Shorthorn Cattle

(Picture provied by American Shorthorn Association)


The Shorthorn influence has been bred into many breeds of cattle, and its no wonder considering what they can bring to the cross. There are some specific strains however, currently containing two serious genetic defects. Tibial Hemimelia and Pulmonary Hypoplasia are not exclusive of the breed. The Shorthorn’s members and Association are heading the efforts for the eradication of these conditions.


The Shorthorn had its origins in the English valley of Tees. It can be traced back to before 1750, though the modern version has been greatly improved. Known as both the Teeswater and the Durham, the Shorthorn was initially bred as a dual purpose cattle. Robert and Charles Colling, sometimes called the founders of the breed, were the first to systematically breed the Shorthorn. Through their efforts a more consistent herd of cattle was developed. Carefully kept herd books date back to 1822.  The breed took a division between emphasizing beef qualities or milking abilities via contemporaneous breeding programs.  Thomas Booth stressed the beef qualities in his program, developing an animal of strong constitution that could easily put on fat. Thomas Bates focused on the milking aspect of the Shorthorn with such success that present day milking strains descend from his cattle.


The Shorthorn was imported to the US in 1873. They were the first purebred cattle recorded to have been used in the improvement of the Texas Longhorn. The notable improvements made by this cross, were such that it became highly popular. Heavy importation of the Shorthorn followed as a direct result. The American Shorthorn Association was established in 1872. It currently holds over 6000 junior and senior members and receives more than 20,000 registries a year.


The Shorthorn possesses a moderate frame with a rectangular low set body. It can be red, white, roan or a red and white mixed color. Cows are economical assets having high fertility rates, early maturation, sufficient milk, and being overall good mothers. Shorthorns are known to mostly calve easily and be mild tempered cattle. The Shorthorn brings with it high marbling traits and the ability to cross well with just about anything; Red Angus, Maine-Anjou and Herefords make good hybrids. It has been a key contributor for the development of the Santa Gertrudis.


The Shorthorn is currently plagued by the presence of TH in a relatively contained but popular bloodline. It is important to bear in mind that this is not a genetic defect exclusive to the Shorthorn. The lethal genetic defect, Tibial Hemimelia is evident in newborn cattle that are born with twisted legs with fused joints, have large abdominal hernias and a skull deformity. They typically don’t survive calving but must be destroyed if they do. 


The efforts of the American Shorthorn Association began in 1999, when the first affected calves were provided for research. In November of 2003 the ASA Genetic Defect Protocol was approved providing guidelines for reporting affected calves or submitting them for testing. The same policy was amended in August 2005, this time with policy requirements on breeding animals. As of the first of 2006, all AI bulls, donor dams and cloned animals were required to be DNA genotyped, parentally verified and be tested for genetic defects. The ASA issued registration certificates regardless of genetic test results, but would maintain a record of who tested free of defect or was in deed a carrier. 


The Shorthorn must not be overlooked as an excellent beef choice.  GeneStar genetic testing has shown the Shorthorn contains one of the highest percentages of the tenderness gene. Its historic contributions to other breeds are evident. In the determination of what is or isn’t a problem, one would be wise to go straight to the source and speak to those who run these cattle. Due to active efforts to eradicate defects from specific strains, ranchers have shown they are willing to prove the benefits of the Shorthorn will far outweigh a steadily disappearing problem.

National Shorthorn Associations and Registries

American Shorthorn Association
8288 Hascall Street
Omaha, NE 68124
(402) 393-7200


Gary Kaper from Kaper Cattle Co
Kevin Kimmerling from K-Kim Cattle Co
Bill Rasor from WHR Shorthorns
American Shorthorn Association
OSU Cattle Breed Project
Texas Online Handbook