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What Are the American Cow Breeds?

How much do you know about the Brown Swiss and American Milking Devon? Amaze everyone at trivia night with these facts.

Brown Swiss Cow

Settle down children, it's time to learn about two of the most interesting American cow breeds. 

Brown Swiss

Perhaps one of the oldest cow breeds, the Brown Swiss originated in Switzerland and can now be found all across the globe, including in America. They are most predominate in the states of Wisconsin, Iowa, and Ohio. (Brown Swiss Association) They are considered very docile cattle and are sought after because of two main factors.

  • Milk production
  • Protein content

Brown Swiss cows have the second-highest annual milk yield, producing over 20,000 pounds of milk per year. They are second only to Holstein Friesians in milk production. This milk is also of very high quality, with an average protein content of 3.5 percent with 4 percent butterfat. Since the fat content is about 4.6 percent on average, this gives Brown Swiss milk the closest fat/protein ratio compared to any other breeds. Because of this, their milk is very desirable for cheese making.

Brown Swiss are also esteemed for their meat since they are muscular and grow at fast rates. They are very hardy cows so they are able to forage for most of their food and can also thrive in feed lots, developing with less feed days than some other meat cattle. On average, Brown Swiss cows weigh about 1300-1400 pounds, while bulls weigh almost 2000 pounds.

American Milking Devon Cows

American Milking Devon

Considered to be one of the oldest American breeds, coming to the new world in 1623, the American Milking Devon is a triple purpose cattle breed, being valued for its meat, milk, and labor capabilities.

Despite the name “milking” Devon, the breed has historically been most praised for its labor capabilities. Lewis F. Allen described and summarized the value of the Devon ox like this. "For active handy labor on the farm or highway, under the careful hand of one who likes and properly tends him, the Devon is everything that is required in an ox, in docility, intelligence, and readiness for any task demanded of him. Their activity in movement, particularly on rough hilly grounds, give them for farm labor almost equal value to the horse, with easier keep, cheaper food, and less care. For his lack of size the Devon is not so strong as other breeds, but 'for his inches,' no horned beast can outwork him."

The American Milking Devon is not considered suitable for a novice oxen handler, despite its good temperament, due to its intelligence.

Their milk has been compared to Jersey’s in quality without having to be fed grain, but they do not produce as much in quantity. They are medium-sized cattle with cows averaging 1,100 pounds and bulls 1,600 pounds. They are very hearty and active though, making them ideal for draft animals. That heartiness also allows for the production of grass fed beef with zero grain supplementation, because of the breed’s efficiency converting forage into growth and marbling. The Milking Devon steer marbles with greater ease and under less favorable conditions than most other cattle breeds. They are red with black tipped, white horns. The Livestock Conservancy describes them as “compact yet fine, with a straight topline, square set legs, and well-formed udders.”

Due to their well-documented history and looks they are now commonly used as exhibits on historical sites. It was not too long ago though that they were facing extinction. Thanks to the work of the American Milking Devon Association started in 1978 (later disbanded) there are now approximately 500 American Milking Devon today and those numbers are stable.