Ireland’s rare cattle include three Lakenvelders and four Luings born in 2015, the year for which the most recent statistics are available from ICBF.
By far our most popular rare breeds are Dexter and Kerry, running neck and neck with, 289 and 288 births, respectively, in 2015.
At the other end of the table are three Murray Grey calves and three Belted Galloway calves.
Also popular are Irish Maol, with the third highest number of calvings, at 95.
Well behind, but fairly well established, are Speckle Park and Galloway, at 51 each.
There were 42 Romagnola calves, and 29 each of bison and water buffalo (the latter are kept in Co Cork for mozzarella cheese making).
Next most popular are Highland (25), Marchigiana (24), Longhorn (19), Stabiliser (18), Red Poll (16), and Maine Anjou (9).
Interest in Dexters is growing fast, with 93 farmers breeding them (having increased steadily from 40 in 2011), and calf numbers peaking in 2015. They are popular on many organic farms.
However, Kerry numbers are going in the opposite direction, with 128 breeders and 653 calves in 2011, falling to 65 and 288 in 2015.
Irish Maol calvings doubled in 2015, with 25 breeders involved.
The other three rarities for which breeders reach double figures are Galloway, Speckle Park, and Highland.
The former was on 30 farms in 2015, having grown steadily from 16 breeders in 2011.
Galloway is an old Scottish breed. Interestingly, crossing it with the Dutch Belted cow (the Lakenvelder) is believed to be the source of the Belted Galloway, for which there are three breeders in Ireland, according to ICBF’s 2015 calving records.
There have been 16 to 20 breeders with Speckle Park since 2011, and a similar number have Highland cattle.
There are a handful of Romagnola breeders here too.
These beef cattle have distinctive muscularity over the loin, rump and through the lower thigh, and a high meat yield, with lower cholesterol levels claimed.
In the Romagnolas’ Italian homeland, the Marchigiana makes up 45% of the beef herd, so it is not surprising to see it appear here, although ICBF figures for speciality/rare pedigree calves born in 2015 come from only one farm.
Longhorns and Stabiliser cattle both originated in the US.
The famous Texas Longhorn stock dwindled away, until the breed was saved from near extinction in 1927.
In stark contrast, the Stabiliser is a modern breed, first produced by the USDA Meat Animal Research Centre as a four-way cross between Hereford, Red Angus, Simmental and Gelbvieh.
Murray Grey is a versatile breed of Australian polled beef cattle.
The Red Poll is a dual-purpose breed developed in England.
Considering how successful French breeds have been in Ireland, it is surprising that the Maine-Anjou is a very rare breed here.
It is one of the top French beef breeds, and can be found in many beef producing countries.
The Luing breed was evolved by the Cadzow brothers on the island of Luing, off the west coast of Scotland, by crossing the Beef Shorthorn and the Highlander.
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