Shorthorns. The following list is random with no bias toward one over another.
1. Grass fed beef
Heritage Shorthorns were bred for grass conversion and will “marble up” better than any other grass fed breed. It is totally realistic to attain well-marbled grass-fed steers ready for market at 18 months of age at a weight of 1000-1400#.
2. Family Cow
There is more and more demand for traditional family cows. The Shorthorn breed was originally developed in the late 1700’s to fill that very niche. There are many families today which want a cow that produces enough milk to sustain a family while still raising a calf that makes a good beef steer. The docility that pervades Heritage Shorthorns makes them a natural fit for this market.
3. Milking Shorthorns in small, grass-fed commercial dairies
More and more dairymen are looking at this as an option, especially in the New England area, because of the premium price of the milk produced, the increased health of the cows, and the dramatic decrease in dairy input costs. If this can be combined with organic status and homozygous A2 genetic status in the cows the “milk becomes almost priceless”. Some HS bloodlines have A2 genes.
4. Production of blue roan crosses
The purity of Heritage Shorthorns enhances the chance of producing blue roans for the show steer market especially if a white Heritage Bull is used.
5. Oxen for Draft Work
Most people are not aware that the covered wagons that travelled across the prairie in the middle of the 19th century were actually pulled mainly by Shorthorn oxen because of their strength, docility, and size. Recently oxen have come back into vogue in the heritage livestock movement, and quality Shorthorn oxen are in demand, especially horned Shorthorn steers.
6. Genetic diversity
There is a large demand for Heritage Shorthorns to be used to improve Modern Shorthorns—partly to add back Shorthorn genetic traits to a mixed Shorthorn population but mostly to re-establish Shorthorn bloodlines that were lost in the “add new blood era”. Modern Shorthorns became more of a mixed breed as a result of the American Shorthorn Association and American Milking Shorthorn Society opening up their herd books.
7. Show Steers
Because of the docility of Heritage Shorthorns, their extremely diverse & beautiful color patterns, and their ability to grow they can make excellent 4-H and FFA market steers.
8. Commercial Bulls
Because Heritage Shorthorns are really a “breed within a breed” they bring exceptional heterosis to any cross-breeding program and function very well as terminal sires. Their utilization in smaller/family grass fed beef operations is very beneficial because of their marbling ability and they are generally easier to work with compared to most other breeding bulls. As more Heritage Shorthorn artificial insemination bulls become available even the smallest breeder will have access to quality Heritage Shorthorn genetics.
9. Foundation Cows
No matter what type of Shorthorn breeding program a person wants to develop, a quality group of Heritage Shorthorn cows will give them flexibility to pursue that goal. Heritage Shorthorn foundation cows can be used to pursue multiple options simultaneously. As an example a breeder could combine milk production with the sale of quality grass fed steers.
10. Classic Heritage Horned Shorthorns
There are still breeders who prefer horned Heritage Shorthorns but these type of Shorthorns are in limited supply because of the polled movement. This niche is definitely underserved.
11. Miniature Shorthorns
Small size Shorthorns were popular in the 1950s and 1960s, and miniature cattle are again becoming quite popular today. Some of the Heritage Shorthorn bloodlines from that time period carry the genetics for miniatures, and these heritage genetics are still available for this expanding niche market.
With all of the above options open to prospective Heritage Shorthorn breeders it is no wonder Heritage Shorthorns are rightfully gaining traction in the cattle industry. The Heritage Shorthorn Society intends to play an integral role in helping both current and prospective Heritage Shorthorns breeders take advantage of this resurgence in interest.