17 February 2013

The Kerry Cattle


This installment of Agrarian Nation comes from the April 3, 1873 issue of The Cultivator & Country Gentleman newspaper. I am posting it for my friend, Richard Grossman, who raises this fine old breed.


To the Editors of The Country Gentleman:

It will be remembered by many of your readers that in 1860 Mr. Arthur W. Austin of Boston imported a herd of Kerry cattle. They were selected for him by the late Sanford Howard, who wrote a full and very interesting account of the breed, and the particulars of the cattle selected by him, which was published in the Agricultural Report of the Patent Office for 1862.

In 1865 I purchased eight of the descendants of the above herd, from which I have since been breeding, having made some few additions from other families, and frequent sales.

A few months before his death, I had a correspondence with Mr. Howard, in which he manifested great interest in the breed, and at his request I promised to write him an account of the result of my trial of them. The statement which I would have made to him, I will now give to you.

But first let me mention that during a recent visit to England and Ireland, I was surprised to find that so many Kerries were found in different parts of those countries. I saw them not only in their native hills around the beautiful lakes of Killarney, but on the grounds of noblemen of England, and in many of the fields along the railroads that I traveled. The finest herd that I saw were in the Park of Blenheim, the seat of the Duke of Marlborough. They were ranging together with a lot of massive Short-Horns, which made them look even smaller than they actually were. The Kerries all wore little bells, to enable the Duchess (as my guide informed me) to find them more readily. He said they were her pets.

I shall not undertake to give a history of this breed, or a minute account of the animals. Those of your readers who may be sufficiently interested in the subject, can find all that in the Agricultural Report to which I have referred. Suffice it to say that they are small, compactly built, and very hardy animals, not ugly in form, as some suppose (as the Jersey cow comes to be, for instance, as she gets old) but symmetrical in form, with (generally) a straight back and always fine limbs. The horns are long, but gracefully curved and tapered. The head is the coarse part of their bodies, especially in the bull. Their horns are perhaps a little longer than the Devons, but not much, and they resemble that breed more than any other in their general appearance, excepting in color. The Kerries are, or should be, always “jet black,” though sometimes they are red or brindle. Black is the color that is sought and bred for. They have a soft, mellow hide, which is covered with a thick coat of hair. The “milk points” of the Kerry cow are remarkably good. In my herd there is not one that has not a fully developed “mirror,” high and broad, what the Jersey breeders are always seeking for and seldom find, and the udders are of the most approved form, with teats well and equally placed.

They are not large milkers—that could hardly be expected of such small animals. They yield on the flush say from eight to fourteen quarts per day, but they are persistent milkers, and that is their great point of excellence. What I mean by persistent milkers, is that they continue giving milk long into the winter and near to the time of calving, and without what is called extra feeding. For example, as my favorite way of judging the merits of different kinds of stock is to keep them together, and as nearly as may be under the same conditions of food and care, I have in the same building with the Kerries a herd of pure bred Jerseys and some “natives.” For several seasons I have watched them, and have always found that in the latter part of January, the only cows (of those that are to calve in the following spring) that are giving milk are the Kerries, and this notwithstanding they receive no other food than hay, while the Jerseys have to have some meal and bran to keep them from “running down.”

As for the quality of their milk, I once made the following trial: For one week I had the milk of three Kerries and three pure bred Jerseys kept separate and carefully measured. All was made into butter, which was weighed and compared with great care. The result showed that it took 8-3/4 qts. of Kerry milk to make a pound of butter, and 8-7/8 qts. of that from the Jersey cows to make a pound.

The above you will say is rather a “rose-colored” account, but then there is never  a rose without its thorn. The thorn—the drawback— in the case of the Kerries, is the fact that they mature very slowly. They could never be profitable for raising veals. The calves are small, and seem to devote all the good milk they consume in their infancy to laying the foundation of a good, hardy constitution for later usefulness. In all my experience with the Kerries, I have had but one heifer drop her calf during the season that she was two years old. They generally come in at three, and afterwards are not as quick to develop into the full usefulness of the mature cow as some other breeds. I believe, however, that a herd of mature Kerry cows will make more milk and butter in a year on the same feed than the same number of cows of any other breed.

D.F. Appleton, Ipswich, Mass