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The Short Horns

Category: History and Breeds

No breed of cattle has commanded more universal admiration during the
last half century than the improved short horns, whose origin can be
traced back for nearly a hundred years. According to the best
authorities, the stock which formed the basis of improvement existed
equally in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Northumberland, and the adjoining
counties; and the pre-eminence was accorded to Durham, which gave its
name to the race, from the more correct principles of breeding which
seem to have obtained there.

There is a dispute among the most eminent breeders as to how far it owes
its origin to early importations from Holland, whence many superior
animals were brought for the purpose of improving the old long horned
breed. A large race of cattle had existed for many years on the western
shores of the continent of Europe. As early as 1633, they were imported
from Denmark into New England in considerable numbers, and thus laid the
foundation of a valuable stock in farming at a very early date in
Holland, and experience led to the greatest care in the choice and
breeding of dairy stock. From these cattle many selections were made to
cross over to the counties of York and Durham. The prevailing color of
the large Dutch cattle was black and white, beautifully contrasted.

The cattle produced by these crosses a century ago were known by the
name of "Dutch." The cows selected for crossing with the early imported
Dutch bulls were generally long horned, large boned, coarse animals, a
fair type of which was found in the old "Holderness" breed of
Yorkshire--slow feeders, strong in the shoulder, defective in the fore
quarter, and not very profitable to the butcher, their meat being coarse
and uninviting. Their milking qualities were good, surpassing those,
probably, of the improved short horns. Whatever may be the truth with
regard to these crosses, and however far they proved effective in
creating or laying the foundation of the modern improved short horns,
the results of the efforts made in Yorkshire and some of the adjoining
counties were never so satisfactory to the best judges as those of the
breeders along the Tees, who selected animals with greater reference to
fineness of bone and symmetry of form, and the animals they bred soon
took the lead and excited great emulation in improvement.

Importations of short horns have been frequent and extensive into the
United States within the last few years, and this famous breed is now
pretty generally diffused over the country.

The high-bred short horn is easily prepared for a show, and, as fat will
cover faults, the temptation is often too great to be resisted; and
hence it is not uncommon to see the finest animals rendered unfit for
breeding purposes by over-feeding. The race is susceptible of breeding
for the production of milk, as several families show, and great milkers
have often been known among pure-bred animals; but it is more common to
find it bred mainly for the butcher, and kept accordingly. It is,
however, a well-known fact, that the dairies of London are stocked
chiefly with short horns and Yorkshires, or high grades between them,
which, after being milked as long as profitable, feed equal, or nearly
so, to pure-bred short horns. It has been said, by very good authority,
that the short horns improve every breed with which they cross.

The desirable characteristics of the short horn bull may be summed up,
according to the judgment of the best breeders, as follows: He should
have a short but fine head, very broad across the eyes, tapering to the
nose, with a nostril full and prominent; the nose itself should be of a
rich flesh color; eyes bright and mild; ears somewhat large and thin;
horns slightly covered and rather flat, well set on; a long, broad,
muscular neck; chest wide, deep, and projecting; shoulders fine,
oblique, well formed into the chine; fore legs short, with upper arm
large and powerful; barrel round, deep, well-ribbed horns; hips wide and
level; back straight from the withers to the setting on of the tail, but
short from hips to chine; skin soft and velvety to the touch; moderately
thick hair, plentiful, soft, and mossy. The cow has the same points in
the main, but her head is finer, longer, and more tapering; neck thinner
and lighter, and shoulders more narrow across the chine.

The astonishing precocity of the short horns, their remarkable aptitude
to fatten, the perfection of their forms, and the fineness of their bony
structure, give them an advantage over most other races when the object
of breeding is for the shambles. No animal of any other breed can so
rapidly transform the stock of any section around him as the improved
short horn bull.

It does not, however, follow that the high-bred short horns are
unexceptionable, even for beef. The very exaggeration, so to speak, of
the qualities which make them so valuable for the improvement of other
and less perfect races, may become a fault when wanted for the table.
The very rapidity with which they increase in size is thought by some
to prevent their meat from ripening up sufficiently before being hurried
off to the butcher. The disproportion of the fatty to the muscular
flesh, found in this to a greater extent than in races coming more
slowly to maturity, makes the meat of the thorough-bred short horn, in
the estimation of some, less agreeable to the taste, and less profitable
to the consumer; since the nitrogenous compounds, true sources of
nutriment, are found in less quantity than in the meat of animals not so
highly bred.

In sections where the climate is moist, and the food abundant and rich,
some families of the short horns may be valuable for the dairy; but they
are most frequently bred exclusively for beef in this country, and in
sections where they have attained the highest perfection of form and
beauty, so little is thought of their milking qualities that they are
often not milked at all, the calf being allowed to run with the dam.

Next: The Dutch

Previous: The Jersey

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