British Cattle Breeds
The Devon cattle breed is one of Great Britain's indigenous breeds. It is often called the North Devon to distinguish it from the South Devon which is a different breed. Historical evidence points to geographical isolation being responsible for the development of physically distinct types. The Devon is often called the 'Red Ruby' because of its colour. It is similar to the Red Lincoln, Sussex and Saler breeds in colour, size and outline. The Devon was used as a draught animal and has docility and intelligence as well as strength.
Prehistorically, Britain was populated by cattle known as Bos longifrons and it seems likely that the Devon was descended directly from these prehistoric animals.
Although the Devon was once regarded as dual-purpose, it is now grown for beef. A Milking Devon strain still exists and the American Milking Devon Cattle Association promotes and protects the type.
Not surprisingly, the Devon is endemic to Devon, Somerset and Cornwall in southwest England. These areas were occupied by the Romans in 55BC and they made mention of the red cattle which frequented the cool, moist hills of the area.
In 1850, the Devon Herd Book was started by Colonel John Tanner Davy and continues to this day. In 1884, the Herd Book was taken over by the Devon Cattle Breeders' Society which commenced in that year.
The first Devons to go to America were exported there in 1623. It is likely that the bull and three heifers were the first purebred cattle to reach North America. Devon breeders in America have concentrated on breeding for beef conformation whilst endeavouring to retain good milk yields. The breed matures early. While earlier strains had rather light hindquarters and sickle hocks, these faults have mostly been bred out. The cattle of today are longer and taller, capable of producing excellent beef on a moderate diet.
In 1915, a mutation occurred in Missouri which resulted in a polled strain being developed.
While the ruby red colouring is favoured, it can include light red or chestnut. The summer coat is short and sleek but is replaced by a long, curly coat in winter. Mature bulls weigh around 1700 to 2200 pounds or more. Cows are lighter at 950 to 1300 pounds. With the increasing use of larger bulls, there are now a few problems with calving. Weights for newborn bull calves range from 55 to 95 pounds, averaging 75 pounds. Heifer calves weigh from 45 to 90 pounds as newborns. Devons are adaptable, noted for their fertility, docility and hardiness. Both sexes remain fertile over their relatively long life with heifers calving before two years of age and conceiving again within 45 days.
The Devon is popular in southern Brazil, Australia and New Zealand coping well with the varied climates. It is an active walker and an efficient forager and grazer. They are suited to hillside grazing and good converters of feed to beef. They have thick hides and a good resistance to external parasites. They have a good tolerance to bloat and the red eye pigment means less trouble with eye cancers.
Because of their equable temperament, they are suited to inexperienced or elderly owners and do well on smallholdings. The docility is transferred to their progeny whether purebred or crossbred. The cows are easy to maintain and have good maternal instincts and plenty of milk. Because of their ability to bear and raise healthy calves for ten or more years, there is a low replacement rate and thus less expense.
The Devon combines rapid weight gain with good muscle and carcass traits. The dressing out rate is over 60%. Under severe conditions, the bullocks can be kept on to fatten, producing high yields at a later date. The fat is creamy white and adequate marbling ensures the beef is tasty and succulent.
The genetic base of the Devon is very pure imparting a hybrid vigour when used over other breeds.