Classifying Cattle Breeds: Introduction

Numerous cattle breeds have emerged around the world as a result of both natural and human selection. Each of these breeds came about to meet a specific set of needs, ranging from survival ability to high production levels.

Cattle breeds can be grouped in many ways:

  • Specialty. Some breeds were developed with beef or dairy in mind. Others were intended to serve multiple purposes.
  • Genetic background. The various breeds of the world reflect a spectrum of selection emphases, ranging from feral breeds shaped almost entirely by nature to industrial populations developed for output.
  • Geographic origin. In the United States, we have access to breeds of Continental, British, American, and Spanish-American origin. There are also Indicine cattle (zebus from India) and a small population from Africa.
  • Paradigm. This classification refers to the distinction between heritage and modern breeds, reflecting a philosophical shift that traces back to the time of the Industrial Revolution and that dominated the cattle industry beginning at the time of the two world wars.

The reason these distinctions are of importance to the prospective cattleman is that the best choice of a cattle breed will be one that is adapted to your unique circumstances. Every cattle owner has needs encompassing five areas:

  1. Purpose.
  2. Scale.
  3. Environment.
  4. Marketing plan.
  5. Personal preference.

It was these five basic needs that led to the creation of numerous cattle breeds through time, numbering well over a thousand around the world. Therefore, there is almost certainly a breed out there that is likely to suit your needs.

Over the next few months, we will explore the different types of cattle breeds with an eye toward discovering which animals are best suited to which circumstances. As the series continues, links to each post will be added below.

Beef breed



Genetic Background


Geographic Origin

Dutch Belted


Choosing a Breed of Cattle