The history of cattle

Thursday, September 30, 2010

There is no rest for the active 4-H'r or farmer who goes around the countryside looking for that perfect calf to raise this time of year.

They may look at many different calves that vary in age, size and breed in search of the one they think will fit their operation best.

To those not familiar with raising cattle, they may only see the animal as a black, red or white calf that can eat the grass and produce a consumable good.

What they may not be familiar with is some of the interesting history that goes along with the different breeds of cattle plastered around the Indiana countryside.

Three of the popular breeds around Indiana include Angus, Hereford and Shorthorn.

The Angus breed was originally introduced to America by George Grant, who imported them from Scotland to the middle of the Kansas Prairie in 1873. When two of the bulls from the herd were exhibited in the fall at the Kansas City Livestock Exposition, they were considered unusual because of their polled (naturally hornless) heads and black hides.

After producing offspring that survived the winter and outperformed others in the area in terms of weight, Angus became known as a valuable breed in the United States.

All of which promoted the large importation of Angus cattle from Scotland to the Midwest between 1878-83.

Today, the American Angus Association records more cattle each year than any other beef breed association.

The need for efficient, adaptable and hardy cattle is what drove the origination of the Hereford breed. When farmers in Herefordshire, England, were founding the breed more than 300 years ago, they were looking for cattle that had efficient production, high yields, and sound reproduction.

It wasn't until 1817, that Henry Clay brought Hereford cattle to the United States. A total of 10 million head of Hereford cattle were registered with the American Hereford Association (AHA) by 1960. At that time, only horned Hereford cattle were registered by the AHA. Today, both horned and polled Hereford cattle are registered through the AHA.

Traditionally characterized as having a red hide with a white head and belly and horns, it is now more common in Indiana to find the polled variety of Hereford cattle.

Shorthorn cattle originated on the Northeastern coast of England before spreading to Scotland and later to America.

The breed did not reach America until 1783, when it was introduced in Virginia as the Durham breed.

It spread quickly throughout America because of its value in producing both meat and milk, and its durability in pulling a wagon or a plow. Traditionally, a breed with small horns, like the name implies, it wasn't until the 1870s when breeders discovered "natural hornless" cattle were being produced.

This led to the creation of the first major beef breed to be developed in the United States in 1881 as polled Shorthorns. Polled Shorthorns possess the same qualities as their horned counterparts, which is what has helped them maintain their popularity over time.

Today, Shorthorn cattle range from a dark red and white hide to an all dark red hide and are primarily thought of as a polled breed.

It is now estimated that the American Shorthorn Association records approximately 18,000 animals each year.

Driving along the countryside, you may see many different breeds of beef cattle. The more common ones of Angus, Hereford and Shorthorn are fairly easy to identify, unlike some of the other breeds of Chianina, Maine Anjou and Simmental. With that all said, you never can know for sure if that calf you're looking at might be a crossbred animal composed of two or more different breeds of cattle.

No matter what breed it might be, cherish in the fact that it is a magnificent animal that someone cares about a lot.

As always, if you have any questions or would like information on any agriculture, horticulture or natural resource topic, please contact your local Purdue Extension Office at 448-9041 in Clay County or 812-829-5020 in Owen County or reach me directly at Purdue University is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative action institution.

Upcoming opportunities available to you through Purdue Extension include:

* Oct. 2 -- Owen County Extension Board Annual Dinner, Owen County Fairgrounds, 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $5,

* Oct. 4 -- Owen-Monroe Cow Auction,

* Oct. 16 -- 66th IBEP Bull Sale and Springville Feeder Auction Association's Bred Heifer Sale, 2 p.m., and

* Oct. 23 -- Energy Conservation Expo, Wabash Valley Fairgrounds, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.