Dairy Shorthorn cattle breed is a worldwide critically-endangered dual-purpose (ie milk and beef) breed of cattle, whose numbers have been reduced to 300 registered breeding females in their country of origin. The origins of Shorthorn cattle can be traced back to the 16th Century in Britain in the County of Durham, where the breed originated. They are the oldest pedigree-registered breed in the world. In the 18th Century, the breeders favoured either their cattle’s propensity for meat or milk: ‘those for the hook, and those for the pail’ – thus the breed was separated into two distinct entities: Dairy Shorthorns and Beef Shorthorns.Shorthorns – in the 1800s known as ‘Durham Cattle’ (from their County/province of origin) – were one of the earliest British breeds of cattle introduced to Australia by early European settlers. A New South Wales Herd Book published in 1873 contains 210 pages of Durham Cattle pedigrees, averaging five per page – more than 1000 head of pedigree cattle. Yet in Australia their numbers have also dwindled. However, unlike in the UK (where in 1969 a program of ‘blending’ – ie crossing with other ‘red’ breeds was permitted), here in Australia, a totally separate register of pedigree Dairy Shorthorns was established in 1938, and has been maintained ever since. In contemporary Dairy Shorthorn Pedigree Registers, any infused or cross-bred animals are marked with an ‘X’ – in an addendum, titled ‘Blended Register’. Historically the breed was present in large numbers in NSW prior to 1873, and continuously since a dedicated Pedigree Herd Book was established in Australia in 1938. Currently there are registered pedigree herds in NSW, the ACT, Tasmania and Victoria.Nowadays, the Dairy Shorthorn Association of Australia reports a rise in the registration of pedigree cattle – from 140 males and 470 females in 2005, to 192 males and 870 females in 2011. Currently in Australia there are approximately 200 Registered pure-bred Pedigree breeding females (compared with 300 in their country of origin, the UK). The discrepancy with the number above can be explained by cattle which were registered, but have subsequently died or gone out of production.
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