Origin of breed
The South Devon breed originated from the counties of Devon and Cornwall in Southwest England. This breed has been distinct to this area since the 16th Century. South Devons are the largest of the British breeds. This breed was one of the earliest breeds exported to North American colonies, some went on the Mayflower in 1620, and during the Napoleonic wars they supplied the needs of the Royal Navy. The breed’s popularity grew quickly and South Devon were well established as a breed by the year 1800. Around this time, they were used as draft animals to pull ploughs and also for their beef and rich milk. During the mid-1800’s, these breeding stock improved the breed considerably due to careful selection and breeding. The South Devon Herd Book Society was founded in 1891 and the South Devons became one of the 14 breeds of cattle whose Herd Books date back to the second half of the 19th century.
At the beginning of the 20th century the South Devon was used for the production of beef, milk and butterfat. Their triple uses led to many exports, which helped support the South Devon farmers’ income at this time. By the 1960's, the breed gradually grew towards having a beef emphasis when a beef-recording scheme started for South Devons, whose successor, BLUP, which is known as Breedplan today. During early 1970's, a beef boom in the United Kingdom saw an increase in demand for South Devon cattle in the regions outside Devon and Cornwall. More than 5000 head of cattle were being taken each year for finishing to other parts of the country. This growth led to a demand for breeding stock as well. The South Devon cattle exports increased with 170 bulls being exported to Canada alone, followed by 90 to South Africa and 150 to the USA.
The South Devon breed has a strong, curly coat, which is usually a light medium red color. However, this coat can vary in shade and sometimes can appear mottled. Their skin is exceptionally thick, loose and mellow. Many South Devon are naturally polled individuals although the breed is mostly horned. Today, polling is now being actively pursued. They are also pink around the eyes, nose and muzzle. This breed has a large frame and is muscular in conformation. It has a broad head leading to a deep full body.
The mature bulls weigh approximately 2,000 to 2,500 lbs. while mature cows weigh from 1,300 to 1,500 lbs.
The South Devon breed is remarkably adaptable to varying climatic conditions and the breed is presently well established on five continents. Females are early maturing and have excellent maternal qualities. The average gestation length is 286 days; cows calve every year for as long as 15 years. They are known for their docility and the bulls have earned the name "the Gentle Giant". They are easy to manage on any operation, from feedlot to pasture. Wherever they have been introduced South Devon's have been well accepted and exhibited strong performance for production and profitability. Their excellent grass conversion ability, hardiness and adaptability develop their excellent carcasses, which dress at a high percentage. Their high-quality meat grades often grades choice and is very tender. South Devon combine marbling with the lean yield and gain traits of the Continental breeds.
Development in America
South Devons were brought to the United States in 1969. Folllowing their importation, the North American South Devon Association was formed in 1974 for the purpose of development, registration and promotion of the South Devon breed of cattle in this country. South Devons are available both horned and polled, as Fullbloods, Purebreds and Percentage cattle. Some blacks are also available.
Registry and improvement programs
The North American South Devon Association is headquartered in Parker, CO. The Association provides registrations, transfers, performance data, sales and member services as well as a junior program, shows and scholarships.