Shorthorn cattle originate from the north east of England and can be traced back to the 1700s. Through genetic diversity the breed split into Dairy Shorthorn and Beef Shorthorn.
The development of Shorthorn cattle is due mainly to the founding breeders of Teeswater cattle. Cattle kept by some of these main breeders were developed for their milking qualities while other breeders concentrated on the beef qualities.
There are minor differences between the two types of Shorthorn, but on the whole they have very similar qualities and characteristics. Shorthorn cattle are natural grazers. They convert feed to milk and beef with great efficiency.
Shorthorn genetics have subsequently been used in the development of over 40 breeds across the world. It is a breed that is certainly gaining in popularity here in Ireland. In the USA and Canada Dairy Shorthorn cattle are referred to as the Milking Shorthorn.
Shorthorn cattle are usually a mix of red, roan or white. (The Whitebred Shorthorn is completely white and was developed to be crossed with black Galloway cattle.) Despite their name, some Shorthorn cattle are naturally polled.
Shorthorn cows have a good temperament and are easy to milk. Milk yields can be high (around 8,000 kg per lactation) and with a good protein ratio. Another plus is their longevity. Some cows produce 5 lactations in their lifetime.
When used in beef production, the Shorthorn gain weight efficiently and are suitable for low-input systems. Animals finish quite early and the beef is well marbled adding to the tenderness of the meat. Average carcass yields are around 60%.
Cows reach around 800 kilos in weight, mature bulls around 990 kilos. Calves are usually relatively small (at around 38 kilos) and it is reported that over 97% of births require no assistance. Cows can breed again quickly while heifers usually reach puberty at under a year old.
Shorthorn bulls are considered to be quieter than other breeds. They have high libidos and the breed has excellent fertility. The Shorthorn has the ability to cross well with virtually any breed.