Why Critically Endangered?
"So if these cattle are so versatile then why did they almost go extinct?"
The answer to this frequently asked question, every breeder of the old style of "Milking Devon" should be able to answer and yet most breeders cannot. This answer can best be explained by understanding the circumstances of the time.
In America, the Devons demise from being one of the most prolific breeds began around the early 1900's. At this time, farming was undergoing dramatic changes. The first notable change that directly impacted the Milking Devons was the introduction of the tractor... no longer were oxen needed.
Tractors & "Factory" Farms
Keep in mind up until this time farms were limited in size by the amount of land a family could work with their backs and oxen. The tractor meant more land could now be worked. At the same time American's population was exploding and the farmer was asked to focus on quantity. Farmers who produced milk would now be paid on volume not quality (solids such as % of butterfat). Farmers now had to find cattle who could produce the most volume of milk. That animal was, and still is the Holstein.
The demand for lots of cheap milk and beef forced farmers to have larger herds of cattle. More cattle meant you needed to farm more land. More land meant you needed a larger more expensive tractor to farm all that land. All this meant you had a lot less time, a lot more bills, and as a result, less emphasis on making a healthy, quality grassfed product. You've now become part of the machine. This was the birth of factory farming.
The farmer now needed hundreds of animals in a confined, controlled environment just to scratch out a living. Devons are a breed which produces best when raised on pastures and kept out of confinement and artificial conditions.
Now two out of the three purposes (milk and oxen) that the old-style Devon, or Milking Devon had been rendered useless. This lead to the final blow which almost guaranteed the breeds extinction.
The Monoculture of Beef & A Split in the Devon Club
A large majority of the Devon Club of America decided to breed strictly for the beef market which demanded a new kind of Devon. A Devon that was polled (without horns), produced the highest amount of beef in the shortest amount of time, without any focus on milk production.
These changes meant a fundamental shift in breeding philosophy and a change in the breed standard. It meant the end for folks who still wanted to raise multi-purpose, traditional-style Devons. The calves they had would no longer be worth anything as they lacked the body type demanded by the beef market.
These changes resulted in a battle within the Devon Club, which ultimately resulted in the club being dissolved. Years later, two new associations would be created: The Beef Devon Association of America, and later still, The American Milking Devon Association (AMDA). This brings to mind a famous quote by Abraham Lincoln, "A divided house will not stand." And all too true would this be.
The breeders of the beef devons were quick to reorganize and to create a new association focused on modernizing the breed for the beef market. They would focus on creating a polled (without horns) animal with an emphasis on carcass weight (note: not all beef Devons are polled.) Shortly after the creation of the new beef devon association, a polled Devon was born.
The old-style, traditional Devon community alleged that this could only have been accomplished by an out-cross (cross-breeding with another breed). The breeders of the old-style, tri-purpose Devons went back to their small farms and continued to milk and raise their cattle. These breeders were now without organization or representation, without a breed registry. They owned cattle that were basically valueless to the modern markets. Years would pass before a new association would be created to save this strain of traditional tri-purpose cattle.
It wasn't until the early 1970's that folks realized that this old breed was being forced into extinction by the sheer lack of demand and lack of organization, and communication between breeders. No one knew how many were left. Breeders kept in touch as best they could but many of the breeders were dying off, and with them entire herds were lost to the auctioneer's block. It was decided that this old breed of cattle could only be spared certain extinction by the creation of an organization who would bring the remaining breeders together, form a registry and promote the breed.
The "Milking" Devon Misnomer
The next decision was what to call this association. Here's where the misnomer comes in. The club would be called the American Milking Devon Association (AMDA). This association would breed to the old Devon club standard from 1926. This standard established a body type equally designed for beef, oxen and milk. The AMDA would promote a multi-purpose breed with traditional horns, not just a milking animal. The AMDA would register only cattle that had horns and that were not part of the beef devon registry. The AMDA wanted to avoid registering so-called "improved" Devons. Then and now, the beef devon association accepts animals from the AMDA, and this allows a breeder of Milking Devons to have dual-registered cattle.
To summarize, the traditional Devon fell victim to market changes and consumer demand, changing farming practices, and politics within the breed association.
Today's Demand On the Rise
Today we see a demand for these old-style tri-purpose cattle which seemingly lacks a ceiling. The same forces which devastated the breed are now leading to its return. Today's consumer is educated and is willing to pay more for a healthier piece of beef. They want to buy the highest quality milk and cheeses, and they understand the value of grassfed cattle. Today more farms are moving into niche markets with smaller-scale operations, with lower overhead, lower input and higher profits. This traditional multi-purpose breed of Devons is situated perfectly to meet these demands.
To save this breed, we must have growing consumer demand which is ultimately created through marketing. If these cattle are in demand, new buyers for breeding stock will get involved. These breeders will promote the breed and join the AMDA. Increased membership will allow the AMDA to pay for advertisement and marketing efforts. In short, marketing and educating the consumer leads to increased demand which increases the value of the cattle, which leads to more cattle being kept for breed stock.
-by Erick Taylor • copywright 2011