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From Big to Small to Big to Small: Part 2 of A Pictorial History of Cattle Changes Over the Years

By   /  July 11, 2016  /  8 Comments

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In memory of Dr. Harlan Ritchie, August 3, 1935 – April 27, 2016. A Distinguished Professor fo
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About the author

Publisher, Editor and Author

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.


  1. Glenn Carpenter says:

    Great article. Dr. Ritchie did a guest lecture in AH 111 when I was a freshman in 1972 and talked about breeding “puppy dog” sized Angus and Herefords in the 1940s and 50s, but that the beef industry had made a U turn and was correcting itself. Glad they did. Dr. Ritchie was a very good beef man, great animal scientist, and not a bad Euchre player!

  2. Adam Jones says:

    Excellent article. Really enjoying the series, thank you.

  3. Tom Smith says:

    As a kid, I remember my father cussing those “little flat-tailed fuzzballs”. He refused to buy a “little pony-sized bull” and took lots of ribbing about his “big, plain, raw-boned bulls”, but he had some of the heavier calves at the local livestock auctions and his response was that “we sell ’em by the pound.” He also was a firm believer in cross-breeding.
    In college in the late 70’s, I argued with my judging team coach, a noted and respected judge, that they were getting the animals too tall and late maturing, with too little depth and body. He disagreed, and also said that if I wanted to win, that’s how I had to place them. About 7-8 years ago, I saw him at a show and commented that the animals were getting too small-framed again. He said I could be right.
    When we go to either extreme, we lose functionality and the ability of our animals to match most commercial ranch environments. And while we have reduced frame size of the cattle, we have increased the mature weight of the cows in our herds.

  4. Kristin says:

    Another question: what is the origin of the Dexter breed since they are notorious carriers of the dwarfism gene?

  5. Kristin says:

    Interesting! So the mini cattle trend started in the mid 20th century? So much for them being the traditional sized cattled. I have been led to believe that the so called Low Line Angus were the originals. This is not so from what I gather reading this article?

    • Jake Barber says:

      The Lowline angus were part of a study on frame size. The Australians took many years and generations of breeding to try and determine the most efficient beef. Lowlines have done well but still not the most efficient in lbs per head.

  6. Jess Jackson says:

    Kathy – Great articles. I would love to listen to a discussion between Kit Pharo, Jim Gerrish and a couple of purebred breeders from NCBA or a land grant on this subject.

    I think that my answer is “it depends.” I like smaller cattle on lush pasture and see a trend in America for smaller cuts of beef. I believe that larger cattle should do better on rangelands with forage that is more nutrient dense but farther apart. Just stepping cactus and other thorny vegetation. Hmmmm

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