Some cattle breeds have been farmed, relatively unchanged since Roman times, or earlier. Here are some of the oldest cattle breeds:



Origin: Italy. Chianina is a very old breed which was around before the time of the Roman Empire. One of the oldest, if not the oldest, of purebred bovine breeds. 

Uses: Originally its main function was for draught and sacrificial purposes, it is now a produced mainly for meat. 

Colour and Characteristics: They are white with black skin pigment, including black tongue, palate and nose area, they also have a black switch. One of the largest breeds of cattle, a mature bull can grow up to 6 feet tall. Their legs are strong and very long, bodies actually short for a cow of such height. They have extremely well-muscled and are renowned for their quick growth rate (which may exceed 2kg per day). They have long, straight faces and hard hooves. 

Their meat is regarded as excellent quality and they have a very high yield. They produce a lean meat that still retains good marbling. They are known to have particularly large eye muscle. 

They have a gentle disposition and hardy breed that is tolerant to both hot and cold climates. They are docile and have great endurance, probably traits that were developed during their use as draft animals. The gestation time is a little longer than British breeds, they have few calving difficulties and twinning rates are high. Calves are born fawn coloured and turn white as they age. 

They are popular in crosses as they improve the offspring’s growth rate, are good mothers and good grazers. A popular Chianina composite breed is the Chiangus (Chianina x Angus), which contain no less than one quarter of the either breed, no more than three quarters of either breed. They do well commercially as they are shown good growth rates, early maturity and marbling of the meat. They do well in weather extremes, and are hardy to hot, humid climates as well as cold climates.


Milking Shorthorn 

Origin: Shorthorns are an old breed that was developed mostly in the north of England. There are records for the breed which date back to the 1600’s, the breed was imported into the USA in 1783. 

Use: Mainly for dairy but can produce a valuable carcass for beef also. Milk yield is high and can reach 7,000kg per year.

Characteristics: Coat colour is either all red all white, red roan or red with white markings. They have a docile temperament, suited to dairy production. Good calving characteristics. Height around 140cm at the shoulder, mature cows may weigh between 600 and 650kg.


Origin: An ancient breed, known to exist in Austria since around 800BC. Considered an endangered breed in some places, but is also known in 25 different countries including the USA, Australia, South Africa and Canada.

Use: Duel purpose breed, used for dairy and beef production. Studies conducted at the University of Munich indicate superior qualities in Pinzgauer meat, including marbling, succulence and flavour.

Characteristics: Typically the predominant colour is dark reddish or chestnut, with white markings, can also be spotted, and others may have black or brown colouration. They can be either naturally horned or polled. Docile temperament. Disease resistant and hardy with strong hooves, they are able to thrive in harsh environments. Cows average around 700kg.


Origin: Descended from cross breeding between Auroch and Zebu thousands of years ago; possibly in mountain areas around Piedmont in North West Italy.

Use: Mostly used for high quality, lean beef production, as meat is higher in protein and lower in fat than other cattle. Milk is sometimes used for cheese making, but generally not considered to be a very productive dairy breed. 

Characteristics: Coat is white to light grey. Darker colour around muzzle, ears, tail, and hooves. Calves are fawn but change colour as they grow. They have a muscular frame with the ‘double muscling’ characteristic, which means the breed has extra muscling with very little fat. 

Cows commonly weigh 550 to 600kg. Hardy breed that will adapt to different climates, good fertility, calving is easy, matures early and is long lived. Often cross bred with Angus cows or other breeds.


Origin: A very old breed that originated in Sussex and Kent in England. It was described in 1066 at the time of the Norman invasion of England.

Use: Used for meat production. Used in cross-breeding and yields a carcass well-muscled in the loin and hindquarter. Were used as draught animals throughout history. 

Characteristics: Smooth dark red coat that can grow thicker and curlier in cold climates. Docile temperament, which was developed over the year with their use as draught animals. Horned, medium sized. A mature cow may reach 585 kg and a bull can reach around 950 kg. 
Hardy, drought and heat tolerant and good foragers with strong legs and ability to walk long distances. Fertile, easy calving, and early maturing.


Origin: A very old breed, from central France. Cave paintings suggest in may have existed for 10,000 years. 

Use: Dual breed renowned for producing both beef, and producing milk for cheese making. They have excellent carcass quality. Having been developed in a mountainous, harsh environment over many years, they are a hardy breed and excellent grazers in harsh environments.

Characteristics: Typically dark mahogany red, but can also be black. Skin is brown, which reduces susceptibility to eye or udder problems. They have strong legs and hard black hooves, which means they can generally graze over large distances without developing any foot problems. 

Coat is long, brown and frizzy. Coat will become thick and curly in winter, increasing resistance to cold. They typically have light coloured horns or are polled. They have a shorter than usual gestation periods. Females have wide, round pelvic area and calves are relatively small and narrow, making calving relatively easy. Large framed animals with mature cows usually reaching weights up to 750kg. They are popular breed in crosses as they produce consistent hybrid vigour in their resulting offspring. 


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