The Shorthorn is one of the oldest British breeds, with a recorded history of well over 200 years. Its origins can be traced to the Tees River valley in north-east England, where the Teeswater beef breed evolved from a cross with a Dutch dairy type. An upgrading programme in Durham County produced cattle called Durhams, which became the pioneer bloodline of the Shorthorn. The Shorthorn was originally a dual-purpose animal, but by the early 1800s a breeder called Thomas Booth selected for beef qualities while another called Thomas Bates selected more for milking ability. In 1822 Volume 1 of the Coates’s Herd Book was published, but it was not until 1958, with the publication of Volume 106, that the herd book was finally divided into Beef and Dairy sections.
Polled varieties of the Shorthorn were developed in the late nineteenth century in America. One programme, started around 1881, mated polled native cows with horned Shorthorn bulls; it continued through five generations, only breeding from polled females. This was known as the single standard. Another, the double standard, used naturally occuring purebred Shorthorn polled mutant males and females to produce polled offspring, originally called Double Standard Durhams. In 1896 the rules in America were changed to ensure that only the progeny of ‘recorded’ Polled Durhams or ‘registered’ Shorthorns could be recorded and in 1919 the name was changed to Polled Shorthorn.
New Zealand Shorthorns
The first Shorthorns in New Zealand were two cows and a bull that arrived from Australia in 1814. By 1842 many herds had been established and for a long time it was the main cattle breed, used for milk and meat production and for draught work. Here too, specific beef and dairy types were developed. Today’s Shorthorns are used across commercial cow herds throughout New Zealand. Annually 300 + 2 year bulls are purchased from registered breeders to infuse their inherent maternal genetics and for the advantages of high bred vigour.