calendar icon 29 September 2022
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The Shetland is a rare breed of cattle that is currently classified as at risk by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust in the Britain.
They have an ancient lineage, thought to date back to the cattle the Vikings brought to the Shetlands Islands in the period 700-1100 AD, after this period there will have been other influences to the breed.

Photo courtesy of St Clair Shetland Cattle,
They excel in traditional roles such as smallholding and extensive grass-fed commercial beef systems, and they are eminently suitable for use in conservation grazing, a strong growth area in livestock farming. Today they are classed as dual purpose breed.

The Shetland Cattle Breeders Association was founded in 2000 by a group of mainland UK breeders who were concerned about the vulnerable status of the breed, and wished to do something about it. Their main objective is to communicate the mainy qualities of the breed that through time have been forgotten and conserve the Shetland for future generations.


The majority of Shetlands are black and white but red and white is also now firmly established, and even whole colours are reappearing. The Shetland has delicately shaped inward and slightly upward curving horns (appropriately Viking style) but can be polled if preferred. In the winter they have a long hairy coat which starts growing in August, by May they become sleek and shiny with their summer coat, all calves are born with a woolly coat what ever time of the year they are born.
It stands, on average, 48 inches high though the truly traditional type can be much smaller – “the most diminutive of its kind in the world”.


Photo courtesy of St Clair Shetland Cattle,
  • Hardy
  • Self sufficient
  • Readily out-winter
  • Thrive on poor grazing
  • Good browsers
  • Little or no need for concentrates
  • Long lived
  • Small/medium size
  • Dual purpose breed
  • Milky
  • High quality beef
  • Calm, easy to handle
  • High fertility
  • Easy calving
  • Can be crossed to both native and the largest continental breeds
  • Good mothers
  • Finish off grass within 30 months
  • Aesthetically attractive
  • Comparative

    Large, quick growing calves - On this Scottish severely disadvantaged farm, impressive daily liveweight gains are being recorded. Simmental X calves out of Shetland cows achieved average gains of 1.42 kg/day for males and 1.3 kg/day for females. 200 day weights were 324 kg for males and 290 kg for females, all from grazing rough pasture with no creep feeding.
    This demonstrates the Shetland’s outstanding foraging ability and conversion efficiency. A typical cow, weighing only 450 kg, and therefore with a food consumption far lower than most suckler breeds, is producing a calf that is 65-70% of its own weight at 200 days from sub-optimal forage.

    Easy calving – Shetland cattle are famed

    Photo courtesy of St Clair Shetland Cattle,
    for their ease of calving when bred pure, helped by their pelvis width which is second only to the Jersey. They maintain a comparative advantage when crossed to large continental bulls. For example, the Scottish Dept. of Agriculture & Fisheries’ Knocknagael Farm has noted their ease of calving when putting even maiden heifers to a continental bull, compared to the more usual suckler breeds.

    Fertility – Maintaining a tight calving pattern is a key element in profitability. Research conducted by the Animal Breeding Research Organisation has shown that pure Shetlands have the ability to calve every eleven months. Commercial trials confirm that this ability is maintained when crossed with a continental bull.


    The Shetland is being conserved in Britain, there are around 2000 registered animals.

    References (the above information was cited from the following sites)

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    calendar icon 29 September 2022
    clock icon 4 minute read
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