Cattle have lived among people for thousands of years. Over the years, domesticated cattle underwent selective breeding to produce specialized cattle for specific purposes.
The 9 Most Common British Cattle Breeds
UK farmers and agriculturists have their set of favorite cattle breeds that they commonly raise for beef or dairy. Just because they’re common doesn’t mean that they’re not valuable. The following breeds have had long relationships with humans and continue to be reliable resources to this day.
|Average Height:||35–45 inches|
|Average Weight:||700–900 pounds|
The Dexter is a relatively small cattle breed. They’re usually born in one of three solid colors: black, red, or dun. Mature cows of the Dexter breed tend to have very motherly instincts, so they tend to milk well.
Dexters also produce delicious beef with high marbling and tender meat. They’re also an economical option for many farmers because they don’t graze as much as larger cattle breeds. Dexters can also adjust to living in extreme conditions. All these qualities make the Dexter an extremely versatile and prized cattle breed.
2. Belted Galloway
|Average Height:||47–51 inches|
|Average Weight:||990–2,300 pounds|
|Purpose:||Beef, vegetation management|
The Belted Galloway got its name from the distinct white belt that wraps around its abdomen. This cattle breed also has long coats and is naturally polled. Belted Galloways do well in cold climates because of their thick, waterproof coats.
They mainly get harvested for beef. However, they also help with vegetation management to maintain healthy ecosystems and increase biodiversity.
|Average Height:||41–58 inches|
|Average Weight:||1,100–1,800 pounds|
The Highland is a cattle breed with long horns and shaggy coats. They’re extremely hardy and can even survive in arctic conditions. Scottish Highlands originally provided beef and milk for people. However, they’re now more commonly used for harvesting beef.
Highland beef is leaner than other cow meat. They produce leaner meat because they rely on their shaggy coats for insulation and warmth rather than fat. Highland beef rose to popularity because it’s lower in cholesterol.
|Average Height:||53–57 inches|
|Average Weight:||1,300-2,200 pounds|
Sussex cattle are an ancient breed with records that trace back to 1066. They’re red cattle and typically have short, smooth coats. However, when they live in colder climates, they can grow longer, curly hair.
This cattle breed originally worked as draught cattle that plowed fields and hauled heavy loads. Today, they’re more commonly raised for their beef. Sussex beef has high marbling and is very tender when aged properly.
|Average Height:||52–57 inches|
|Average Weight:||990–1,550 pounds|
Guernseys were originally draught cattle. However, these cream and fawn-colored cows eventually became staple dairy producers. Guernsey milk is very rich and flavorful, and one cow can produce about 1,700 gallons of milk per year.
Guernseys also have quiet and affectionate personalities. They graze easily, so many Guernsey owners love this breed, and they’re great for beginner cow farmers.
6. Welsh Black
|Average Height:||55–60 inches|
|Average Weight:||1,320–1,750 pounds|
Welsh Blacks used to be prized possessions, and they continue to be a favorite amongst cattle farmers today. They produce both delicious beef and milk, and they’re also good for vegetation management.
This cattle breed has short, black coats in the summer and grows longer coats for the winter. Most of them have horns, but some are naturally polled.
7. Red Poll
|Average Height:||50–60 inches|
|Average Weight:||1,200–1,800 pounds|
Red Polls are naturally polled and they have red to deep red coats. They’re very adaptable and easy to handle, so a lot of beginner farmers will start with Red Polls.
Red Polls can produce a good amount of milk per year, but they’re more commonly raised for harvesting beef as they produce delicious, high-quality beef.
8. English Longhorn
|Average Height:||51–60 inches|
|Average Weight:||1,100–2,200 pounds|
The English Longhorn bull has a very lengthy and curled set of horns. This cattle breed has brown and white coats and has a longer average lifespan than other cattle breeds.
English Longhorns have a stocky build, which made them great draught cattle. However, they’re now used as dual-purpose cattle. They produce milk with high butterfat content and lean beef.
|Average Height:||50–53 inches|
|Average Weight:||1,000–1,300 pounds|
Ayrshires are efficient grazers that produce milk suitable for butter and cheese. They have red and white spots and have horns, but these horns often get removed for safety reasons.
This cattle breed is often friendly, but some Ayrshires can have a stubborn streak. Bulls can become aggressive in the breeding season, so it’s important to stay alert when working with mature Ayrshires during this time.
Rare British Cattle Breeds
Several native British cattle breeds started to experience a decline in their population after the introduction of other commercial cattle breeds and crossbreeding. The Rare Breeds Survival Trust works to bring up these rare breeds’ population numbers and has a Cattle Watch List that currently contains 14 native British breeds.
Albions have unique blue and white coats. This cattle breed always had a relatively small population size. However, after a foot and mouth outbreak in 1923, this cattle breed almost went into extinction as people slaughtered many cattle in order to prevent the outbreak from spreading.
A 2002 survey recorded 95 Albions. Conservation and restoration efforts continue to take place today.
