Friday, May 15, 2015

Spotlight on Randall Cattle, a Critically Endangered Breed

Guest blog entry by Shayla Carey

Perhaps you’ve noticed the new bovine additions to our pasture.  They’re named Abby and Patrick and they are Randall Lineback cattle, a critically endangered breed from Vermont.  On this, Endangered Species Day, I’d like to highlight this type of cattle.
What makes them unique among other linebacks is that they are what the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy calls a “landrace,” which are “local populations of animals that are consistent enough to be considered breeds, but are more variable in appearance than are standardized breeds.”  According to the Randall Cattle Registry, the breed started with the landrace hill cattle of New England, of which a large herd was kept by the Randall family in Vermont.  Their herd was bred in isolation on this farm for eighty years until Everett Randall died in 1985 and his widow could not take care of them anymore.  The herd was sold off and many of the cattle were slaughtered.  Some were saved, though, thanks to the efforts of Robert Gear, Cynthia Creech and Philip B. & Dianne Lang, and the total breeding population went from roughly 20 to around 200 today.  Careful registry and a solid breeding plan have “gradually watered down the very tight genetics” of the original herd that came to Cynthia, thus ensuring a more stable breeding population.  Now, according to her website, she has enough heifers and cows to be able to sell them to other farmers, including the Langs, and has sold them to farms in Connecticut, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Rhode Island, North Carolina, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Ontario.  Patrick and Abby are not registered, though we believe they came from Maine.

The Randalls are a dual purpose breed, more suited to milk production but able to be trained as oxen.  They are all horned and can be identified not only by the characteristic line down their backs, but by black, blue/black, and sometimes red blotches and spots over their bodies.  Abby has eye rings, too—another characteristic of the breed.  They have a medium sized build and are more suited to the cool summers of New England than the hot climates of the South, as Cynthia experienced at her first farm in Tennessee (read her story here—it’s very interesting).

Our previous herd, of which Lad is the only one left, were American Linebacks.  They are related to the Randalls, but their genetics are more watered down with Holsteins and other modern breeds than are Randalls.  It’s a treat to come and see Patrick and Abby, as they are more in keeping with the type of cattle one would have seen in America’s early history than Lad and his family were.

Patrick and Abby are both 4 ½ year sold, though they’re not siblings like Ruby and Lad were.   They came to us from a York County farm that could not take care of them anymore.  We will not breed them, as they are sterile, but they will get to work as oxen (see photo of them as calves at right).  “We have to get them used to being handled again,” says farm manager Joe Schott.  “So, some volunteers and I will lead them around the pasture for a while, then yoke and handle them in the pasture, then take them around the site.  They’ll be able to then pull a cart, though they’re not big enough to do farm work with the ploughs we have.”

Patrick and Abby should do well at Landis Valley and we love having them here.  Click here to see Patrick & Abby frolicking in their new home with Lad.

Meet new kids on the block - Patrick and Abbie, running around with Lad. They just arrived today and we are all enjoying their liveliness. Patrick and Abbie are Randall cattle - a heritage breed. To learn more about the breed, visit
Posted by Landis Valley Museum on Thursday, April 2, 2015