The modern Lineback has often been criticized as a breed based solely on color. Once a versatile amalgamation of every kind of cattle in New England, this breed is now all too often just a flashy version of the Holstein. No one can tell for sure what valuable genes were lost in the upgrading process.
But there is still a breed of cattle that represents the original American Lineback. That breed is the Randall.
While dairy farmers were scrambling to obtain the latest Holstein genetics to upgrade their Lineback herds, the Randall family of Vermont held firm. Their linebacked cattle had proven their worth for years, providing quality milk with minimal supervision. They were not cutting-edge, but they worked. So the herd stayed free from Holstein breeding, first under the care of Samuel Randall, and later under his son, Everett.
Unfortunately, Everett Randall died in 1985. His wife was unable to keep the cattle by herself, so the Randall herd was dispersed to buyers who claimed to be interested in conserving them. Within a year, nearly all of the new owners lost interest. Most of the cattle were slaughtered. The survivors were offered for sale.
About this time, a tiny ad in a Massachusetts paper caught the eye of Tennessee city girl Cynthia Creech. She had been dreaming of buying cattle and moving to the country, and something about the plight of the Randall cattle appealed to her. After a little research, she knew she had to save the herd.
She had her cattle by April 1987—five cows, four heifers, one mature bull, two yearling bulls, one weanling bull, and two more unweaned bull calves. Although having so many male cattle in such a small herd might sound somewhat dangerous, it actually proved to be the saving of the Randall breed. Creech soon received a visit from an interested geneticist from Virginia Tech, Dr. Phillip Sponenberg. He helped her to develop a breeding plan, showing her how to avoid inbreeding and preserve the genetic diversity of the herd by using a different bull every year.
With time the herd expanded. Soon Creech was selling some of her Randalls to start new herds in various parts of the country. Thanks to her dedicated efforts, Randall cattle can now be found in 15 states and in parts of Canada. Although still one of the most endangered cattle breeds in America, the Randall lives on.
Historically, the Randall herd was mostly used for dairy purposes, a role in which it still excels today. It also makes a good draft ox. It can produce gourmet beef, as well, although the breed’s numbers are still too small to make this a very common use. In short, the Randall is an ideal all-around, low-input homestead breed.
Randall cattle preserve many natural instincts that have been lost in other breeds. They are incredibly smart and make zealous mothers. They will be wary around humans unless handled kindly and frequently, but they can be amazingly affectionate toward people that they have come to trust.
Steers of this breed make excellent draft oxen because they are docile and have great memories.
Because there is such a diverse array of bloodlines represented in this small breed, the personality of Randall bulls can be a little variable. Some are calm and nonconfrontational their whole lives through. Other become less reliable with age.
The Randall comes with the excellent health and hardiness one would expect from a low-input heritage breed. They have good immune systems and a sound structure.
- Good disease and parasite resistance.
- Ability to thrive in cool climates.
- Extremely low maintenance requirements.
- Self reliance.
- Excellent fertility.
- Calving ease.
- Strong mothering instincts.
- Incredibly flavorful beef and dairy products.
- Good, steady milk production for homestead use.
- High butterfat and protein content in the milk.
- Ability to finish well for beef on grass alone.
- Tender, fine-grained meat.
- Extremely trainable oxen.
- Variability, although this can increase its versatility and reduce inbreeding difficulties.
- Poor heat tolerance.
- Insufficient milk production for commercial operations.
Choosing a Breed of Cattle
Is the Randall right for you? This book will help you assess your five needs and make that decision. Includes a brief profile of the Randall breed. Free sample pages are available here.
This book from Homestead on the Range answers common questions about working with oxen and other draft animals, covering choosing a breed, finding equipment, feeding and caring for working animals, and much more. Free sample pages are available.