The South Devon, affectionately known as the “Orange Elephant,” is not to be confused with the unrelated Devon. The Devon dates back to pre-Roman times, while the South Devon traces its ancestry to the red cattle brought to southern England during the Norman Conquest.
The two breeds were probably crossed on rare occasions, but the Devon and the South Devon were generally isolated from each other on tenant farms. Like the Devon, the South Devon was a multipurpose animal used to pull plows and supply farmers with both milk and beef.
Some claim that the South Devon first came to American on board the Mayflower, but there appears to be no definite proof of this. Instead, the breed was left in its native England until after World War II. By that time, the South Devon had been developed into a hefty beef breed to fit with the trend of specialization.
And so it was that the South Devon arrived in the United States to participate in the race for larger frame sizes. It was first imported in 1969 by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s former vice president, Henry Wallace, an expert in genetics and one of the earliest proponents of the hybrid vigor theory. By the 1970s, 150 bulls had arrived in the United States.
Although not one of the top breeds in the country, the South Devon is still well established. Seedstock producers have established black, polled (hornless) variety to meet the demands of sale barns.
In America, the South Devon is almost exclusively used for beef, either as a purebred or in crossbreeding programs. In Britain, however, efforts are being made to re-establish the breed’s dual-purpose qualities.
Besides “Orange Elephant,” another one of the South Devon’s nicknames is the “Gentle Solution.” Owners say South Devon cattle are a pleasure to work with. Both cows and bulls are easy to handle.
Although South Devon cows are protective of their calves, they are intelligent enough to distinguish between real and perceived threats and thus should present no problem to trusted owners.
At the present time, the South Devon is a hardy breed with a sound structure and few health problems. However, the gene for double-muscling does exist in this breed. So far most breeders have not actively pursued the extreme muscling found in the Belgian Blue, but it is well to be aware of the situation to avoid calving problems.
The South Devon takes a little more time to grow than the other British breeds. To avoid calving difficulties, it should not have its first calf until 2-1/2 to 3 years of age.
- Exceptional adaptability.
- Suitability for both small farms and open-range situations.
- Low maintenance requirements.
- Good mothering instincts.
- Productive milk yields.
- High butterfat content in milk.
- Heavy, high-yielding carcass.
- Exceptionally tender beef.
- Lean, tasty meat.
- Somewhat slow maturity.
- Increasing calving difficulties.