Angus might reign supreme in the modern American beef industry, but the Devon was the original American cow.
Nearly 400 years ago cattle from Devonshire, England were the first to set foot on North American soil. Records show that cattle from Red Devon came to Plymouth Colony aboard the ship, Charity, in 1623 or 1624. Three heifers and a bull made the journey across the Atlantic Ocean.
The Devon is known historically as a triple threat breed – capable of providing meat, milk and being used as a draft animal. The pilgrims needed help carrying wood and plowing the ground.
These days Devons aren’t often used to pull a plow, but they still have a place in modern farming, especially in the grass and pasture-based farming systems that are becoming increasingly popular. to small farmers.
“I think for me the real win with the Devons is their efficiency, the way they convert a bite of grass into a quality carcass and carcass,” said Steve Montgomery, president of Red Devon USA, the association national breed. Montgomery runs Lamppost Farm, in Columbiana, Ohio.
For those curious about the breed, the 2022 National Devon Red Cattle Meeting and Show is being held in eastern Ohio this year, October 20-22. Sessions will be held at River View High School, in Warsaw, Ohio and at Thousand Hills Acres, in Walhonding, Ohio.
An extract from the 1868 American Devon Herd Book, Vol. 2 describes the Devon as being able to “produce as much milk, work, or beef, from the food eaten, or from any given amount of land, as any other race”.
“The only objection ever presented to the breed is ‘they are small’; but we can keep more of them, and that on shorter pastures and coarser food,” the herdbook continues.
Being versatile, hardy, and adaptable were invaluable traits as white settlers spread and developed the continent. But the breed fell out of favor in the mid-twentieth century as beef cattle breeds and agriculture began to evolve to value high production.
Anne Derousie, a Devon historian and breeder based in New York’s Finger Lakes region, said Devon don’t fit in well in feedlots. Devons didn’t grow as big and finished too quickly, producing a small carcass and less meat overall than other breeds.
Derousie started breeding Devon in the 90s just for fun after reading an article about rare and endangered cattle breeds. She eventually changed her herd from Angus to all Devon. She raises them for semen stock and feeder calves.
“We never looked back and I will never have Angus on the farm again,” she said. “We love the Devon. It is so easy to get along with them.
Montgomery got his first Devon crossbred cows in 2010. He was looking for cattle that would work well in a grass-based system and had a calm temperament as Lamppost Farm is also an educational farm.
“I ask people to join me on the pitch,” he said. “I didn’t want to be asked if it was a good thing or not.”
He owns a herd of around 60 Devons and sells grass-fed beef from his farm shop.
Red Devon USA has grown in recent years, growing from 125 to 145 members last year. Montgomery’s aim is to get up to 200 Devon stockmen into the group.
Now is the time for those interested in learning more about Devons, Montgomery said. In addition to the national conference in Ohio, the Devon World Congress tour is scheduled for spring 2024 in the United States, in conjunction with the celebration of 400 years of Devon cattle in America.
Everyone is welcome to attend the national conference. Cost is $110 for adults and $50 for children ages 11-18.
The conference opens October 20 with an evening social at Mark Reed’s Thousand Hill Acres in Walhonding.
On October 21, there will be morning educational sessions, followed by a live meat cutting demonstration by AJ O’Neil, a Devon butcher and rancher based in western Pennsylvania, in the post- midday. O’Neil said a common question he gets from his customers and other producers is “did I get all my meat from the butcher?”
He’ll show before and after pictures of the steer he’s cutting and show the process of an animal’s decomposition and how much he gives.
O’Neil, who is also a caterer, will serve some of this beef as part of the banquet dinner to close the conference on October 22.
More information about the conference can be found at reddevonusa.com.
(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be reached at 724-201-1544 or [email protected])
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