Why Red Devon?

First off let me be up front this is not an endorsement for Red Devon cattle, this is just one man’s opinion. This past December we bought a small herd of Red Devon cattle. And since this past December I have tried to explain to several of my cohorts in the cattle raising fraternity why Red Devon cattle. And I have to listened to questions such as, “Do you really believe that those little red cows will work for you?”

I saw the ad in the Stockman Grassfarmer Magazine: “For Sale – Starter Herd, seven registered Red Devon females and bull in Louisiana. Lenoir and Lakota breeding.” This was followed with a phone number and price. With no more thought than it took to dial the number and, getting no answer, leaving a message, I had decided to buy that starter herd. Later when my call was returned, the seller and I set a date for me to look at the cattle and on that day a deal was made. A couple of weeks later the cattle were at home on our place.

Red Devon cattle at one time were very popular in Louisiana. Most folks down here when I was a kid called them Red Devil cattle not because they were bad or anything of the sort. They just pronounced Devon and it came out sounding like devil. So we knew that they would work down here. Now it can be said, and would be a true statement, that Red Devon cattle are very adaptive and to prove that point they are found all over the world and since the arrival in the U.S. of one bull and three in 1623 aboard the ship Charity, they’ve been found in every state in the country.

If I ever had some deep seated passion to own red Devon cattle I was not conscious of this fact. Over the last 60 years I reckon we have owned at one time or another at least one of most breeds. While we milked cows for a living we milked Holsteins, Brown Swiss, and Jersey. (I remember one Ayrshire. That little cow could kick quicker and harder than any milk cow that I have ever encountered.) Time and space will not allow me to list the breeds of beef cattle that we have bought and sold over the years. To be sure some worked better than others and one of the things that we have learned over all these years is that given a fair chance most cows will do their job. But as my Daddy always said of the hounds that he raised, “you start off with trash you will end up with trash.”

Now Betty and I are getting to the time in our life we don’t want or need to deal with hard to handle cattle and Red Devon fit the bill: Docile, gentle, easy to handle, they are all of that but most of all easy keepers. Grass is just fine with them. They also have the thickest hides of any cattle in the world so they can resist parasites and tolerate weather changes. So yes, I believe those little red cows will work for us.

What do you raise, and why? Let’s share some experience with each other. Keep in mind that we’ve got a lot of new and beginning farmers reading, and they could use your input!

3 thoughts on “Why Red Devon?

  1. We raise just three to six cows (including calves). We never had anything but Dexters (except once a borrowed Highland bull for a few months). When we got our first cow and calf the owner said, “Listen: everything you’ve heard about them is true.” We’ve never had a calving problem, have not had to trim hoofs so far, usually don’t have to treat for lice, have never specifically had worms. These are all just the thing for us because we never owned cows until I was in my 60’s.

    The meat is superb. Some goes to our children, some donated or used for gifts. Everyone who has had Dexter beef raves about it. When I sell some I get high prices ($8 or more/lb.–hot hanging weight, although that changes up or down according to the year).

    We find that the best animal we’ve ever eaten was a 26 month steer. Still as tender as you could hope with the best flavor so far.

    Grazing and hay or haylage is the only food except for a handful (literally) of grain or chopped roots as a treat and to keep them from getting bored in the winter.

    The only caveat I have about Dexters is that some of the people who have them don’t rely on experienced people and buy and/or breed animals with poor characteristics.

  2. Don and Betty,
    We too started with 7 (mostly) Red Devon Heifers and a Red Devon Bull.
    Without a history in cattle, we also were looking for animals easy to handle, that anyone in the family could feed by opening the next gate or wire. Primarily because we have 6 kids, multiple ones underfoot then.

    Yes they are adaptable, and we have culled the occasional one (cow, not child) that doesn’t fit our system as we adapt, too.

    Here in the mountains of SW VA, we depend on stockpiled fescue to feed through the winter; they will easily push through 1-2 feet of snow when 20 below F. We feed about 1 to 1.5 hay bales per animal, per year. 4×4 or 4x5s. That’s it. Our Devons thrive on grass alone; though we’ve spent a lot of time and effort learning to have standing, quality forage year round. They are not brush goats. Agreed that farm groups are invaluable; in our case grazing groups and workshops.

    As for smaller size of Devons, we sell all our meat by the piece at a year-round farmers market. There are many customers who will NOT buy a big steak, roast, etc, when feeding only 1-2. They are quite happy to buy smaller steaks, roasts, ribs, etc.

    These just happen to be the breed we know best, and they’re working well for us. Thanks again for sharing!

  3. I would like to let my wife write an essay/article on this, but for now I’ll say this. We raise Pineywoods. Old-Stock Spanish cattle that have been in a friends family for many generations. They are small, hardy, low-maintenance, historically significant and beautiful.

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