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The Ayrshire

Category: History and Breeds

This breed is justly celebrated throughout Great Britain and this
country for its excellent dairy qualities. Though the most recent in
their origin, they are pretty distinct from the Scotch and English
races. In color, the pure Ayrshires are generally red and
white, spotted or mottled, not roan like many of the short horns, but
often presenting a bright contrast of colors. They are sometimes, though
rarely, nearly or quite all red, and sometimes black and white; but the
favorite color is red and white brightly contrasted; and, by some,
strawberry-color is preferred. The head is small, fine and clean; the
face long and narrow at the muzzle, with a sprightly, yet generally mild
expression; eye small, smart and lively; the horns short, fine, and
slightly twisted upward, set wide apart at the roots; the neck thin;

body enlarging from fore to hind quarters; the back straight and narrow,
but broad across the loin; joints rather loose and open; ribs rather
flat; hind quarters rather thin; bone fine; tail long, fine, and bushy
at the end; hair generally thin and soft; udder light color and
capacious, extending well forward under the belly; teats of the cow of
medium size, generally set regularly and wide apart; milk-veins
prominent and well developed. The carcass of the pure bred Ayrshire is
light, particularly the fore quarters, which is considered by good
judges as an index of great milking qualities; but the pelvis is
capacious and wide over the hips.

On the whole, the Ayrshire is good looking, but wants some of the
symmetry and aptitude to fatten which characterize the short horn, which
is supposed to have contributed to build up this valuable breed on the
basis of the original stock of the county of Ayr, which extends along
the eastern shore of the Firth of Clyde, in the southwestern part of

The original stock of this country are described as of a diminutive
size, ill fed, ill shaped, and yielding but a scanty return in milk.
They were mostly of a black color, with large stripes of white along the
chine and ridge of their backs, about the flanks, and on their faces.
Their horns were high and crooked, having deep ringlets at the root--the
surest proof that they were but scantily fed; the chine of their backs
stood up high and narrow; their sides were lank, short, and thin; their
hides thick and adhering to the bones; their pile was coarse and open;
and few of them gave more than six or eight quarts of milk a day when in
their best condition, or weighed, when fat, more than from a hundred to
a hundred and sixty pounds avoirdupois, rejecting offal.

A wonderful change has since been made in the condition, aspect, and
qualities of the Ayrshire dairy stock. They are now almost double the
size, and yield about four times the quantity of milk that the Ayrshire
cows formerly yielded. A large part of this improvement is due to better
feeding and care, but much, no doubt, to judicious crossing. Strange as
it may seem, considering the modern origin of this breed, all that is
certainly known touching it is, that about a century and a half ago
there was no such breed as Ayrshire in Scotland. The question has
therefore arisen, whether these cattle came entirely from a careful
selection of the best native breed. If they did, it is a circumstance
without a parallel in the history of agriculture. The native breed may
indeed be ameliorated by careful selection; its value may be
incalculably increased; some good qualities, some of its best qualities,
may be developed for the first time; but yet there will be some
resemblance to the original stock, and the more the animal is examined,
the more clearly can be traced the characteristic points of the
ancestor, although every one of them is improved.

Youatt estimates the daily yield of an Ayrshire cow, for the first two
or three months after calving, at five gallons a day, on an average; for
the next three months, at three gallons; and for the next four months,
at one gallon and a half. This would give eight hundred and fifty
gallons as the annual average; but, allowing for some unproductive cows,
he estimates the average of a dairy at six hundred gallons a year for
each cow. Three gallons and a half of the Ayrshire cow's milk will yield
one and a half pounds of butter. Some have estimated the yield still

One of the four cows originally imported into this country by John P.
Cushing, Esq., of Massachusetts, gave in one year three thousand eight
hundred and sixty-four quarts, beer measure, or about nine hundred and
sixty-six gallons, at ten pounds the gallon; being an average of over
ten and a half beer quarts a day for the entire year. The first cow of
this breed, imported by the Massachusetts Society, for the Promotion of
Agriculture, in 1837, yielded sixteen pounds of butter a week for
several successive weeks, on grass feed only. It should be borne in
mind, in this connection that the climate of New England is less
favorable to the production of milk than that of England and Scotland,
and that no cow imported after arriving at maturity can be expected to
yield as much, under the same circumstances, as one bred on the spot
where the trial is made, and perfectly acclimated.

