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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Durham Cattle on the Western Range

Authors
item Young, James
item Clements, Darin

Submitted to: Journal of the West
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: February 1, 2004
Publication Date: December 10, 2006
Citation: Young, J.A., Clements, D.D. 2006. Durham cattle on the western range. Journal of the West. 45(1):35-42.

Interpretive Summary: Much has been written, and rightly so, about the significant influence Spanish Longhorn cattle have had on the range livestock industry in the United States. Cattle husbandry, as practiced in the Extremedura region of southwestern Spain was exported to the Spanish colonies of the western hemisphere. This husbandry evolved into a free roaming system of cattle production over a two century plus period as Spanish colonies advanced northward through Mexico to what was to become the United States. Not only did the livestock management practices evolve, the cattle themselves had to change in order to survive in the northern harsh environments. Different cattle breeds were recognized for various traits that led to cross-breeding in an effort to produce cattle that could not only survive in the harsher environments but also maintain the basic animal qualities desired by the stockmen themselves such as beef quality, milk quality, and calving. Purebred shorthorn cattle, polled shorthorn cattle, and milking shorthorn cattle are some of the results of these early cross-breeding efforts in developing a unique breed of cattle. One of the strangest aspects of the shorthorn invasion of the western range is that the western ranchers refused to recognize the breed under the name of 'shorthorn', rather they referred to the animals as 'Durhams'.

Technical Abstract: There has been a significant influence of Spanish longhorn cattle in the development of the range livestock industry in the United States. Cattle husbandry was exported from southwestern Spain to the Spanish colonies in the western hemisphere and evolved into a free roaming system of cattle production over a two century plus period. These Spanish colonies advanced northward through Mexico to what was to become the United States. As cattle husbandry spread northward from the sub-tropical zone, the production system had to evolve and adapt to the increasingly arid environments. Not only did the livestock management practices evolve, the cattle themselves had to change in order to survive these increasingly harsh environments. To deal with these harsher environments, cattle husbandry out-crossed various breeds of cattle to mold the type of cattle needed to survive in these harsher environments, yet sustain other qualities such as beef production, milk production, and calving. The longhorn cattle did not meet these qualities, but the shorthorn cattle of the United Kingdom was soon to be high on the list. Purebred, polled and milking shorthorn cattle were just a few of the early results of animal husbandry that flourished on western ranges. One of the strangest aspects of the shorthorn invasion on western ranges is that the western ranchers refused to recognize this breed as 'shorthorns', rather they referred to them as 'Durham' cattle. Durham was one of the English counties where the breed originated. Durham cattle were the first of the English breeds to be brought to the western range followed by Herefords, Galloway, and Angus cattle, still they did not refer to them as 'shorthorn' cattle.

Last Modified: 11/23/2014
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