Key Characteristics

They are long lived, fertile and maternal. Cows will produce calves at up to 14-17 years old. They are docile and easy to manage.

  • Animals can traditionally be either, red, white or roan.
  • Cows usually weigh 550-650kgs and bulls significantly more.
  • They are usually a “dairy shape” with less muscle than beef breeds but not as extreme as more modern dairy breeds.
  • Animals naturally grow horns but are often de-horned for ease of management.

Brown and white Dairy Shorthorn calf stood upHistory

  • The Shorthorn breed of cattle evolved in the late 18th Century, from Teeswater and Durham cattle found originally in the North East of England.
  • In 1822 the first Herd Book containing 710 bulls and 850 cows was published, and Coates's Herd Book became the first pedigree herd book for cattle in the world.
  • After the formation of the Shorthorn Society of Great Britain and Ireland, in 1874, they have publish Coates's Herd Book ever since.
  • The breed was used in the early part of the 20th Century, primarily as a dual purpose breed.
  • During this time all bulls used were licensed by MAFF and in 1937/38 the Dairy Shorthorn bulls licenced numbered 23,730 against a total of 12,917 bulls of all other cattle breeds
  • Specialisation for beef or milk led to the Beef Shorthorn having their own section of the herd book in 1958.
  • A scheme to introduce outside breeds was introduced in 1970 within the Dairy Shorthorn. It is the animals without any of this cross breeding which are seen as the Original Population by the RBST.


The breed is primarily used for dairy production, yields are modest but longevity is good so lifetime production is a match for many modern breeds. Current averages for the breed are 5500kgs @ 3.8% Butterfat, 3.3% Protein but yields vary with system.

The breed does retain some of its old dual purpose characteristics. Bull calves from the dairy herds can be successfully finished for beef achieving good grades.

Did you know?

Because Original Population Dairy Shorthorns are so rare, an embryo transfer project was started in 2015 to help increase the number of animals by implanting embryos into surrogate mothers, as well as storing embryos in RBST's Gene Bank. 

Breed Societies

For more information The Shorthorn Cattle Society