South Devons originated in south-west England, where they were bred for beef and milk, and as draught animals. They were imported into Natal in 1897, and subsequently into several other parts of the country. The South Devon Cattle Breeders’ Society of South Africa was founded in Pietermaritzburg in 1914.
The breed’s popularity has gone up and down over the years, but since the start of this century there has been a huge demand for both bulls and cows. South Devons have adapted excellently to South Africa’s harsh conditions, as they are good grazers and their smooth, ‘medium red’ coats can handle the heat well. It is a dual-purpose breed, with a good quality carcass as well as rich milk.
The breed’s main advantages include:
- A docile nature. The South Devon is easy to work with, making it ideal for cross-breeding programmes with breeds where temperament may be a problem. This gentleness makes it ideal for the small-scale farmer without proper handling facilities.
- High fertility. The South Devon’s average age at first calving and its average inter-calving period (ICP) compare well with those of other breeds. In fact, 60% of South Devon herds have recorded an ICP of under 400 days. Bulls have no sheath problems.
- A top quality carcass with high slaughter-out percentage. The breed produces lean, yet well-marbled meat – exactly what modern consumers want – and the yield from the carcass is about 60% on average.
- Good milk production. South Devons are renowned for their excellent milk with high butterfat content, so are popular for cross-breeding. A South Devon bull can be mated with another breed for higher milk yields, ensuring quicker calf growth and maximum weaner weights.
- Fast-growing, healthy calves. The calves attain a good weight at weaning, thanks to high milk production. In fact, a few years ago, the South Devon breed achieved the second-highest weaning weight ratio in South Africa – meaning that the calves were very large in comparison with their mothers.
Sources: Beef Cattle Management (ARC-Animal Production Institute, Irene); South Devon Cattle Breeders’ Society.