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Shetland -heifer- Shetland Islands

(most common name)

(local/other name):

The Shetland was originally a small angular triple-purpose breed used as draught oxen in crofting systems (small rented farms with attached houses); milk and meat were secondary. Today, they are small, dual-purpose and fine-boned.

Recent scientific studies place the relationship of the Shetland closest to British breeds such as the Belted Galloway.

The Shetland is known for its longevity, resistance to diseases and easy calving. They were made hardy by a rough climate and inadequate care; poor feed and forage included:
• heather
• salt fish
• seaweed

The Shetland remained pure until the mid-1800s; their size increased after the introduction of Angus, Highland and Shorthorn cattle to the Shetland Islands. In the 1920s, Friesian cattle were also imported.

Shetland coat colors have included:
• brindle
• brown
• grey
• particolored (white with black, dun or red; predominantly)
• whitish (occasionally)

The current black-and-white coat is not due to the Friesian; it is the result of government policy after World War II which favored black animals (to improve beef production).

1910 - Shetland breed society formed
1912 - Shetland herdbook first published
1922 - Shetland herdbook lapses
1958 - Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland (DAFS) establishes Shetland herd at Knocknagael (near Inverness)
1970s - interest in the Shetland develops
1975 onwards - new Shetland herds established in England; endangered status is recognized
1981 - New Foundation Herd Book established; coat color mainly black or black-and-white
1983 - Shetland cattle selected and exported to the Falkland Islands
1990s - red coat preferences led to an undue concentration of breeding for this recessive color (potentially causing genetic erosion)

The Shetland’s thriftiness and ability to adapt to a local environment have led to their use in extensive grazing systems and conservation grazing projects in several parts of Britain. Shetland beef is sometimes found in premium markets in London and Shetland milk is used to produce the speciality Wold cheese in Yorkshire.

This page was last updated on: 2023-05-20

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