The South Devon is the largest of the native British cattle breeds and is well known for its maternal and beef qualities.
It is ideally placed in the modern purebred or commercial suckler herd, whether intensive, extensive, or organic.
Its many long-established attributes lend themselves well to crossing with other native and continental breeds to suit individual producers’ specific requirements, whilst also enabling the pedigree breeder to produce excellent high-value breeding stock and top quality finished beef animals.
- Very quiet temperament – easy and safe to handle
- Fast growth rate and early maturity
- Good beef conformation producing high grade carcases with marbled, well-grained meat
- Long-lived milky dams with excellent mothering abilities
- Low cost efficient forage converters – grass-fed beef=Omega 3
- Hardy and adaptable
Colour & Coat: Strong, curly coat of light medium red colour. Any white under-body undesirable particularly in front of the navel. Hide loose and pliable.
Head: Broad and kindly in appearance, with broad and uniformly pink nose and muzzle, free from blue (blotches) and smut (black hairs around lips). Horns, if present, should be white or yellow and curve downwards. Ears set well forward and of a good size.
Shoulders: Not prominent, blending neatly with a deep body.
Body: Deep and full in girth. Ribs well sprung, even and extending well back along the spine. Deep in the flank giving a level underline and not an extended gut. Back straight with good width extending from behind the shoulders to the loin.
Hindquarters: Rumps long, wide and square on top. The rounds wide and deep to hocks. The tail should be level set and blend neatly into the rumps. It should be strong with a good brush.
Bull: Masculine characteristics with size and flesh to attain 1,200 to 1,500 kgs at maturity. Testicles of substantial and even size and suspended equally and not twisted.
Cow: Feminine appearance with good size and even flesh. Even shaped, well-attached udder with well-spaced, equal and moderately sized teats.
Legs & Feet: Legs showing strong bone, flat rather than round below the hock. The hind legs reasonably straight and parallel with hocks well apart; the fore legs not wide apart and all having good sound feet, pointing directly forwards. Even locomotion with parallel tracking.
The South Devon Bull
Known as “the Gentle Giant”, the South Devon’s docility enables it to be easily handled and managed.
With rapid growth and early maturing, a bull can begin to be used at around 15-18 months of age on a relatively small group of females, which will gradually increase over the first year. He can often work up to 11 or 12 years of age.
Those not selected for future breeding stock can either be steered or kept entire for bull beef, depending on local market requirements.
In the non-pedigree herd the South Devon bull has two main uses – as a crossing sire to produce a crossbred suckler cow, or as a terminal sire.
As a crossing sire the South Devon bull will allow the production of replacement breeding females on-farm. The breed attributes of good beef conformation and good milking and mothering abilities mean the South Devon will assist in the improvement in quality of a suckler herd’s base stock, whilst providing good quality beef animals. The South Devon can also be used in breeding schemes where two or three sire breeds are used. The main benefit of such a system is the maintenance of hybrid vigour at each generation.
As a terminal sire the South Devon improves the quality of the meat, killing out percentages and carcase classification, improving marbling, tenderness and taste, and can decrease the time finishing requires. It can therefore complement the attributes of other particular breeds.
The South Devon Female
The South Devon Female is early maturing and can be calved at 2 years of age, although calving at 2 ½ - 3 is still quite common. Her early maturity is of major significance to those interested in high output systems and rapid genetic improvement. Calving is not usually a problem, but does depend on the usual factors: the size and condition of the dam and the choice of bull. As with the other large beef breeds in the UK care should be taken in the choice of bull for heifers.
The South Devon cow’s average gestation length is 286 days and she will calve every year for as long as 15 years. As a breed with strong origins in the dairy industry, the dam is very milky, and her calf grows on well and suckles easily. When a cow has the misfortune to lose a calf her strong mothering instincts usually make fostering a fairly easy alternative. Most births are single calves but twins do occur in approximately 10% of calvings.
With a breed of such longevity, only a small proportion of the annual crop of heifers are required for replacement breeding stock in the herd, and those that are not sold for breeding stock outside the herd will go for beef.