16 Common Cattle Breeds
250 Recognized Breeds
There are more than 250 recognized breeds of cattle throughout the world, with more than 80 readily available to producers in the United States.
When you take crossbred cattle into consideration, the possibilities are endless. Crossbreeding is an efficient way to build a herd, but those purebred lines are still important. Quality purebreds make quality crossbreds.
Black Angus cattle, also called Aberdeen Angus, are the most popular breed in the U.S., and thanks to some excellent marketing, their meat is in demand, which means these cattle -- and crossbreds with mostly black markings -- often bring a premium at the sale barn. This breed comes from northeastern Scotland and was first brought to the U.S. by a Kansas rancher in 1873. When crossed with Texas longhorn cows, the hornless black calves brought winter hardiness to the mix. Angus are naturally polled (hornless), and have black skin and hair. They are moderately sized, generally good mothers, and are known for early development, ease of fleshing, good milk supply, and excellent marbling.
2. Belted Galloway
Commonly called "Oreo cattle" because of their black color (possibly brown or red) with a white stripe through their middles, this breed started in Scotland as a solid-color cow, but got their belts through the introduction of Dutch Belted blood. They were first imported to the U.S. in 1950. Although Belted Galloways are often purchased for their ornamental qualities, they do produce lean, quality beef. They're a medium-sized breed, but their carcass dressed weights can exceed 60% of their live weight. Belties have a double coat of hair, which allows them to keep warm in the winter without developing a layer of backfat like some other breeds.
Brahman cattle come from India, and are the most common cattle breed in the world. Over the centuries, Brahmans have developed resistance to pests, parasites, and diseases, and the ability to survive inadequate food and harsh weather. They have a large hump over their shoulder and neck, upward-curving horns, large ears, and excess skin under their necks and chests, which helps keep them cool. They also are able to sweat better than most cattle, and secrete an oil which helps repel insects.
The light-colored Charolais originated in France, where it was used for meat, milk, and drafting. The animals' large size and sturdy frame gave them the power to work in fields and pull wagons. The first Charolais came into the U.S. by way of Mexico in the 1930s. Because of a disease outbreak in Mexico, the breed was not allowed to be imported to North America until 1965. Therefore, many of today's American Charolais have other breeds in their lineage as well. Charolais do well under a variety of environmental conditions. They graze aggressively in warm weather, withstand the cold, and have heavy calves. For this reason, adding a Charolais bull to a herd can improve the size and ruggedness of calves.
Dexter cattle originated in southern Ireland, and came to the U.S. in the early 1900s. They are one of the smallest breeds of cattle, with full-grown bulls measuring 38 to 44 inches at the shoulder and weighing less than 1,000 pounds. Some have long legs and some short. Because of their size, they require less pasture and feed than larger breeds. They thrive in hot and cold climates, and are known for being gentle and easy to handle. Dexters have a high rate of fertility and are easy calvers. They can be raised for both milk and meat. They can produce more milk for their weight than any other breed, and their milk yields up to a quart of cream per gallon. Their beef is slightly darker red than other breeds, and the small cuts are lean and graded choice.
This breed originated in Baravia, in southern Germany, and was originally developed for meat, milk, and work. It was introduced to the U.S. in 1971, through an artificial insemination program. Females are registered as purebred at 7/8 Gelbvieh, and bulls at 15/16. Bulls in Germany must undergo extensive tests to become A.I. sires. Gelbviehs are red, with pigmented skin, and were originally horned. Due to breeding with polled foundation females in the U.S., though, many today are naturally polled. They are known for high fertility, ease of calving, being good mothers, and having quick-growing calves.
The Hereford breed was developed in England in the 1700s to fulfill the expanding food market created by the industrial revolution. The original Herefords were bred for a high yield of beef and efficient production, and those characteristics are still important in the breed today. They were brought to the U.S. in 1817 and were useful for improving herds in the Southwest. Because of their early maturity and fattening ability, Herefords became very popular in the U.S. As tastes changed in the 1950s, Herefords were bred to be leaner, with less fat and more red meat. Both horned and polled Herefords remain common in the U.S. They are known for their longevity, and for being docile, easy calvers, good milkers, and good mothers.
