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English Longhorn Cattle

A Rare Breed of English Origin

Prize-winning Longhorn cow, Bently Dido, 1908-1909
Prize-winning Longhorn cow, Bently Dido, 1908-1909

      The Longhorn is regarded as the oldest pure breed of cattle in England. Its origin is obscure, but historically the breed was abundant, especially in the northern counties of England. It was also imported extensively into Ireland at an early period.

      In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Longhorns were the ideal all-purpose breed for the period. Their size and power, coupled with a quiet temperament made them ideal as draught animals and their milk was especially suited for the making of butter and – especially – cheese. (The great Robert Bakewell also tried improving their beef-producing capabilities – although without success and at the expense of some of their other qualities.)

Longhorn cow
Longhorn at the South of England Rare Breeds Centre   Photo by John Paterson

      When Longhorns were no longer in demand as working animals, their numbers decreased rapidly as specialist beef breeds became more widespread.

      By the mid-twentieth century their numbers were dangerously reduced, but they have since been saved from extinction by the efforts of enthusiasts. They occur in small numbers in New Zealand.

      The Longhorn is a massive animal with a deep, long body. It is named for its extra-long, typically down-curving, horns. It comes in a variety of colours, often brindled or blotched, frequently with white on its legs, chest and flanks, and a characteristic white stripe or “finching” down its back.

      It should not be confused with the Texas Longhorn, which is a quite different, unrelated breed (see » Texas Longhorn).

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