Red, White and Roan – First in America

“Shorthorns are well known for their striking and varied color combinations. They are red or white or a combination of the two, often displaying the roan pattern of red and white hairs intimately mixed. The red may vary from light to dark, but dark is usually preferred. In addition to the red, white and roan patterns, the animal may be spotted or have well-defined patching of red and white. Anyone who has studied genetics is familiar with the Shorthorn coat color because it is frequently used to teach the principle of incomplete dominance of gene expression.”

From Breeds of Cattle, by Herman R. Purdy

Along the Northeastern coast of England in the counties of Northumberland, Durham, York and Lincoln, the first development of the Shorthorn breed occurred in the valley of the Tees River about 1600. The large-framed cattle that inhabited this fertile valley were known as “Teeswater” cattle.
 The breed later spread to Scotland, and by the time it came to America in 1783 it was called “Durham.” Eventually the breed well known for meat, milk and distinctive coat colors adopted “Shorthorn” as its name. The breed traits of adaptability, mothering ability, reproductive performance, good disposition, feed conversion, and longevity have contributed to the development of 30 composite breeds around the world.

Shorthorn was the first improved breed to be imported into the New World and the qualities the animal possessed made it in great demand and its influence spread rapidly across America.


In 1846, the American Shorthorn Herd Book was the first to be published in the USA for any breed. With the formation of the American Shorthorn Association (ASA) following 26 years later in 1872, the ASA continues as one of the oldest American breed organizations in existence today.


America’s early settlers valued this breed for meat and milk, and the cattle followed pioneer wagons across the Great Plains and into the far west. By 1854, Midwestern farmers had begun direct importations from Scotland, concentrating their efforts on Shorthorns strictly for beef production.

 In its early history the breed was recognized for its ability to adapt. Shorthorns could be bred with the Longhorns brought in earlier by Spanish conquistadors and these early animals fit neatly in the time period to meet demand and needs during the early development of the beef cattle industry.


In the 1870’s breeders discovered “natural hornless” cattle occurring from time-to-time in horned herds. Polled Shorthorns were the first major beef breed to be developed in the United States in 1881 in Minnesota. Polled Shorthorns possessed the same qualities for adaptability, mothering ability, reproductive performance, good disposition, feed conversion, longevity and popularity as their horned counterparts. By the midpoint of the twentieth century the polled version of the breed began to be more widely selected and, ultimately, preferred by most breeders and their commercial customers.

In 1968, the Shorthorn breed held a youth conference for youngsters between the ages of 8 to 22 and formed the American Junior Shorthorn Association (AJSA). A few years later, in 1973, youth gathered to compete in the first National Junior Shorthorn Show. In 1981, the conference and show were merged into one week full of activities held simultaneously. The AJSA now boasts over 4,000 junior members from all across the U.S. participating in youth educational programs and competitions with a mission to develop character, promote valuable skills and build life-long friendships among the young breed enthusiasts. Many states also have active statewide junior associations who meet regularly to work on projects and travel together to various Shorthorn functions.

AJSA’s Knowledge Empowers Youth (KEY) Conference is an opportunity for junior members ages 14 to 21. The weekend event is held in the summer at a major university to give youth a feel for a college setting and to experience what that college offers and explore career opportunities. The conference format is specifically designed to challenge older youth to expand their knowledge on the current issues of the agricultural industry and develop leadership skills they will use throughout life.

The Shorthorn breed’s collection of data for genetic evaluation began in 1973, and in 1982 the first Shorthorn Genetic Evaluation was established to provide Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) to ASA members. 
In 1998, the Whole Herd Reporting (WHR) program was established. Today, the ASA is the only British breed with an ongoing Appendix Registry (AR) documenting the influence of related and non-related breeds in the breed registry.
 The inclusion of ShorthornPlus and Durham Red registered cattle help to promote and verify Shorthorn influence in commercial production. This program has strengthened the Shorthorn influence by increasing numbers and providing additional germplasm through the use of related and non-related breeds.

Among the newest programs that ASA has adopted is joining International Genetic Solutions to become a part of the multi-breed EPD system that allows producers to compare different breeds side by side. Further development in genomics will provide cattle producers information to make a more informed decision when selecting breeds or specific bloodlines within a breed. The technology even has the potential to predict a preference such as the color of a calf that will be produced. By joining the multi-breed EPD program as well as further pursuing the genomic technologies available, the ASA is working to move the Shorthorn breed into the commercial cattle sector.

The Great Shorthorn Revival
Saturday, September 23, 2017 • 12 Noon EST
Little Cedar Cattle Co., Beaverton, Michigan