Randall Cattle: A Rare Breed Back From the Brink

America’s long and rich agricultural tradition includes many ideas that haven’t stood the test of time — just look at the brief and ill-fated drive to popularize hippopotamus farming during the First World War. But while some things are better left in history, there’s clear value to preserving a diversity of heritage breeds when it comes to cattle. One heartening story is the recent resurgence of Randall cattle — a breed that was down to no more than 20 animals at one point.

The roots of Randall cattle date back to the early 20th century, when the first cows were bred in the Sunderland, Vermont farm of Samuel Randall. A landrace breed, Randall cattle was kept exclusively at the Randall farm for more than 80 years. Following the death of Everett Randall, Samuel’s son, the animals were sold and eventually the breed became endangered.

That changed in 1985 when Cynthia Creech of Jefferson City, Tennessee’s Artemis Farm, answered an ad in The Country Journal and bought the remainder of the herd. She began a concerted effort to revive the breed. Thanks to her hard work, today the breed’s population exceeds 250 animals, located throughout the eastern United States and Canada.

What Makes Randall Cattle Special?

The survival of Randall cattle is a testament to the power of the agricultural community to come together and preserve parts of its history when they are threatened. But what about Randall Cattle differentiates it from other small landrace breeds?

Randall cattle are highly intelligent, docile and well-adapted to life on small-scale, low-input farms. They are medium-sized, with bulls weighing between 1,000 and 1,800 lbs, and cows between 600 and 1,100 lbs. Their most unique feature is their color-sided lineback pattern, with dark brockling on the sides, muzzles, ears, eye rings and sometimes feet.

In addition to their calm demeanor, Randall cattle are extremely hardy. They are not prone to any major diseases or metabolic disorders, and they are highly resistant to parasites. Randalls are also known to be attentive mothers. Calving difficulties are rare, and cows will defend their young when threatened. All these traits make Randall cattle an excellent choice on small farms, where they can easily thrive with little intervention.

Uses and Future

Randall cattle were bred primarily for dairy production, though certain family lines have been known to produce a beefy, well-marbled carcass. While Randalls are not adapted to commercial milking systems, they can produce anywhere from 8 to 50 pounds of milk a day using traditional, low-input methods. With their lower feed costs, longer life and better resistance to disease, Randall cattle deliver an excellent return on investment for subsistence farms and homesteads.

Today, the purity of the Randall breed is maintained by the Randall Cattle Registry. The organization is dedicated to protecting the integrity of the Randall gene pool, and to raising awareness of the many benefits of the breed.