The Horny Cow’s Insider Guide to UK Cattle Breeds

Gloucester Cow
Gloucester

After seeing the news that Britain’s oldest breed of dairy cow, the Gloucester,  is on the verge of becoming extinct, we wanted to learn as much as we could about the different cow breeds native to the UK. We wanted to truly understand how we can better support the UK cattle industry and local farmers as a whole. So we got in contact with Yorkshire’s very own, The Horny Cow. 

The Lunn Family

The Horny Cow is a cattle, sheep and pig farm based in Wilton, near Pickering. The farm itself is run by the husband and wife team Richard & Lucy Lunn. Richard is a third-generation farmer with his grandfather purchasing the farm way back in 1946. 

Being members of The Rare Breed Survival Trust, The Horny Cow pride themselves on ensuring the traceability of all their animals. Their heritage cattle breeds are native to Great Britain and they have some of the finest, rare breeds in the world. 

We’ve been working with Richard & Lucy for some time now and can vouch for the quality of their products and the passion they have for what they do. So, to better understand their world, we recently had a chance to sit down with them (socially distanced & outside of course!) and talk cattle. 

In our conversation with Richard & Lucy, we explore native cattle breeds here in the UK,  how they are doing their part to ensure British cattle doesn’t fade into memory and a whole host of other udderly interesting topics (sorry about that one, couldn’t resist!). 

How many breeds of cattle are there in the UK?

“In the UK there are 34 breeds native to the country,” says Lucy. After digging a bit deeper, it appears as though 13 of those breeds are considered rare by the rare breeds survival trust (more on them in a moment). 

A Horny Cow Breakdown of Cow Breeds

To give you a better idea of some of those cow breeds, we asked Richard & Lucy to give a quick overview of some of the breeds they have up at the farm or have worked with in the past. 

Dexter 

Dexter

The Dexter originated from Ireland and they are the smallest native breed to the UK. The dexter cow breed is widely known for the marbling in the meat.

Belted Galloway

Belted Galloway

The Belted Galloway is a very distinctive breed thanks to its white belt. In the world of farming, the wider the belt the more valuable the animal. They are very hardy cattle from southwest Scotland. Galloway beef is very juicy, dark meat.

Shorthorn

British Shorthorn

The Shorthorn breed originated from northeast England. They are widely known for their unusual roan coat. Shorthorn beef has a rich deep flavour.

Highland

The Highland breed has very large horns and a woolly coat to keep them warm in the highlands of Scotland through the winter. Highland beef is very tender.

British White

British White

The British White cattle breed are beautiful white animals with defined black muzzles and ears. Very flavourful meat.

Shetland

The Shetland is small like the Dexter but with a woolly coat. Beautifully textured well-flavoured meat.

White Park

White Park

The White Park cattle breed is one of the rarest of the British native breeds. They Produce very lean meat.

Sussex

Sussex

Sussex cow breed originates from the south of England. Produces a firm, rich beef

Lincoln Red

Lincoln Red

The Lincoln red is one of the Uk’s oldest native breeds. Produces a succulent, flavourful beef

Gloucester

Gloucester

Unusually marked by a white top line on the dark brown coat the Gloucester breed is very distinguished. More well known for their dairy products in the West Country but never the less produce tasty meat.

Fun fact about the Gloucester breed – The breed gained worldwide recognition thanks to the role the Gloucester dairy cow, Blossom, played in Edward Jenner’s 1796 experiment which paved the way for the first vaccine. You could argue that without the Gloucester, vaccine technology could be miles behind its current level. 

Welsh Black

The Welsh Black is a hardy cattle from the Welsh mountains. They produce a deep rich flavoured beef.

Red Poll

Red Poll

The Red Poll breed is easily identified by its glossy dark red coats. They produce a slightly marbled beef fine-grained beef.

English Longhorn

English Longhorn

The English Lornhorn originates from Craven in the North of England. They are one of our largest heritage breeds. Distinguished by their roan coats and curved horns which surround their face.

What is the most common beef breed in the UK?

According to Lunn Family, the most common breed of beef in the UK is the Limousin variety. The Limousin is French in origin and has held the top spot for the past 20 years or so. 

The reason for the Limousin’s domination of the top spot is largely due to the nature of the UK beef industry. Things like the low importance of marbling and the high importance of growth rate make the Limousin the ideal breed for consumers. However, given that consumer trends are rapidly changing, perhaps we’ll see a new breed claim the top spot in the coming years. 

What is the rarest breed of cow?

Richard says “The Vaynol variety is the rarest. They are classed as Critical by the rare breed survival trust with less than 150 breeding animals remaining.”

