Heritage Shorthorns: Dual-Purpose Cattle for Grass-Based Production

Heritage Shorthorns Dual-Purpose Cattle for Grass - Based Production
photo courtesy of The Livestock Conservancy

At The Livestock Conservancy conference in November, mother-daughter duo Winifred and Martha Hoffman (BestYet A.I. Sires) gave an excellent presentation about Dutch Belted Cattle, which I wrote about in this post: 5 Reasons to Add Dutch Belted Cattle to your Homestead. Well, it turns out that there is another breed of milk cow that the Hoffman’s recommend even more for people starting out with a family cow – Milking Shorthorns.

When I heard this, of course, I was intrigued! I had the opportunity to interview Winifred Hoffman and here is what she says about Milking Shorthorns…

milking shorthorns
Hoffmans in 1950’s: Winifred’s late husband Kenneth Hoffman and his brother Howard Hoffman with two Milking Shorthorn heifers from their family’s herd. (www.bestyetaisires.com)

Janie: Can you share a bit about your family’s history of breeding Milking Shorthorns? When and how did you get started?

Winifred: My late husband, Kenneth Hoffman, grew up with the family’s herd of Milking Shorthorns, established when his parents married in 1936. As Kenneth grew, his father saw his passion and aptitude for breeding and let him start choosing the sires and building the herd. He and his brother purchased foundation cows from several retiring breeders around the country in the 1950s and 1960s and established what was a rather sizable dairy for that era. By the time I joined the family in 1981, Kenneth had a reputation for his unique breeding program, and we went on to breed and develop sires that became very influential in the breed. When Kenneth passed away in 2005, our five children and I continued on with our grass-based herd, selecting specifically for the truly dual-purpose Milking Shorthorns that have become rare.

How does your family’s herd with old-fashioned dual purpose characteristics compare to mainstream Milking Shorthorns?

milking shorthorns
A 10-year-old cow in the Hoffman herd, exemplifying the traits they select for. (www.bestyetaisires.com)

The American Milking Shorthorn Society (AMSS) has a liberal Genetic Expansion program, which sanctions the use of Holstein and other dairy breeding stock, so animals in the AMSS herd book may be only ¾ or less actual Milking Shorthorn genetics. This has resulted in much higher milk production and also more of the other Holstein-type traits such as calving difficulty, extreme size, metabolic problems, reliance on grain feeding, and mobility issues. In our herd, we emphasize the more traditional traits of moderate size and milk production, calving ease and ability to gain weight on grass.

You also mentioned that you recommend Milking Shorthorns for people starting out with a family cow because they tend to be more mild-mannered, steers have more beef value, and the initial cost of breeding stock is usually quite a bit less.  Are there any other reasons why you recommend Milking Shorthorns?

Our traditional Milking Shorthorns are hardy and healthy. Calving ease, freedom from metabolic disorders such as milk fever, and sound feet and legs are important in our breeding program. Milking Shorthorns from more mainstream herds may have more Holstein characteristics (see question above), so they may not be as desirable for family cows.

I understand their conservation status is critical. Do you have any information about the numbers of Milking Shorthorns and/or efforts to conserve them?

The critical conservation status is for Milking Shorthorns with the Native designation in the American Milking Shorthorn Society herd book. These would be animals with no Illawara (Australian Milking Shorthorn), New Zealand Milking Shorthorn, or other blood. I believe there is a fairly strong if small base of breeders sticking with this Native designation. We ourselves do not restrict our breeding base quite as narrowly, because the Illawara and New Zealand populations were derived from British Shorthorns. In our view, the Native population has not retained enough milk production to really be considered dual-purpose cattle.

milking shorthorns
Martha Hoffman milking one of their Milking Shorthorn cows (www.bestyetaisires.com)

From the Livestock Conservancy, I read that Milking Shorthorn cows weigh about 1,200-1,400 pounds and bulls about a ton. And they average over 15,000 pounds of milk per year. Are these numbers similar to what you have experienced in terms of size and milk production?

Most of our cows tend to be a bit smaller (1,100-1,400 pounds). Milk production is 12,000-15,000 pounds per year. It depends on many factors, including feed quality, age of cow, and genetics. As mentioned above, Native cattle do not milk very well, so 15,000 is not realistic at all.

Do you have any other recommendations or considerations for someone interested in getting started with Milking Shorthorns?

Because of the wide variation in bloodlines from Native on one end and the extreme modern dairy traits at the other end, it is important to study the pedigrees and conformation of any animals you consider buying.

Are there any associations or other groups dedicated to Milking Shorthorns?

The American Milking Shorthorn Society (AMSS) is the official association for Milking Shorthorns. Native cattle are registered within the AMSS herd book with “N” designation after their registered names.

Many thanks to the Hoffman’s for sharing this wonderful information about Milking Shorthorns. To learn more, be sure to check out their genetics web site: www.bestyetaisires.com

For more information

Heritage Shorthorns
photo courtesy of The Livestock Conservancy


1 thought on “Heritage Shorthorns: Dual-Purpose Cattle for Grass-Based Production”

  1. Great article. We love our Milking Shortorns and are working to keep them going here in Ontario Canada. Just a lovely all around cow.


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