11. Chillingham Wild Cattle
Chillingham Wild Cattle have shaggy white coats and long horns that curve upwards. This cattle breed is feral and they have unpredictable temperaments. You can visit them on a guided tour through Chillingham Park.
Chillingham Wild Cattle play a strong role in Chillingham Park’s ecosystem. Their grazing maintains the lands and keeps them from becoming woodlands.
12. Northern Dairy Shorthorn
Northern Dairy Shorthorns were originally dual-purpose cattle, and they used to be common up until the late 1940s. This cattle breed competed with the Friesian Holstein and lost popularity and numbers continued to dip into the 1960s.
This cattle breed has become so rare that embryo transfer projects started taking place in 2015, and scientists implanted Northern Dairy Shorthorn embryos into surrogate mothers.
The Vaynol is one of the rarest British cattle breeds and only has about 150 registered cattle. Most Vaynols are white, but some can also be completely black. They’re semi-feral and there are currently only three known herds in the UK.
This cattle breed is small in size and matures slowly. However, they’re very hardy, and conservationists have a hopeful outlook on keeping this breed around for future years to come.
14. Aberdeen Angus
The Aberdeen Angus is a small, stocky breed with short legs. They’re mostly black and are naturally polled. There are currently less than 250 registered breeding cows left.
These cows are good-natured and docile. They also often produce premium-grade beef. There are many crossbred Angus cattle, but the purebred Aberdeen Angus remains a rarity to this day.
15. Whitebred Shorthorn
The Whitebred Shorthorn is a separate breed from other Shorthorns. They have cream-colored or white coats and bright eyes. This cattle breed has a docile temperament and used to be popular because of its hardiness.
The eventual introduction of continental cattle breeds diminished the Whitebred Shorthorn’s popularity, and their population declined over the years. Pure Whitebred Shorthorns are rare, but they’re often used in crossbreeding to produce Blue Grays and Cross Highlanders.
16. Lincoln Red
There are several common crossbreeds of Lincoln Reds, but purebred Lincoln Reds are extremely rare.
This cattle breed is very versatile and low-maintenance. They’re not picky about grazing and have friendly temperaments. They can also produce a high volume of milk. Therefore, Lincoln Red enthusiasts and breeders highly value this breed and are working to restore it to its once-popular status.
Gloucesters are black or dark brown cows with a white stripe running down their backs. This breed had multiple purposes, and people prized them as draught cattle and for their meat and milk.
The population of this breed declined due to the introduction of other breeds and intensive farming. By 1972, only one herd remained in existence. Today, conservation efforts have increased the Gloucester population to 700 recorded cows.
Shetland cattle originally served the purpose of aiding crofters and producing milk. However, as crofting declined, the demand for Shetlands also declined. By the 1950s, only about 40 purebred Shetlands remained.
However, the population size increased over the years. Although they’re still rare, many Shetlands now participate in vegetation management projects.
Shetlands can be black or black and white. However, there are some rare colors as well, including red, dun, gray, brown, and brindle. They have a strong set of horns that curve upward.
19. White Park
Many cattle experts believe that the White Park is the oldest cattle breed in the British Isles. These hardy cows are usually white with long black horns that curve upward.
This breed does well in conservation grazing and vegetation management because they can eat almost anything, including coarse forage.
White Park population numbers continue to increase and there are currently about 950 breeding cows.
20. Irish Moiled
The Irish Moiled is docile and naturally polled, and they were originally dual-purpose cattle. They have red or roan bodies mixed with white patches and spots.
Irish Moilies often lived on small farms all throughout Ireland, but their population began to decline as more specialty cows got introduced. By the 1970s, only 30 cows and 2 bulls survived. The breed was revived in the 1980s, but conservation efforts continue to grow the population size. They are now slowly becoming more plentiful in both Ireland and across the UK.
21. Traditional Hereford
Traditional Herefords have white faces with red bodies and white stripes and relatively short legs. In the 20th century, Traditional Herefords became a popular export to other countries, including the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
As the exported Herefords began to change, these newer Herefords started to be imported to the UK. These imported Herefords eventually became more popular than the domestic Herefords, and Traditional Herefords started to experience a decline in their population.
22. British White
British Whites are very stocky and hardy and are naturally polled. They’re typically white all over with tufts of longer fur on top of their heads. This cattle breed can survive cold winters, but they’re also very heat tolerant.
In the early 20th century, this breed only had about 130 registered bulls and cows. However, conservation efforts increased the population to the upper thousands. The British White used to live exclusively in the British Isles, but significant herds now also live in Australia and the US.
Different cattle breeds have helped humans in various and invaluable ways. With more than 250 recognized cattle breeds worldwide, it can be a challenge preserving the lineages of purebred British cattle breeds.
Keeping this in mind, many conservationists and breeders work hard to make sure that these breeds stay in existence so that future generations can continue to learn and appreciate these amazing cattle breeds.
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Featured Image Credit: Cameron Watson, Shutterstock