The Vaynol dates back to 1872 in Vaynol Park, North Wales. Starting as a semi-wild herd, the Vaynol breed was kept in this location right up until 1980 when they were sold on and moved off to various locations in England. The breed has never existed in large numbers, but by 1989 just one Vaynol herd remained. 

What breeds do you have at The Horny Cow?

“Here on the farm, we have Gloucester, Belted Galloway, Shorthorn, Highland, Dexter, Shetland, English Longhorn, British White, Red Poll, Welsh Black, Lincoln Red, Sussex, White Park.” 

In April 2021, the Rare Breed Survival Trust found that herd numbers had halved from 54 in 2006 to just 27 last year. In order to prevent this breed from becoming extinct, urgent action is required and The Horny Cow is one of those taking action by having Gloucester on her farm. 

Why did you pick these breeds specifically?

“They are suited to our climate and the terrain of the land we farm.”

If you had to pick a favourite breed, which one would it be?

“Belted Galloway. I love their distinctive Belts. They are good hardy creatures, they know how to look after themselves, very low maintenance. They produce lovely dark rich meat.”

How does your beef varieties compare to say Wagyu?

Wagyu is a Japanese variety of cattle that is known globally for its exceptional taste and a high degree of marbling throughout the meat. Wagyu literally means ‘Japanese Cow’. 

“My personal opinion is that Wagyu and Dexter are very similar in taste and texture. I put this down to the marbling of fat through the meat, but of course, I prefer Dexter because it is British.” 

Is there any seasonality to beef or cow varieties?

“Cows breed all year round and are pregnant for 9 months so beef isn’t seasonal,” Richard says. 

“It is thought, however, that the fat on the beef is more yellow-tinged particularly in the spring when the grass starts to grow and it is richer in sugar.”

What are the taste differences between the breeds or key difference from a cooking point of view?

“All of the heritage breeds are slow -grown. Because they are suited to our climate and terrain, they spend their lifetime grazing. Because of this, they produce a good covering of fat adding to the depth of flavour and tenderness.”

“A grass-fed animal produces a more yellow-tinged layer of fat. There is a variety between the breeds, The dexter has fat marbled through the meat which melts in cooking providing an excellent textured steak with plenty of flavours. In comparison to this, the highland has a covering of fat on the outside of the cut but the meat is generally leaner.”

Tell us a bit about the Rare Breed Survival Trust and why you joined?

The Rare Breed Survival Trust was founded in 1973 by Joe Henson. Its mission is to preserve native breeds and secure the continued existence and viability of the native farm animals genetic resources of the UK. 

“We joined the rare breed survival trust to find out exactly how rare some of our native breeds are. They are a registered conservation charity that promotes the eating of rare breeds.” 

“If the consumer doesn’t eat the rare breed meat then farmers will not continue to breed them and numbers will continue to fall. They intend to secure the viability of native farming.”

So what does Heritage Breed actually mean?

“Heritage has a long line of the native history of the genetics of each of the breeds”. Anything that is a heritage breed was raised by our forefathers in a bygone era. 

What’s your favourite way to cook beef?

“Now that is tricky! Probably in the slow pot,  on top of sliced onion, smothered in mustard and drenched in red wine. So easy and makes the kitchen smell delicious!” says Lucy. We are right there with you! 

What is your favourite cut of meat?

“Fillet – it’s an absolute weekend treat when we haven’t sold out.”

How do you think the rise in popularity of “Fake meat” stuff like the Beyond Burger, will affect the UK beef trade?

With more and more plant-based, “Fake Meat” arriving on supermarket shelves and restaurant menus, we wanted to find out what Richard & Lucy thought about this trend and how they think it will affect their business. 

“I think the 2 products are very different and cannot be compared,” says Richard. “It is down to personal choice but there is room for both products on the market.” 

Lucy goes on to say “I think it’s unlikely that “fake meat ” will have much of an impact on the Uk beef trade.”

How has Brexit changed things for you?

“It’s very early days as Brexit has been overshadowed by the impact of covid” mentions Lucy. 

“Long term, I think the type of consumer’s who choose to shop local and are interested in how and where their products come from, will carry on.  If the meat price goes up for us, then it also does for the British meat in the big 3 supermarkets too.”

How can you help rare breeds?

Now more than ever, people are becoming aware of the importance of buying local and supporting the heritage breeds here in the UK. In some cases, like the Gloucester’s, it’s even a matter of life-or-death, as these animals may otherwise become extinct without enough demand. 

We are immensely proud to be working with The Horny Cow. They are playing a vital role in supporting heritage breeds here in the UK and have a true passion for what they do. If you want to help ensure the preservation of breeds like the Gloucester, you can do so by purchasing heritage breed beef directly from our online store. Your purchase ensures you get quality meat while preserving a UK breed in need!