Red “muley” cattle, a cross between English Suffolk and Norfolk cattle, were common in colonial Virginia in the early seventeenth century. The modern Red Poll breed was developed on the East Coast of England in the early 1800s by breeding the same two relatively pure landrace strains. Suffolk Dun cattle were a polled dairy breed well-regarded for producing a plentiful supply of milk that was high in protein and butterfat. Norfolk cattle were recognized by butchers and connoisseurs throughout the British isles for easy grass-fed marbling and the highest quality meat. Red Poll cattle were recognized in Great Britain as a separate breed in 1846 and subsequently imported into New York State in 1873.
The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy judges the Red Poll cattle breed as “threatened” because its numbers are declining in Great Britain, North America and globally. With the Holstein milk cow dominance of the dairy industry since the 1960s, Red Poll cattle have been used less and less for milk production except, perhaps, in specialized and small-scale cheese manufacturing. Black Angus and Hereford cattle, in the same time frame, achieved dominance over Red Poll cattle in the corn-fed and commercial beef industry. Because Red Poll maternal genetics are distantly related to most other breeds, cross-breeding Red Poll cows with bulls from other breeds benefits the farmer in the short-term with off-spring calves demonstrating considerable hybrid vigor. But cross-breeding dilutes the Red Poll breed genetics because the same farmer does not have the incentive to raise pure-bred stock.
Because Red Poll genetics sprang over 200 years ago from two relatively pure landrace strains and Red Poll breeders for two centuries since did not mix in other bloodlines; Red Poll cattle today throw several characteristics that make their genetics well worth saving, including:
– Red Poll cattle display quiet temperaments which makes them easier and safer to handle on a small family farm. Calm Red Poll
cattle convert native grasses and legumes into meat more efficiently and produce more tender beef than do more high-strung breeds.
– Red Poll cattle are more efficient than other breeds in gaining weight on native grasses and legumes and in finishing to a USDA Select carcass. Red Polls have a medium frame size, relatively small bone structure and thinner hides which translates into less feed energy going into animal maintenance and more energy going into growth.
In studies conducted at the USDA Meat Animal Research Center, Red Poll cattle led all breeds in 200-day calf weight and gain due to the breed's superior fertility, calf vigor and growth rates. Red Poll calves are small or undersized at birth but grow quickly on their mother’s rich milk.
– Red Poll cattle are renowned for producing juicy, tender and full-flavored beef. Well-marbled Red Poll meat contributes to taste and tenderness. And a relatively high ratio of lean meat to bone in Red Poll cattle produces more salable meat.
Pre-potent Red Poll bulls pass their structural characteristics to all of their calves. Uniform and relatively low Red Poll calf weights are a benefit to a farmer on a small farm and in a natural setting where successful and unassisted birthing reduces stress, risk and loss.
At Berriedale Farms, Lizzie and Nelson are making life-long commitments to preserve the genetics of Red Poll cattle and to enhance the breed's performance on native grasses and legumes. Red Poll cattle, a heritage breed, offer Berriedale Farms an extraordinary opportunity to side-step the commodity-based, corn-fed and feed-lot commercial beef industry with a value-added product for the discriminating and health-conscious retail meat consumer.