Holsteins are best known as dairy cows, but those animals not used for breeding stock or milk production are raised for their value as beef cattle. Holsteins originated in Holland more than 2,000 years ago, and were brought to America in the 1850s as demand for milk grew in this country. The black and white cattle are known for outstanding milk production, but their normal productive life span is only about six years. Healthy calves weigh 90 pounds or more, and mature cows reach 1,500 pounds.
Limousin cattle may be as old as Europe itself; cattle in 20,000-year-old cave paintings in France are strikingly similar in appearance to today's breed. The golden-red cattle are native to France, and were used as draft animals to help turn rugged, rocky soil into fields for crops. Limousins weren't imported into the U.S. until 1971, by way of Canada. Today, there are more than a million registered head here. In 2002, Lim-Flex, a pedigreed Limousin-Angus hybrid, was recognized.
This Italian breed is a 25,000-year-old splice of two completely different breeds: the European Auroch and Pakistani Zebu. The breed was brought to North America in 1979. Piedmontese are more muscular, disease resistant, and hardy than most beef cows. Due to a genetic abnormality, they are capable of developing muscle at an unrestricted rate, and with 14% higher muscle mass than most cattle, are considered double muscled. Piedmontese milk is also a primary ingredient in several Italian cheeses.
11. Red Angus
This breed was developed in Scotland in the 1700s, when large red English longhorn cattle were bred to native black Angus cattle to produce animals heavy enough to be used as draft animals. One in four resulting calves were red. Both black and red offspring were initially considered purebred, but reds were banned from registration in 1917. In the 1940s, American cattle producers started breeding reds cropped from the best Angus herds and formed their own breed, which aside from color, has the same features and benefits as black Angus. Today, red Angus is the leading U.S. beef breed used in artificial insemination around the world.
12. Scottish Highland
This breed lived for centuries in the harsh, rugged Scottish Highlands, where it developed a resistance to many stress-related and other bovine diseases. It is among the oldest registered breeds. Cold weather and snow have little effect on this breed, which has long hair rather than a layer of fat to keep it warm. This also makes for lean beef with little outside waste fat. They also do well in southern climates, and will eat and thrive on brush and weeds other cattle pass by. Highlands have long horns, and long eyelashes and forelocks that protect their eyes from flying insects. They are considered to be even-tempered and intelligent.
Shorthorns originated on the northeast coast of England and were brought to America in 1783 and called Durham cattle. They were popular with settlers, since they were very adaptable, and could be used for meat and milk, and to power wagons and plows. They can be either horned or naturally polled. Polled shorthorns were the first major beef breed to be developed in the U.S. in the 1880s. Both types of shorthorns are known for adaptability, mothering ability, reproductive performance, good disposition, longevity, and good feed conversion.
This Swiss breed is among the oldest and most widely distributed in the world. They have been raised in the U.S. since the late 1800s, but their popularity waned until the late 1960s. Most Simmentals are red and white, but there are no color restrictions on the breed. They are known for rapid growth development, milk production, and large size. Although primarily used as dairy cattle in Europe, American Simmentals are bred for beef production.
15. Texas Longhorn
This truly American cattle breed was shaped by a combination of natural selection and adaptation to the environment, stemming from the first cattle brought to North America more than 500 years ago. Due to a desire for more quickly maturing cattle, however, longhorns were nearly erased by crossbreeding by 1900. The breed was rescued from extinction and has regained popularity. They are hard and adaptable, and are known for high fertility, easy calving, disease and parasite resistance, and longevity. Longhorns also eat coarse forage material more efficiently than most other breeds.
Also known as African Ankole-Watusi, this breed traces its ancestry back more than 6,000 years, where long-horned domestic cattle were established in the Nile Valley. They are even pictured in Egyptian pyramid pictographs. Later, this giant-horned strain of cattle was owned by Tutsi kings and chiefs. Their horns, which can reach 12 feet in diameter, led them to become popular in European zoos. These medium-sized animals have small calves, which makes Watusi bulls useful for breeding to first-calf heifers or other smaller breeds. They tolerate weather extremes, and do well in very hot climates. Their large horns actually cool them down by circulating blood, cooling it, and returning it to the body. Watusi cattle also produce low-fat, low-cholesterol beef.