Black and white image of faroese cattle cow on a field

Faroese Cattle

Contact: farm-animals@nordgen.org

 

Old black and white photo of a animal standing on a street with old wooden houses in the backgroundOrigin: Faroe Islands
Native name: Føroysk neyt
Danish name: Færøsk kvæg
Weight: 366kg (cows)
Height: 122cm (cows)
Colour: Mainly black
Type: Combination breed
Birthweight: estimated 27kg
Number of breeding females 2020: 0

 


Not at Risk Vulnerable Endangered Critically Endangered Extinct


Kept Isolated

Old black and white photo of woman milking a Faroese cattleThe first settlers came to Faroe Islands 12-1500 years ago. The cattle population was kept isolated on the islands in the following hundreds of years. In 1886, the agricultural advisor Rasmus Effersøe, wrote the first description of the breed. He describes the Faroese cattle as small with short legs, short horns and mainly black. Concurrently, he documented the first import of cattle to the Faroe Islands. He believes that the original cattle on the Faroe Islands was imported from Norway and document continuous import of a broad range of breeds to the Islands; Funen breed (beginning of 1800), Swiss cattle (1830), Jutland cattle (1850), Angeln cattle (1852), Jutland cattle (1852), Norwegian breed (1865), Orkney Islands (1876). Import of cattle breeds continues with Ayshire Shorthorn, Yorkshire-Ayshire and Dutch breed (late 1800), Jutland cattle (1882), Angeln cattle (1886), RDM (1924), Danish grey spotted cattle (1940), Jersey (1950) and NRF, Danish Holstein as well as Norwegian Red Polled cattle (1958-2018). 

Insemination Station

Women standing next to a black and white cow on the Faroe IslandsThe greatest impact from the imported breeds can be traced back to 1958 with the implementation of insemination. Initiatively, two Western Red Polled bulls were imported from Norway. The bulls became part of the newly established insemination station. Their semen was distributed to most parts of the Faroe Islands. In 1963 two more bulls was imported from Norway. They were used until 1965, where one started to import frozen semen from Norway. In 1968, one started to use semen from Norwegian Red and in 1993 semen from Danish Holstein where used in addition. In 1990, a few years before they started to use semen from Danish Holstein, few heifers where imported from Iceland. Decades later it was still possible to find descendants after crossbreeding between the Icelandic heifers and both Norwegian Red as well as Danish Holstein. 

Not Suitable for Milking Machines

The large degree of crossbreeding used in Faroe Islands was mainly due to the original breed not being suitable to the newly developed and implemented milking machines. The udders were typically asymmetrical with teats that did not fit in the teat cups. In addition, the farmers wanted to experience the effects of being part of an organized breeding programme, which there had been no practice or history of in the Faroe Islands. Concurrently, the number of cows decreased drastically, and it became too expensive to keep bulls in each herd. Therefore, insemination became a necessity. In 1987, Hestur, the last island that had bulls in their herd, started to use insemination with semen from Norwegian Red. However, the island had already used Norwegian Red bulls in breeding since 1981. The effect on the milk yield was immediate and as response the yield increased from 2890 to 5888 litre per cow from 1980 to 1991. 

Genomic Analysis

Approximately 1000 cows remained on the Faroe Islands in 2003. However, they where all considered as either Norwegian Red or Holstein. However, some cows had some resemblance with the original cattle. At this point of time, a genomic analysis on a selection of the remnants was conducted to determine the degree of genes conserved in the current population. Unfortunately, the analysis showed that no pure individuals from the original breed existed. Few selected individuals that resembled most of the original breed was gathered, and semen was tapped from the bull calves. One hoped that it was possible to conserve the remaining genes, of the original breed, in an in situ programme. In 2018, the programme consisted of 8 descendants. Unfortunately, a new genomic analysis showed that the 8 individuals in the conservation programme genomic resembled Norwegian Red. Therefore, one chose to extract embryos for preservation. This will allow researchers to conduct genomic research as well as find a solution to reintroduce cattle more closely related to the original cattle on the Faroe Islands. 

Date published: October 19 2020

References: 

Djurhuus, R. (2020). Personal communication