Eastern Finncattle are a breed of Finncattle whose population today includes only approximately 600 individuals. As their name implies, these cattle trace their origin back thousands of years to northern Finland. Cattle have a red and white coat (typically red on the sides and white on the back), and the other name of the breed, kyyttö, comes from the Finnish word for viper (kyy), as the zigzag line distinguishing the red and white color on the upper side part of the animal recalls a viper. Originally, Eastern Finncattle had horns, but through the breeding the breed was changed into polled (hornless) by the 1920s. Eastern Finncattle are extremely well adapted to their environment, and can survive even with very modest fodder, rarely becoming ill. They produce a lower quantity of milk compared to commercial breeds (an average of about 4000 liters of milk in one lactation period, compared to 8200-8800 liters in more commercial breeds like Ayrshire and Holstein), but the animals generally are longer-lived and very fertile, calving up to 15-16 times and producing milk for up to 20 years. Their milk also has a higher fat and fatty acid content, and Kappa casein and better coagulation properties, which are useful in the production of yogurt, cheese and viili (a yogurt-like sour milk product). In addition to dairy production, Eastern Finncattle are also kept for beef production, for research purposes and for breeding. Lately Finncattle have also been used in landscape management and green care due to these animals’ gentle, peaceful and curious nature. Finncattle milk is sold as raw milk directly from the farms and produced into cheese (leipäjuusto), yogurt, viili. Meat from small-scale production can also be found for sale and is used in some restaurants. By mid-19th century the three populations of Finncattle (Northern, Eastern and Western) were well established as separate breeds, with an Eastern Finncattle studbook being created in 1898; but with the emerging and growing popularity of more modern, imported dairy breeds, their numbers declined greatly. The three breeds’ studbooks were merged in 1946 due to this decline during the Second World War, but the three cattle types remained distinct and are today still considered separate breeds. Eastern Finncattle were severely impacted by World War II, with parts of Karelia (in eastern Finland) becoming part of the Soviet Union, and the evacuation of some 420,000 Finns eastward, who brought their cows with them. Many cattle, however, were left behind or died during the journey. These events have spread the Eastern Finncattle outside of just eastern Finland, and the breed has lost its unified geographical area of distribution. Finncattle reached their lowest population levels in the 1980s, and in 1984 a working group was established by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to save this native breed. They can today be found on private farms, and also in farms connected to prisons, agricultural institutes and genetic research centers. Milk and meat can be found in specialty shops and in some restaurants. Today, despite their connection to the climate and culture of Finland, and their high quality milk, this breed is still struggling to overcome competition from commercial breeds that were introduced for industrial level milk and meat production.
Image: Archivio Slow Food