The Ayrshire breed
originated in the County of Ayr in Scotland, prior to 1800. During its development, it was referred to first as the
Cunningham, then the Dunlop, and finally, the Ayrshire.
Its characteristics gradually became well enough established to
consider it a distinct breed, and in 1786, the first Ayrshire show was
sponsored by the Highland Agricultural Society.
It is believed that
some strains of cattle from Europe and the Channel Islands were crossed
with the native cattle in the early days of the development of the breed,
but their influence on the physical appearance and milk producing
characteristics of the Ayrshire is not known.
Regardless of the details of their origin, the early breeders
carefully crossed and selected the various strains of cattle to develop
the cow we now know as the Ayrshire.
She was well suited for the land and climate in Ayr.
She was an efficient grazer, noted for her vigor and efficiency of
milk production. She was
especially noted for the superior shape and quality of her udder.
The composition of her milk made it ideally suited for the
production of butter and cheese by the early Scottish dairymen.
Ayrshires are red and
white, and purebred Ayrshires only produce red and white offspring.
Actually, the red color is a reddish-brown mahogany that varies in
shade from very light to very dark. On
some bulls, the mahogany color is so dark that it appears almost black in
contrast to the white. There
is no discrimination or registry restriction on color patterns for
Ayrshires. The color markings
vary from nearly all red to nearly all white.
The spots are usually very jagged at the edges and often small and
scattered over the entire body of the cow.
Usually, the spots are distinct, with a break between the red and
the white. Some Ayrshires
exhibit a speckled pattern of red pigmentation on the skin covered by
white hair. Brindle and roan
color patterns were once more common in Ayrshires, but these patterns are
For many years, the
Ayrshire horns were a hallmark of the breed.
These horns often reached a foot or more in length.
They were light colored, except for the dark color on the last few
inches of the tips of the horns. When
properly trained, they gracefully curved out, and then up and slightly
back. When polished for the
show ring, the Ayrshire horns were a spectacular sight. Unfortunately, the
horns were not very practical, and today almost all Ayrshires are dehorned
medium-sized cattle and should weigh over 1200 pounds at maturity. They are strong, rugged cattle that adapt to all management
systems including group handling on dairy farms with free stalls and
milking parlors. Ayrshires
excel in udder conformation and are not subject to excessive foot and leg
problems. These traits make
Ayrshires outstanding commercial dairy cattle.
Other traits that make
Ayrshires attractive to the commercial dairyman include the vigor of
Ayrshire calves. They are
strong and easy to raise. Ayrshires
do not possess the yellow tallow characteristics that would reduce carcass
value, so Ayrshire bull calves can be profitably raised as steers.
The Ayrshire is a
moderate butterfat breed and relatively high protein breed. The actual average of all Ayrshires on official ABA programs
in 2002 is 17,230 pounds of
milk with 665 pounds of fat and 542 pounds of protein.
the United States
The first importations
of Ayrshires to the United States was believed to have been made by H. W.
Hills, of Windsor, Connecticut, around 1822.
Farmers in New England needed a dairy cow that would graze the
pastures of their rough, rocky farms and tolerate the cold, often
inhospitable winters. In many
ways, the environment in New England was very similar to the Ayrshire’s
native Scotland, and she thrived in her new home.
Even today, the Ayrshire is very popular in New England, but her
popularity has spread. Ayrshire herds are now located in every part of the
United States, including the Deep South.
The largest numbers of Ayrshires are registered each year in New
York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, and Vermont.
During the early part
of the twentieth century, Ayrshires were noted for their extremely good
type. Old photographs of Ayrshire cattle confirm this fact. To demonstrate their hardiness, the Ayrshire Breeders’
Association staged one of the most spectacular promotional events ever
conducted by a dairy breed registry association. In 1929, two Ayrshire cows named Tomboy and Alice were
literally walked from the association headquarters in Brandon, Vermont, to
the National Dairy Show at St. Louis, Missouri.
Both Cows not only survived the trip, but calved normally and went
on to produce outstanding milk records for their time.
During the twenties
and thirties, many Ayrshire herds were
established on farms near cities. Some
of these farms bottled and distributed their own milk.
In the late thirties, the Ayrshire Breeder’s Association
established the Approved Ayrshire Milk program.
The program served the purpose of promoting Ayrshires by promoting
their milk. To qualify, a
herd had to be comprised entirely of Ayrshires, and the herd owner had to
maintain the highest health standards.
Promotional material from the time stated that Ayrshire milk had a
better flavor. It also
emphasized the unique composition of Ayrshire milk that made it more
healthful, especially for children and babies.
The promotional literature recommended that mothers give their
children Ayrshire’s milk to be sure they grew up to be strong and
Milk marketing, like
herd management, has changed and the Approved Ayrshire Milk program is no
longer in operation. However,
it is interesting to note that the promotional themes of the Approved
Ayrshire Milk program were very similar to modern milk marketing
campaigns. Looking back, our efforts in milk promotion was nearly four
decades ahead of its time.
The development of the
Ayrshire breed is a story of dedicated people as much as it is a story of
great dairy cattle. Farmer breeders, whose livelihood depended on their
cattle, along with wealthy hobby farmers and talented and dedicated herd
managers all share equal credit for their contributions to the development
of the Ayrshire breed. The
Ayrshire cow is universally recognized as one of the most beautiful of the
dairy cattle breeds, but much more important is the fact that she has been
bred and developed to be a useful, profitable commercial dairy cow.
With proper feeding and management, the Ayrshire will produce at a
profitable level for her owner. By
using modern breed improvement tools of DHI testing, type classification,
embryo transfer, embryo sexing, in-vitro fertilization, and artificial
insemination (AI), an Ayrshire breeder can be sure of breeding better
Ayrshires to meet the demands of the modern dairy industry.
In conjunction with
many changes which have taken place during the late 1980s and early 1990s,
the numbers of Ayrshires (and all other breeds) have decreased.
Much of this is due to increased profitability of all dairy cows,
which has led to an over-supply of milk to the domestic market.
However, careful management has convinced Ayrshire breeders that
their chosen breed has served them well, and will continue to do so in the
experimentation has shown Ayrshires to have been true to their original
ancestry: they are efficient grazers.
With increased interest in grazing by the dairy industry, the
Ayrshire breed association currently receives many calls about the
breed’s conversion efficiency.
During the continuing
restructuring of today’s dairy industry, the Ayrshire Association’s
board is committed to working toward the most important goal: continuing
increasing profitability for the Ayrshire breed.
The Ayrshire of the future will be better than those of the past.
They will milk more and last longer.
This is in keeping with the tradition of the Ayrshire breed, and
the goals of the Ayrshire breeders who have made the Ayrshire cow what she