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Blog - What's Happening on the Farm

History of the Breed

The History of American Milking Devon Cattle by Devon Point Farm

The name "Milking Devon" is actually a misnomer. The correct name for the breed of cattle is North Devon. American Milking American Milking Devons at Devon Point Farm in Woodstock, ConnecticutDevons are also known as North Devons or Red Devons. The name "American Milking Devon" is a name that is the result of a political shift in a once united Devon Association in the United States. The original Devon Association split into two groups: one focusing on beef (Beef Devon Association) and the other focusing on the integrity of the original tri-purpose (beef, milk, and oxen) breed, calling themselves the American Milking Devon Cattle Association. There is no evidence that today's "Milking Devon" is any different or has been modified in any way from the original North Devon. The Beef Devon is an example of a change in selection, type and breeding which has resulted in a breed quite unlike the original North Devon.

The North Devon whose name comes from a peninsula located in the north of what is known as Devonshire, England. These cattle are believed to have descended from a smaller breed of aboriginal cattle in England. The cattle that inhabited this area in southwestern England grazed year round in the elements on wild grasses. They were noted for their exceptional performance in these conditions in the earliest of times. It surely was this reason that these cattle were selected of all the English breeds to sail to the New World (America) crossing the Atlantic from England in the year 1623 on the ship Charity.

The North Devon Cattle brought to this country were the one cattle, which could do well in all three areas: beef, milk and oxen. They could work as oxen all day in the field, the cows produced a quality nutritious milk which is unmatched even by today's standards by any commercial breed, and when they had finished their duties they produced meat for the table which can rival that of any other beef in flavor and texture. The North Devon could do all of this on marginal forage that no other breed could perform on.

It was these cattle that broke the New England forests, uprooted rocks clearing the way for farms, pulled plows, built roads, hauled wagons and provided food for the settlers. The North Devon in its original form is now extinct in its native lands of Devonshire England. From these early aboriginal cattle resulted two distinct breed registries in America: The Beef Devon which represents a modified North Devon and the American Milking Devon which represents the original North Devon, a true tri-purpose horned animal that was not dedicated to either beef or milk (or oxen) but instead was suited for survival in the elements and performance on a purely grass diet making it ideal for all three uses: milk, beef and oxen.
The Beef Devon is a breed that was developed out of the foundation stock of North Devon's brought to the United States between 1623 and 1900. The Beef Devon was developed and altered from its original state for the sole purpose of the production of Beef. Today the Beef Devon Association has members in numerous countries and cattle numbering in the thousands.

The Beef Devons are occasionally seen with horns but more typically are born poled (without horns). They tend to be shorter in the leg and wider through the chest and rump. The breeding of the single purpose of beef has caused problems in the amount of milk production available for calves. It is also noteworthy to say that Beef Devon's lacking horns cannot be used as oxen. So, although they fit the bill for beef they have lost many desirable qualities along the way including the historic look that evolved through natural selection

The North Devon, registered today as "American Milking Devons" are a direct descendent of the foundation stock brought to the United States and are on the critically endangered list of rare breeds. They are only found in the United States and have a population of fewer than 500 cattle. The American "Milking" Devons are as close to a true to form example of what the original North Devon Cattle that inhabited Prehistoric southwestern England looked like. The American Milking Devon has seen little change if any in color, frame, and disposition. The American Milking Devon still sports the beautiful horns of its ancestors and looks identical to pictures and paintings of early 17th century North Devon Cattle. It also still performs unparalleled as a tri-purpose cattle like its ancestors.

Your next obvious question might be: Why is the breed association called the American Milking Devon Catttle Association? At the time of the fracture of the association, the group that wanted to maintain the North Devon in its purest, traditional form were mostly small dairy farmers more interested in milk than anything else. They were concerned that putting an emphasis on beef would result in cattle that lacked the capacity for milk production.

It is important to note that the North Devon in it's traditional form exists only in America and this breed is supported by two registry clubs, the North American Devon Cattle Association, and the American Milking Devon Association (AMDA), The American Milking Devon Association has decided to call the breed "American Milking Devons." A club and it's name do not make a breed. The breed is the North Devon, not to be confused with the South Devon, also found in England which has a lighter color and other distinguishing characteristics.

The individuals in the AMDA believed that the North Devon Cattle were already at their highest state of perfection. These cattle served as tri-purpose cattle not single purpose beef cattle and did it with minimum labor and on the poorest of forage. These cattle were and are still being primarily preserved by small farms and museums. The American Milking Devon is listed as critically endangered by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.

-by Erick Taylor • copywright 2011

And a more recent discovery….

Just this week on CNN (March 16, 2015) an ancient mural was discovered in an Egyptian Tomb… could these be Devon Cattle? Is it possible that there was a trade route from ancient Egypt through Europe and that perhaps the Devons' boundaries were far greater than England alone? Take a look at the mural below… what do you think?

Ancient Mural in Egypt… Devons in the photo?