On excellent authority, the most approved shape and marks of a good
dairy cow are as follows: Head small, long, and narrow toward the
muzzle; horns small, clear, bent, and placed at considerable distance
from each other; eyes not large, but brisk and lively; neck slender and
long, tapering toward the head, with a little loose skin below;
shoulders and fore quarters light and thin; hind quarters large and
broad; back straight, and joints slack and open; carcass deep in the
rib; tail small and long, reaching to the heels; legs small and short,
with firm joints; udder square, but a little oblong, stretching forward,
thin skinned and capacious, but not low hung; teats or paps small,
pointing outward, and at a considerable distance from each other;
milk-veins capacious and prominent; skin loose, thin, and soft like a
glove; hair short, soft, and woolly; general figure, when in flesh,
handsome and well proportioned.

If this description of the Ayrshire cow be correct, it will be seen that
her head and neck are remarkably clean and fine, the latter swelling
gradually toward the shoulders, both parts being unencumbered with
superfluous flesh. The same general form extends backward, the fore
quarters being, light the shoulders thin, and the carcass swelling out
toward the hind quarters, so that when standing in front of her it has
the form of a blunted wedge. Such a structure indicates very fully
developed digestive organs, which exert a powerful influence on all the
functions of the body, and especially on the secretion of the milky
glands, accompanied with milk-veins and udder partaking of the same
character as the stomach and viscera, being large and capacious, while
the external skin and interior walls of the milk-glands are thin and
elastic, and all parts arranged in a manner especially adapted for the
production of milk.

A cow with these marks will generally be of a quiet and docile temper,
which greatly increases her value. A cow that is of a quiet and
contented disposition feeds at ease, is milked with ease, and yields
more than one of an opposite temperament; while, after she is past her
usefulness as a milker, she will easily take on fat, and make fine beef
and a good quantity of tallow, because she feeds freely, and when dry
the food which went to make milk is converted into fat and flesh. But
there is no breed of cows with which gentle gentleness of treatment is
so indispensable as with the Ayrshire, on account of her naturally
nervous temperament. If she receives other than kind and gentle
treatment, she will often resent it with angry looks and gestures, and
withhold her milk; and if such treatment is long continued, will dry
up; but she willingly and easily yields it to the hand that fondles
her, and all her looks and movements toward her friends are quiet and

The Ayrshires in their native country are generally bred for the dairy,
and for no other object; and the cows have justly obtained a world-wide
reputation for this quality. The oxen are, however, very fair as working
cattle, though they cannot be said to excel other breeds in this
respect. The Ayrshire steer maybe fed and turned at three years old; but
for feeding purposes the Ayrshires are greatly improved by a cross with
the short horns, provided regard is had to the size of the animal. It is
the opinion of good breeders that a high-bred short horn bull and a
large-sized Ayrshire cow will produce a calf which will come to maturity
earlier, and attain greater weight, and sell for more money than a
pure-bred Ayrshire. This cross, with feeding from the start, may be sold
fat at two or three years old, the improvement being most noticeable in
the earlier maturity and size.

In the Cross with the short horn, the form ordinarily becomes more
symmetrical, while there is, perhaps, little risk of lessening the
milking qualities of the offspring, if sufficient regard is paid to the
selection of the individual animals to breed from. It is thought by some
that in the breeding of animals it is the male which gives the external
form, or the bony and muscular system of the young, while the female
imparts the respiratory organs, the circulation of the blood, the organs
of secretion, and the like.

If this principle be true, it follows that the milking qualities come
chiefly from the mother, and that the bull cannot materially alter the
conditions which determine the transmission of these qualities,
especially when they are as strongly marked as they are in this breed.

Until, however, certain mooted questions connected with breeding are
definitively settled, it is the safest plan, in breeding for the dairy,
to adhere to the rule of selecting only animals whose progenitors on
both sides have been distinguished for their milking qualities.

It may be stated, in conclusion, that for purely dairy purposes the
Ayrshire cow deserves the first place. In consequence of her small,
symmetrical, and compact body, combined with a well-formed chest and a
capacious stomach, there is little waste, comparatively speaking,
through the respiratory system; while at the same time there is very
complete assimilation of the food, and thus she converts a very large
proportion of her food into milk. So remarkable is this fact, that all
dairy farmers who have any experience on the point, agree in stating
that an Ayrshire cow generally gives a larger return of milk for the
food consumed than a cow of any other breed. The absolute quality may
not be so great, but it is obtained at a less cost; and this is the
point upon which the question of profit depends. The best milkers which
have been known in this country were grade Ayrshires, larger in size
than the pure bloods, but still sufficiently high grades to give certain
signs of their origin. This grade would seem to possess the advantage of
combining, to some extent, the two qualities of milking and adaptation
to beef; and this is no small recommendation of the stock to farmers
situated as American farmers are, who wish for milk for some years and
then to turn over to the butcher.

Next: The Jersey

Previous: American Cattle

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