The Ayrshire breed is largely developed from cattle that have lived in the county of Ayr in southwestern Scotland for hundreds of years. Farmers began seeking to improve their stock after about 1750 and imported a variety of cattle from other countries in an effort to improve both milk and meat production. The resulting breed, the Ayrshire, was recognized in 1814 by the Highland and Agricultural Society.
Ayrshires first came to America in 1822. H.W. Hills of Connecticut needed a dairy breed that could utilize his rough, stony pastures and produce well in the harsh winters. At first his neighbors were extremely skeptical of Hills’s choice of breed. They highly doubted that a Scottish animal could do well in America, and also played the Ayrshire down as a nervous, high-strung beast. The breed succeeded quite well, however, and more importations followed, especially after 1850, taking advantage of further improvements made in the breed’s native country.
Every dairy region of America, especially New England, quickly latched onto the Ayrshire. Its numbers skyrocketed at the beginning of the 20th century. In the ’20s and ’30s, farmers frequently established herds near cities so that they could deliver the nutrient-rich milk regularly.
However, the high-producing Holstein was already starting to catch the eyes of dairymen. The Ayrshire’s heyday could not last. Today the breed accounts for less than one percent of the American dairy herd. Breed enthusiasts have found cause for hope, however. Because of its efficiency in grass-based dairying, the Ayrshire is becoming increasingly popular with organic farmers.
The Ayrshire is first and foremost a dairy breed. The high levels of butterfat in its milk make it an excellent choice for value-added dairy products, such as butter, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream.
But the Ayrshire does have uses other than dairy. With proper training it can make a good draft animal. Surplus bull calves can be raised for beef. The attractive Ayrshire is also a favorite choice with hobby farmers interested in showing livestock.
Ayrshires are known for their friendliness and mild dispositions, but don’t be fooled into thinking they have soft personalities. This is a breed with character! Those who work with them say they are smart, spunky, and maybe just a little stubborn at times. Aryshires command the respect of their owners.
The Ayrshire is known for overall good health.
- Adaptability to a wide variety of climates.
- A knack at rustling a living on rough pastures.
- Low maintenance.
- Long productive lifespan.
- Calving ease.
- Calf health.
- 20,000 pounds of milk a year on a forage-based diet.
- Small fat molecules in the milk, which may make it easier to digest.
- Strong personality, which may be difficult for beginners to handle.
- Less milk than the Holstein, though higher quality.