Milking Devon Cattle first arrived in America in 1623. The first Devon’s were brought to Plymouth Colony by member of the colony.
These first Devon’s consisted of 2 heifers and a bull; they were for draft power with the added benefit of milk for cream, butter and fluid consumption, at then end of their productive life cycle they would also provide a source for meat. As a breed they were noted for intelligence, willingness to work, speed, strength, and the ability to prosper on sparse forages, they also adjusted well to different climates.
Devon cattle were originally from the Devonshire area of Britain, similar breeds could be found in neighboring areas of Britain. The adaptability of the Devon cattle along with their other traits soon found them well established in New England in the 1600’s and spread down the east coast to Florida in the 1700 & 1800’s. Not to be left behind during the migration west they hit the Oregon Trail as one of the oxen of choice for the long arduous journey.
By the late 1880’s Devon’s were mainly located in New England and gradually replaced with Milking Shorthorns that were considered to be a more productive triple purpose breed. This is fairly typical of society to progress to a bigger is better ideal. Devon’s continue to thrive today in New England after dropping to a low in 1970 of around 100 head of cattle. Devon’s are ideally suited to the New England climate and forages the Milking Short Horn is not as thrifty in the same rugged conditions.
In the 1950’s with more farmers moving to mechanized farming the need for triple purpose breeds diminished. As an economic consideration the farmers began to move to a beef Devon selecting their stock with the idea of beef production and not dairy production. This caused a split between those loyal to the heritage of the breed and those trying to “modernize” them.
Today you can find Beef Devon cattle but there has been a resurgence in the dairy line for American Milking Devon cattle. We owe a big thank you to those loyal to the breed that kept it from becoming extinct as a dairy breed. Devon milk is used for clotted cream; butter and cheeses, there are artisanal cheese makers that are experimenting with the qualities of Devon milk to find what cheeses best suited to its fluid makeup (milks vary in fat contents based on breed of cattle, as well as some variation with in a breed)
Devon cattle are a deep ruby red with ivory horns that have black tips. In comparison to other cattle they are medium in size with cows averaging 1,100 pounds and bulls in the 1,600 pound range. Compared side by side with our pair of Milking Short Horn oxen they look small.
As a Mayflower descendent I think it is wonderful to have come full circle and have Devon cattle back in the family.
Our herd size is small and we hope to grow it to about 20 productive animals in the next few years.