Angus may dominate the modern US cattle industry, but Devon was the original American cow.
About 400 years ago, cattle from England’s Devonshire first set foot on North American soil. Records show that Red Devon cattle arrived in Plymouth Colony on the ship Charity in 1623 or 1624. Three heifers and a bull traveled across the Atlantic Ocean.
The Devon has historically been known as a triple threat breed – it can provide meat, milk and be used as draft animals. Pilgrims needed help carrying wood and plowing the land.
Devons are not often used for plowing these days, but they still have a place in modern agriculture, especially in the grass and pasture-based production systems that are becoming more popular among small farmers.
“I think the real win for me with Devons is their efficiency, how they turn a bite of grass into a carcass and a quality carcass,” said Steve Montgomery, president of the Red Devon USA national breed association. Montgomery operates Lamppost Farm in Columbia, Ohio.
For those interested in the breed, the 2022 National Red Devon Cattle Meet and Show is being held in eastern Ohio this year from October 20-22. Sessions will be at River View High School in Warsaw, Ohio and Thousand Hills Acres in Walhonding, Ohio.
Make a comeback
An extract from the 1868 American Devon Herd Book, Vol. 2, describes that the Devon can “produce as much milk, work, or beef as any other breed from the food consumed, or from any amount of land.”
“The only objection offered to this breed is ‘they are small;’ but we can keep more of them, and on shorter pastures and coarser rations,” the herd book continued.
Being versatile, hardy, and adaptable were invaluable traits as white colonists spread across the continent and thrived. But in the mid-20th century, the breed fell out of favor as beef cattle breeds and agriculture began to develop to value high productivity.
Devon breeder and historian Anne Derousie, who lives in New York’s Finger Lakes region, said Devons don’t adapt well to feedlots. Devons did not grow as well and matured very quickly, producing a smaller carcass and less meat than other breeds.
As people became aware and the market for grass-fed and finished meat grew significantly, the breed began to make a comeback. Red Devons are listed as a recovering breed by the Livestock Conservancy.
Derousie started breeding Devons just for fun after reading an article about rare and endangered cattle breeds in the 90s. Eventually he changed his flock from Angus to all Devons. He raises them for seed stock and feeder calves.
“We never looked back and I would never buy an Angus on the farm again,” he said. “We love Devons. They get along easily with them.”
Montgomery bought his first Devon cross cows in 2010. He was looking for cattle that would perform well on a grass-based system and have a calm temperament, as Lamppost Farm is also a teaching farm.
“I’m asking people to join me in this,” he said. “I didn’t want to ask questions about whether it was good or not.”
He has a herd of about 60 Devons and sells grass-fed beef in his farm shop.
Red Devon USA has grown in recent years, from 125 last year to 145. Montgomery’s aim is to get up to 200 Devon breeders in the group.
Montgomery said now is the right time for people who want to learn more about Devons. In addition to the national conference in Ohio, a World Devon Congress tour of the United States is planned for the spring of 2024 in conjunction with the 400th anniversary of Devon cattle in America.
Anyone can participate in the national conference. The price is $110 for adults and $50 for children ages 11-18.
The conference opens with a social on October 20 at Mark Reed’s Thousand Hill Acres in Walhonding.
Oct. 21 will feature educational sessions in the morning and a live butchering demonstration in the afternoon by western Pennsylvania butcher and Devon breeder AJ O’Neil. O’Neil says a common question he gets from his customers and other producers is, “Did I get all my meat back from the butcher?”
He will show before and after photos of his butchered horse and show the process of breaking down the animal and how much it produces.
O’Neil, who also does catering, will serve some of that beef as part of a banquet dinner to close the conference on Oct. 22.
More information about the conference is available at reddevonusa.com.
(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be reached at 724-201-1544 or firstname.lastname@example.org)
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