Like most of the old British breeds, the Red Poll’s history is a matter of conjecture. Its earliest ancestors might have come to the island with the Romans, or they might have come with the Vikings.
In either case, the ancient cattle of Britain developed over time into a variety of breeds specially adapted for different areas and different uses. Two of these were the beefy Norfolk Red and the dairy-type Suffolk Dun, both now extinct.
Several cattle breeders in the early 1800s had the idea of crossing the Norfolk Red and the Suffolk Dun to produce a new dual-purpose breed that would be well suited to the climate of eastern England. The result was a hardy, versatile animal known by 1846 as the Improved Norfolk and Suffolk Red Polled (polled meaning “hornless”).
The Improved Norfolk and Suffolk Red Polled was first brought to the United States in 1873 by G. P. Taber of New York. He imported a bull and three heifers at first, and then later imported four more cows. These cattle adapted to their new home wonderfully and soon attracted plenty of attention. During the next three decades over 300 were brought to America.
The breed’s cumbersome name was shortened to Red Poll in the early 1880s as it steadily reached new heights of popularity. At first it was used as a dual-purpose breed, but as the American beef industry developed, the Red Poll was primarily raised for meat.
However, few beef breeds could compete with the expert promotion of the Hereford and the Angus. In spite of a race to increase the size and muscling of the Red Poll, the breed lost its niche in America and fell out of favor for a time.
Recent interest in grassfed beef and heritage livestock breeds has brought the Red Poll back to the attention of America, however. Commercial beef operations have rediscovered the breed’s good qualities and are incorporating it into their herds. It is making a resurgence across the country, especially in the Midwest. Although still somewhat uncommon, the Red Poll appears to have a secure future once more.
The Red Poll is a highly adaptable breed that thrives in many beef production systems. It excels, however, in providing low-input beef for marketing to health-conscious customers and those seeking gourmet meat. More conventional beef operations can also benefit from using Red Polls in crossbreeding programs to achieve docile calves with quality carcass traits.
Dairying with Red Polls is not very common anymore, but it can be done on a small scale. This versatility makes the breed a good choice for homesteaders seeking dual-purpose cattle.
The Red Poll is renowned for its quiet, docile nature. Both cows and bulls are typically good-mannered and easy to handle.
However, this does not mean that Red Polls lack personality. On the contrary, they are spunky, curious, and intelligent.
Overall the Red Poll is known for good health.
- Adaptability to most climates.
- Suitability for small acreages.
- Low maintenance requirements.
- Consistent performance on grass alone.
- Willingness to eat trees, shrubs, and poor-quality forage.
- Early puberty.
- Superior fertility.
- Calving ease.
- Calf vigor.
- Excellent mothering instincts.
- Rich milk, high in protein and butterfat.
- Small fat particles in the milk, which may be easier to digest.
- The ability to put on muscle quickly.
- High meat yield.
- Exceptional beef flavor, texture, and tenderness.
- Moderate scarcity.
- Unsuitability for the very hottest, driest climates.
- Calving problems when allowed to calve before three years of age.
- Insufficient milk production for commercial use.
- Slow growth relative to other British breeds.