Canadienne Cow

Courtesy of Alan Ross

Have you looked at the pictures of dairy cows on commercial farms lately? Their udders are so overdeveloped that they can't walk properly. They are truly the Barbie dolls of the livestock world.

In fact, the cows have been so hybridized that they are just milk machines. You don't find a large variety of cows, either. The heritage breed cow, on the other hand, retains all of the characteristics of its breed. Some are best for farmers that want to try their hand at cheesemaking while others are better for producing a larger quantity of milk. Some breeds do especially well in areas of the country where the weather is often well below freezing and others thrive on the sparse grazing of the dry southwest.

It is important to understand the differences in heritage breed cows and choose the one that best suits your homesteading needs.

7 Heritage Breed Cows to Consider

There are probably more heritage breed cows on the American Livestock Breed Conservancy's critical list than any other type of livestock. This is sad since so many of these cows are perfect for the small family farm or homestead. If you are looking for a good family cow consider these breeds first.

Since most heritage breed animals are also dual purpose you will find that a heritage breed cow gives less milk and may have a lighter hanging weight as beef. This is a problem for the big commercial farms but is one of the things that makes a heritage breed so useful for the homestead.

Consider that the average dairy cow gives between eight and eleven gallons of milk per day and the average heritage breed gives four or five. Most families do not have the ability to deal with eight gallons of milk on a daily basis!


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This cow was brought to Canada from France in the 1600s. It was the most used dairy cow in eastern Canada until the mid 1800s when hybridized breeds started to be imported from Europe. The diary farmers were led to believe that these breeds would improve their dairy and the government officially endorsed the European breeds over the Canadienne in 1850. This was later reversed and farmers again raised the Canadienne until the early 1900s when high levels of production were valued over anything else. The Canadienne is perfect for homesteads that wish to focus on pasture/grass fed cattle. This breed thrives on pastures where other dairy breeds would languish. It has the ability to produce milk on low quality forage and this makes the Canadienne an excellent choice for dairying in cold climates with rocky, weedy pasture. Florida Cracker The Florida Cracker is, in many way, much like the Canadienne. Its ancestors were brought to the southern United States in the 1500s by Spanish explorers. This breed developed and adapted to the hot conditions of the Deep South. The Florida Cracker is a heat tolerant breed that has a long life span. It is resistant to common parasites and diseased. The breed is also a good choice for those who wish to raise herds that are mostly grass fed; the Florida Cracker is productive on low quality forage and scrub. Other names for this breed are: - Piney Woods (This is considered a separate breed by some) - Florida Scrub - Florida Native Cattle Related to the Texas Longhorn, the Florida Cracker is smaller and better suited to the lower quality of forage available in the Florida swamplands. This cow matures early meaning that it can start earning its keep sooner. The butter fat content of the Cracker is about 3.5%, a full point lower than the Canadienne. It has been considered more of a beef producer than a milk producer but is a good dual purpose animal as long as you are not planning on producing commercial grade artisan cheese. Milking Shorthorn Shorthorn cattle were an excellent dual purpose breed with some farmers breeding to capitalize on the beef qualities, others breeding for dairy, and still others preferring the dual purpose characteristics of these animals. In the early 1900s the breed was officially split into Shorthorn and Milking Shorthorn categories. The Shorthorn is still raised for beef but the Milking Shorthorn has been in decline as small, family dairies disappeared. The Milking Shorthorn is an excellent forager and produces a good quality milk on pasture. It has a long production life, calves easily, and animals not kept for milk have an excellent carcass. This is a good dual purpose choice for almost any area of the country. Milking Devon The Milking Devon is the heritage breed cow that inspired the beginning of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. During the Bicentennial, in 1976, Olde Sturbridge Village wanted to be more historically accurate and began looking for the same breeds of cattle that the Pilgrims would have had. When it was discovered that the Milking Devon would have been a primary breed the search was on to find this cow. Although the animals were located, it was difficult and the Conservancy was born to help promote breeds that were rapidly disappearing. The Milking Devon were brought to American shores in 1623 with the Pilgrims and the breed adapted well to conditions in the New World. The hardiness of the Devon meant that it was used for transportation, milk, and meat. As Milking Devon cattle were used as oxen the breed moved across and down the coast of the United States, adapting well where ever it went. Milking Devon oxen moved many, many families down the Oregon Trail. This breed retains these strong characteristics and is well suited for multipurpose use on the small family farm. Randall Lineback The Randall Lineback is named for the line of color going down its spine. It developed in New England like the Milking Devon and has many of the same strong characteristics. The Lineback has been used for milk, meat, and as a work animal for centuries. Breeders often enjoy its unique color pattern and docile temperament. Red Polled Red Polled cattle were developed in England in the early 1800s and brought to the United States in the 1880s. They are a strong dual purpose breed known for thier quiet disposition and easy of handling. Because of this they do well in situations where the homesteader uses pasture rotation and moves them around a lot. The milk is higher in butterfat than some other heritage breeds making it a good choice for homesteaders and small family farms that want to move into making artisan cheeses. Ayrshire The Ayrshire is not on the critical list but is on the list to be watched. Although it is a major dairy breed, the Ayrshire can't compete with the Holstein in the amount of milk it produces under the conditions of confinement present in factory farms. The quality and butterfat is high and this makes it a great breed for the small artisan dairy. The Ayrshire does well on pasture and the quality of the milk makes it excellent for cheese, ice cream, butter, and other high fat milk products. [b]Planet Green Video: Turning Cow Poop into Money