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My regular readers know that I like to write about various aspects of history of the dairy industry. I am particularly interested in conservation efforts to protect the heritage breeds of dairy cows in this age of pressure to increase production per cow in some areas of the country.

The Randall Linebacks are reported to be America’s oldest and rarest dairy breed. While once considered a critically endangered animal, The Livestock Conservancy now states they number around 500.

Randall Linebacks originated on the farm of Everett Randall in Sunderland, Vermont, where it is reported he and later his son kept a closed herd for over 80 years. Randall was a cattle breeder and it is widely thought that the Randall Linebacks are a combination of Dutch, French and English cattle. The Randalls are considered to be a “landrace” breed, descended from the indigenous cattle common in New England in the 19th century.

All of the Randall Linebacks in existence today can be traced to the Everett Randall herd.

The breed was almost lost. In 1985, there were only a few. The elder Randall had passed away and his family was not able to take care of the cattle. Cynthia Creech took on the responsibilities of maintaining the herd to preserve the genetic purity.

It is important to know that the herd was not known as the Randall breed until the 1990s when Cynthia and others decided it would be appropriate to name them after Everett to honor his work and dedication. The official registry was established in 2001.

'The Breed That Saved America'

The American Livestock Breed Conservancy designated them as critically endangered at this time. Fortunately, as is often the case, a few people with interests in breed preservation reacted to save them.

One such effort came from Joe Henderson of the Chapel Hill Farm in Berryville, Virginia, in 2004. He took as many as he could to the farm and through a well-planned strategy of breeding and management was able to grow the herd to its current number of over 300 cows and calves. Since the world population of Randall cattle is roughly 500, the Chapel Hill efforts can be characterized, in its own words, as a “remarkable story of survival.”

Legend even has it that the Randall is “the breed that saved America.” An article published in The Beef Site mentions how ancestors from today’s Randalls were used to pull sleds carrying abandoned French cannons under orders from Gen. George Washington. During the battle of Boston in 1776, the sleds pulled the cannons to sites that overlooked the unsuspecting British troops.

Over 200 years later, beef and veal from the Randall cows at Chapel Hill Farm are served at several restaurants in the Washington, D.C., area.

Since production capability became a primary factor in breeding dairy cattle, the heritage breeds have been largely forgotten, but the Randall has so many of the other characteristics that make it an ideal breed for the small, homestead-type farm. In addition to also being useful for draft and beef, it is a relatively docile animal, has strong maternal instincts, few calving problems, and few issues with its metabolism.

Landrace breeds such as the Randall are an important part of the heritage of the dairy industry in Pennsylvania, valued by the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board and many others with whom we work. I hope this short introduction to one almost-extinct breed, and efforts to conserve it, have piqued your interest in this topic. Let me know if you have other dairy industry history topics that you would like to hear about.

PMMB is always available to respond to questions and concerns. I can be reached at 717-210-8244 or by email at chardbarge@pa.gov.

Carol Hardbarger is the secretary of the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board.

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