The Breed

The Milking Shorthorn Breed

A cow that fills every need.

Breed Characteristics

The Milking Shorthorn breed is the most versatile of all breeds and this is one of its greatest attributes. These docile cows efficiently produce large volumes of nutritious milk each lactation and are large enough to have a high salvage value when their long productive lives finally come to an end. In addition, their healthy calves born each year on regular calving intervals are spunky at birth, grow rapidly, and those not kept for breeding stock and herd replacement make efficient gains and hang very desirable grading carcasses.

Notable Traits
  • Grazing Efficiency
  • Production Potential
  • Disease Resistance
  • Calving Ease
  • Calving Interval
  • Milk Quality


From the earliest days, Shorthorn enthusiasts viewed the breed as remarkable in its’ ability to profitably produce both milk and beef from the same animal.

One of the oldest recognized breeds in the world, Shorthorn cattle originated in Northeastern England in the Valley of the Tees River. Much of the early improvement work took place in the counties of Northumberland, Durham and York.

Shorthorns, the most numerous in the British Isles, America and Australia, are either red, red and white, white or roan, the last named color being a very close mixture of red and white, and found in no other breed of cattle. The Milking Shorthorn breed is best known for its versatility. This docile animal efficiently converts feed into milk and has a long productive life, at the end of which these large cows have a high salvage value.

Milking Shorthorns in the United States

The first importation of Shorthorns to the United States was in 1783, when “Milk Breed” Shorthorns came to Virginia. These early importations, often referred to as “Durhams”, became favorites of the pioneer, furnishing meat, milk and power. Breeders began recording their Shorthorn cattle in 1846 with the first volume of the American Herdbook. In 1882, the American Shorthorn Breeders’ Association was formed to register and promote both Milking and Scotch (beef) Shorthorns. In 1912, a group of Milking Shorthorn breeders organized the Milking Shorthorn Club to work within the framework of the ASBA. Its membership was interested in advertising the good milk qualities of the breed by keeping official milk records and encouraging breed improvements.

One of the first official demonstrations of the production ability of Milking Shorthorns was made at the World’s Exposition in Chicago in 1893 where two of the leading cows of the test were Kitty Clay 3d and Kitty Clay 4th, the latter standing third in net profit over all breeds. These sister cows became the foundation for the Clay cow family of Milking Shorthorns, developed at Glenside Farm, Granville Center, Pennsylvania.

Native Genetics

In 1998, a group of concerned Milking Shorthorn breeders initiated a movement to designate cattle that would trace to the English Coates’ Herd Book as pure Milking Shorthorns. This was in direct response to the growth of the Genetic Expansion program which was feared would cause the eventual loss of “pure” Milking Shorthorns.  

In the January/February 2000 Milking Shorthorn Journal the details of this new program were announced. For the purposes of this program, English Dairy Shorthorns imported to America prior to the Illawarra/Genetic Expansion era and Canadian Milking Shorthorns that can be traced clear of outside influence back to the same time period, will be considered qualified. Animals registered under the original Grade-up program started by James J. Hill in 1915 are also excluded. Although it might be assumed that all “Native” animals will trace to the English Coates’ Herd Book, this will not be guaranteed because of the existence of some very early recorded American Shorthorns with animals of unknown ancestry in their pedigrees.   

The term “Native” was selected to identify these cattle. This new classification of Milking Shorthorns was designed to preserve the valuable old genetics as well as provide a marketing tool. Pedigrees of animals tracing to the appropriate pure lines would be designated by the letter “N” as a suffix to their registered name. 

At one time, it was claimed that only 500 of these pure animals existed. However, this was due to failure to trace all eligible cattle and the true number of individuals with “pure” genetic lines is likely to be much higher. 

Many Dual Purpose Milking Shorthorns qualify for the “N” designation, identifying them as pure, old line, registered Milking Shorthorns. Research by the AMSS Office can verify the status of any registered animal.

Crossbreeding Benefits

Use a Dual Purpose Milking Shorthorn bull to add milk to your cow herd, and as an economical method to increase weaning weights.

  • Milking Shorthorns with average or high calving ease are ideal candidates for crossbreeding
  • Colorado State University is developing EDP Program
Double Registry

The double registry program works in conjunction with the American Shorthorn Association (ASA). It is for breeders who want to increase the marketability of their Milking Shorthorn cattle. Under this program, eligible animals may be registered in the herd books of both the AMSS and the ASA.

Any breeder may submit a fee of $50.00 to the ASA for the release of information to the AMSS. The breeder must also submit an application for registry to the AMSS registry department. Upon confirmation from the ASA that the fee has been paid, the application for registry will be considered.

If accepted, the animal will be entered into the Appendix Registry with the letter “S” following the name. The animal is also assigned a five-digit number. Any progeny of a registered Milking Shorthorn and an AMSS Appendix registered animal may be entered into the AMSS full Herdbook with the “S” suffix.

If a breeder would like to double register a Milking Shorthorn into the ASA registry a fee of $50.00 must be paid to AMSS for the release of information. The official registration certificate must also be submitted to the AMSS office at the time of transfer.

©2023 American Milking Shorthorn Society