About forty years ago, the Dutch Belted breed was perilously close to extinction. This was when my father, Kenneth Hoffman, discovered Dorothy O’Neill Hornback and her herd of purebred Dutch Belts that he ascertained were the oldest continuously registered purebred belted cattle in the world.

“I’ll never forget the first time I went to look at the O’Neill herd,” Kenneth said. “I walked into that 100-year-old barn and there stood a living library, genetics of the cattle that roamed the alpine pastures of Canton Appenzell and the Tyrol valley of Austria more than 300 years ago. I’d been fascinated with belted cattle since I was a schoolboy and saw them in Compton’s Encyclopedia, and here I was seeing this historic, purebred herd with my own eyes.”

My father was an established breeder of Milking Shorthorns by 1981, so he decided to follow his lifelong dream of breeding belted cattle. He discovered the O’Neill herd after searching hard for remaining Dutch Belted cows, and founded our Bestyet herd on those genetics, so all our belties today trace back in some way to O’Neill cattle.

About Dorothy O’Neill Hornback and her cows

Dorothy’s parents, Charles and E.T. O’Neill, founded a Dutch Belted herd in the 1920s with stock from Ohio, Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, Florida, and Vermont. (They were also breeders of Morgan horses.)

On their deathbeds, they told Dorothy, “Whatever you do, don’t get rid of the Dutch Belts.”  She took that charge to heart, hanging onto the cattle and keeping them purebred through many personal challenges of illness and death in the family. Her husband, Harry Hornback, worked with her to keep the dairy herd going.

Dorothy and Harry kept meticulous milk records, weighing and writing down the milk produced by each cow at every milking. They were also on DHIA test. This greatly impressed my father and convinced him that Dutch Belted cattle could be serious dairy animals.

She would share the belted genetics with interested new breeders by selling some of her prized calves. While my father was waiting for heifer calves, she offered him the bull calves from her best cows, so he raised and collected semen because he saw a great need for Dutch Belted A.I. sires.

Today her maternal bloodlines are in the three most influential purebred herds in the nation. Because my father collected semen from O’Neill bulls, most Dutch Belted cattle today trace back at least once to Dorothy’s herd.

For six decades, the O’Neill herd preserved irreplaceable Dutch Belted genetics as other breeders sold out. This dedication is one of the major reasons that the breed is still alive and thriving today.

This is Jaimie, one of the first heifers we got from the O'Neill herd. In her second lactation, she gave 23,000 pounds of milk, which was the most in the herd at the time.

This is Jamie, one of the first heifers we got from the O’Neill herd. In her second lactation, she gave 23,000 pounds of milk, which was the most in the herd at the time.

What it means for us today

As breeders, we owe many thanks to Dorothy and her family for their sacrifice and determination to keep Dutch Belted cattle around for the benefit of future generations.

Remembering Dorothy’s story is a reminder that we inherited the responsibility from her to keep breeding and sharing these animals with new breeders. She entrusted us with her precious cattle and the legacy she left inspires us to keep going even when we face challenges.

Our favorite thing is helping get new breeders started with these beautiful and useful Dutch Belted cows. When you buy semen or breeding stock from us, you join us in the story of the people who have helped save the Dutch Belted breed and bring it forward into the future. It is so rewarding to mentor and support people who value these purebred cattle that are such a treasure to all of us. Dorothy and her parents would be pleased.