This fresh 4-year-old Flashback daughter exemplifies how our dual-purpose cows put on flesh when dry and milk it off to provide plenty of milk for the calf and for the farmer.
“The Breed That Fills Every Need” was the tagline for the dual-purpose Milking Shorthorns of the mid-1900s. The ideal was a practical farmer’s cow that converted homegrown feeds to wholesome milk and meat with a minimum of fuss, freeing up the diversified farmer’s time for his many other pressing duties.
This is the era during which my late husband and his brother took over and built up the family Milking Shorthorn herd as they sourced more foundation animals from outstanding breeders around the country. Their emphasis was on milking qualities and excellent udders, since many of the common cows of the time were more coarse and beefy.
Nationwide changes in markets, labor and land distribution led to specialization in dairy and beef production, resulting in most Milking Shorthorn breeders going one way or the other. Dairy producers selected for more extreme milk production to compete with the high-volume dairy breeds, leading to the American Milking Shorthorn Society’s “Genetic Expansion” program which allows up to 25% of other dairy blood (mostly Holstein) into the herd book. The remaining “native” * Milking Shorthorn breeders went mostly to cow-calf, with very few of them milking their cows.
Now, many grass-based dairy producers and homesteaders are feeling the need for a cow that has a sturdy calf each year, produces milk well beyond what her calf requires and has the fleshing ability to outwinter on rough feed. Just like the dual-purpose Milking Shorthorn of the 1940s and 50s, this is the type we continue to breed on our farm.
It is not easy to breed for both milk and beef, because extremes on either side will detract from usefulness in the other area, although the opposing traits can enhance one another if properly balanced. For example, the steer calf’s fleshing ability is best expressed when his dam is a prodigious milker, a “chuffy” heifer (chubby, inclined to put meat on her bones) will develop well without grain, and a cow’s lifetime milk production is enhanced by her ability to put on flesh in late lactation.
In our family’s more than 80 years of breeding Milking Shorthorn cattle, we have seen many trends come and go. We stick to the value of a truly dual-purpose cow, with a balance of milking and fleshing qualities, and we are committed to a breeding program that provides these genetics for farmers and homesteaders.
*Note on “native” Milking Shorthorns: The “native” designation in the AMSS means the animals trace directly to the original U.S. imports from Great Britain, without any other breed or even other Shorthorn strains from Australia and New Zealand which became popular in the 1970’s among dairy breeders. Since we have used these other Shorthorn genetics to some extent, our cows do not classify as strictly “native”, but we have stayed true to the heritage Milking Shorthorn features of sturdy, easy-fleshing cattle with good milk potential.