Lepinlehmät tallustelevat koti laidunta

Pohjoissuomenkarja (PSK)

Contact: farm-animals@nordgen.org


In the above image, taken by Veera Happonen, cattle from the Pelso prison farm are on their way to be milked on a summer evening. 


White cow on the field
Image: Harri Toikka

Origin: Finland
Other names: Northern Finncattle (NFC), Lapinlehmä
Weight: 530kg (cows)
Height: 128cm (cows)
Colour: White with black markings, mostly polled
Type: Dairy and beef breed
Number of offspring: 1-2
Birth weight: 20-35 kg
Number of breeding females 2019: totally of 887 breeding females of which 338 in milk recording herds.


Not at Risk  Vulnerable  Endangered  Critically Endangered  Extinct


The Northern Finncattle (NFC) is also called Lapland cow. In 2019, 338 of the cows in the Faba Coop’s dairy monitoring system were Northern Finncattle, and the breed is classified as endangered.

Kaksi valkoista lehmää vettä juomassa
Image: Suvi Tiainen

The herdbook was established in 1905, and it was divided into two sections – one for white and one for red animals. The white form was called Perä-Pohjola’s breed or Lapland breed and red as Northern Finnish breed At the first meeting on December 1, a common name for both colour variants was adopted: Northern Finnish breed. Red individuals were reported to be slightly larger in size, and horns were more common. However, white individuals were considered more original, valuable and they were believed to be adapted to the local conditions. The red herdbook was abandoned and handed over to another breeding association in 1914, and the Northern Finnish Breeding Association focused only on white cattle (Juvani 2014). Currently, according to herdbook, the breeding goal for Northern Finncattle aims to preserve the diversity of the breed.

Before World War II, there were large Northern Finncattle herds in Lapland, but the evacuation to Sweden in the autumn of 1944 took a toll on the population. By the time the remaining cattle could return home in the spring of 1945, the homes and barns had been burned. In many cases, only cows were brought back from Sweden. The bulls were either slaughtered or left in Sweden. The three native cattle breeds were cross-bred and bulls of Western Finncattle were imported to Lapland and used for breeding. In a few generations, the Lapland cow almost disappeared. Social pressure to discard the native breed was strong, and only the most persistent farmers kept Northern Finncattle cows in their herds. Thus, in the late 1970s the situation of the Northern Finncattle was alarming and a few preservation pioneers started to revitalize the breed. Among the pioneers were farmers from Tornio, Kerttu and Leino Lehto, along with veterinarian Ossi Kemppainen. As a result of the systematic and committed work paid off, and the rapid decline of the Northern Finncattle was stopped.

Image: Suvi Tiainen

The gene bank for the Northern Finncattle was established in 1984 at the Pelso prison farm, where the remains of Northern Finncattle cows were collected. The living gene bank for Northern Finncattle currently houses eight dam lines (Haaja & Happonen 2019). As hardly any bulls from the Northern Finncattle were found in the 1980s, the Swedish Mountain Cattle had to be used to revive the population. A significant era in the history of Northern Finncattle will soon end when the last prison gene bank farm will be closed in 2022. A new home for the gene bank herd has been chosen to be the Lappia Vocational College, in Loue (Tervola).

The Natural Resources Center (LUKE) coordinates and implements Finland’s National Genetic Resources Programme for Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery in cooperation with stakeholders. LUKE is responsible for tailoring a plan for conservation activities. The main aim is to secure the genetic diversity, and the secondary is improving traits that are financial significance. The breeding organization (FABA) is responsible for managing practical measures, such as freezing semen dozes and elaborating breeding schemes for cows and bulls for renewal. Inbreeding is controlled by using the EVA program (Berg et al. 2006). Cryoconservation is essential part supporting in situ measures for all native breeds in Finland. The very first in vitro produced embryos of the Northern Finncattle were “born” in the embryo laboratory of Natural Resources Institute Finland in August 2020.

Lehmä hoivaa vasikkaansa vihreällä niityllä
Image: Suvi Tiainen

The Northern Finncattle population has grown slowly but steadily since the 1980s, currently with less than a thousand cows. In 2019, the milk recording system included 338 cows. The average yield was 5,521 kilograms of milk, a fat percentage of 4.29 and a protein percentage of 3.41. The effective population size of Northern Finncattle is estimated to be between 40-50 (Siipola 2019).


Of the three Nordic sister breeds, Northern Finncattle has been studied the most diverse (Kierkegaard et al. 2019). Nearly 40 different studies have been published on it, with a particular emphasis on the mapping of genetic diversity with molecular genetics or genomics. In contrast, there are fewer international studies on phenotypic traits or the cultural and social significance of the breed. 

The 3MC project arranged a photo competition in 2021. Winning image by Suvi Tiainen.

In past centuries, cattle were bred largely according to color and appearance – therefore, it is traditionally white in color or white with black or brown markings. Today, other colors appear from almost entirely black or black/brown-sided to completely white. Northern Finncattle individuals are naturally polled – which can be a resource for adapting to the arctic environment. The milk quality is desirable: kappa casein B is the most common type (71%) (Soppela et al., 2018). It is linked to better processing qualities of the milk. Their milk contains indications of a more favorable fatty acid composition in human consumption. In addition, the milk of Northern Finncattle contains less palmitic acid than mainstream milk (Soppela et al., 2018). According to the herders, the breed is healthy, bouncy, and social in nature. Calving is usually easy and successful without assistance (FABA). The breed is relative lightweight and moves agilely in the terrain – therefore, it fits better for ecosystem service purposes such as traditional pasturing than the larger commercial cattle. Also, a well-treated Lapland cow is very easy to approach, which make them suitable for another type of ecosystem service such as animal-assisted care.  

Recent genome research has shown some evidence of adaption to the local climate (Pokharel et al., 2019). The results pointed towards specific lipid metabolism, having roles in inflammation and thermoregulation. Analogies can be found in hibernating bears or adaptation to arctic environments by the indigenous peoplesThe ongoing 3MC Mountain cattle project will provide novel evidence on history and shared ancestors, genetics and traditional heritage of three sister breeds – Pohjoissuomenkarja, Fjällko and Sidet trønder– og nordlandsfe in Finland, Sweden and Norway.  


Milk: 2019: 5521 kg 

fat content 4.29% 

protein content 3.41% 

Fun facts/Did you know 

The first and so far the only one Northern Finncattle individual attained a production of 100,000 kilograms is Talvikki (100-299835 SSS), owned by Harri Toikka. Talvikki reached this milestone at the age of 15 years (2003)Talvikki’s average production was about  7,954 kg with a fat% of 4.05 and a protein% of 3.10. Talvikki reached the age of 21 years on the Tokkola farm. One of Talvikki’s descendant six generations ahead, Ylläs, is expected to achieve the lifetime production of  100K kilograms in the nearest future (Feb 2021).    

According to traditional knowledge, the white color is thought to protect the animal from mosquito stings (LUKE). 

Top image: Veera Happonen

Date published: March 18, 2021


Ahlman: Tutkimustietoa ja julkaisuja – paja.ahlman.fi

Ahlman: Pohjoissuomenkarja – paja.ahlman.fi

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