Kyyttöjä Viikissä veden äärellä

Itäsuomenkarja (ISK)


eastern finncattle from the side walking in water
Image: Suvi Tiainen

English name:
Eastern Finncattle (EFC)
Other names: Kyyttö, Östfinsk boskap
Weight: 519 kg (cows)
Height: 127cm (cows)
Colour: Light brown/red, color sided/lineback pattern “kyyttö” pattern, polled
Type: Dairy and beef breed
Number of offspring: 1-2
Birth weight: 26 kg (KAO)
Number of breeding females 2019:
totally 1894 breeding females, of which 197 in milk recording herds, 1697 in non-milk recording herds.

Not at Risk Vulnerable Enangered Critically Endangered  Extinct


Livestock came to Finland about 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. Early animal husbandry was based on grazing in summer and tolerating winter scarcity – it bred the native breed under harsh conditions. Local breeds prevailed imported breeds until the middle of the 20th centuries, as foreign breeds did not adapt well enough to local conditions. The ancestors of the Finncattle were multipurpose animals: initially, the cows were needed for producing the manure, thereafter draft power, skin, meat, and milk. The Eastern Finncattle (EFC), as the name implies, is traced to the eastern part of Finland. It is the oldest Finncattle breed: the breed association was established in 1898 at a cattle exhibition in Kuopio. The pedigree registration began afterwards in 1914. In the early days of breeding, the emphasis was on appearance, like coat colour patterning, but eventually, the breeding focus shifted to milk production for several decades.

The near history from WWII till today

Soldiers evacuationg cattle. Image: SA-arkisto

World War II left dramatic traces on Eastern Finncattle when parts of Eastern Finland (Karelia) became part of the Soviet Union. Evacuated people from the lost areas brought their cows with them. A lot of cows had to be left behind, many died during a difficult journey. The breed lost both its geographical area and a significant part of its population. Due to the decline, the herd book was merged with other Finncattle breeds to one breeding association entitled Finncattle Breeding Association in 1946. The merge was done in such a way that three cattle types remained distinct and today are still considered separate breeds. The big renewals in agriculture blended with the losses of WWII and dated back to the 1970s and 1980s when the breed became threatened with extinction.

Ayrshire cattle spread to the eastern and northern parts of the country in the 1950s and replaced the local breeds. Moreover, the import of Friesian cattle semen for artificial insemination in the 1960s accelerated the decrease of the number of purebred Eastern Finncattle. In the 1980s, only fifty cows were left in isolated herds and less than ten bulls remained from the Eastern Finncattle. Luckily, there were also semen doses of seven old EFC AI-bulls left at one bull station in Finland that helped to revive the breed.

The first steps in conserving animal genetic resources were taken in Scandinavia in the 1960s. Professor Kalle Maijala was one of the first defenders of native breeds adapted to local conditions. He spoked about the disappearance of genes and local populations.Among other things, Maijala based his views on genetic markers, and speculated about the link between unique alleles, such as blood groups and production traits long before the molecular genetics of animal breeding.

Kyytöt kulkevat polkua pitkin
Kuva: Suvi Tiainen

One of the most essential achievements of work initiated by Kalle Maijala was forming in situ herds in a state-owned prisons and school farms. A contract with five schools was signed in 1975 and the work for establishing prison gene bank was started in 1981. Cooperation with prison farms and vocational agricultural colleges has been a special feature in the conservation of Finnish native cattle breeds.   

 Living gene bank for Eastern Finncattle was established on the Sukeva prison farm. When the Sukeva Prison abandoned farming and dairy production in 2008, the Kainuu Vocational College (KAO) received official gene bank status for Eastern Finncattle. The current revival of the breed has scattered the breed all over the country. A significant era of conserving farm animal genetic resources will end soon when the last prison gene bank will be closed in 2022. Lappia Vocational College, Loue (Tervola) has been chosen as the new home for the Northern Finncattle gene bank herd.  

Management of the breed 

Today, only small proportion of the Eastern Finncattle is engaged in the milking recording system. The scarcity of animals used for dairy production has raised concern about the breed’s traditional role as a dairy breed and have turned the focus of the activities back on conservation and monitoring inbreeding. The population has increased recently due to augmentation animals kept outside of dairy production in ecosystem services such as landscaping by the suckler cow production system. When Finland joined to EU, farms keeping rare native animals began to receive subsidy. 

Kyytöt laitumella
Image: Suvi Tiainen

The Natural Resources Center (LUKE) coordinates and implements Finland’s National Genetic Resources Programme for Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery in cooperation with the stakeholders. LUKE is responsible for tailoring the plan for conservation activities. The main aim is to secure the genetic diversity, the secondary is improving economical important traits, such as improving production capacity in milk production. The breeding organization, FABA coop, is responsible for managing practical measures, such as freezing semen dozes and elaborating breeding schemes for cows in private farms, 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 – in vitro production of embryos is utilized in conservation of Eastern Finncattle. The most recent preservation activities include in vitro production of oocytes harvested from the culled animals. According to the DAD-IS database there are 7750 semen samples stored in the cryopreservation program in addition to 128 embryo samples.

Eastern Finncattle meat is marketed as a specialty product. A few top restaurants offer dishes made from the milk or meat of the breed. Thence, a lot of private farms are focusing on the use of breed for landscape management and beef production. Moreover, many of the farms keeping Eastern Finncattle are multifunctional e.g. maintaining cultural values, processing their own products to obtain added values, focusing on direct sales or exercising organic production (Gandini et al. 2010). A popular channel for sales takes places through Reko-rings (fair consumption, facilitated through a Facebook group).


All Finncattle breeds are closely related and belong to northern Fennoscandian polled breeds, which form a distinct group together with Swedish Mountain cattle, Icelandic cattle, Norwegian Doela cattle and Norwegian Telemark cattle. Eastern Finncattle has a distinct phenotype: typically reddish-brown cow has a broad, white line on its back, and a white face and stomach. The pattern, known as “kyyttö” in Finnish, is describing the specific colour type and the breed, is also known as “color sided” in other breeds, like the Norwegian Colour sided Troender and Nordland Cattle.

eastern finncattle
Image: Suvi Tiainen

The breed has been relatively small in body size. Like other Finncattle breeds, individuals of the Eastern Finncattle breed are naturally polled. The milk production is the lowest among the Finncattle breeds, but with the help of branding, milk and meat from Eastern Finncattle have become valued brand products. For example, laboratory analysis of the meat characteristics implies tender meat with favourable intramuscular fatty acid composition (Suleimenova 2016). Further, the milk is also suitable for cheese making as it has a 10% increase in cheese yield (Tupasela et al., 2014). For instance, Eastern Finncattle milk coagulates better and forms firmer mass for cheese making than milk from commercial breeds. According to a recent study, Eastern Finncattle has an interesting oligosaccharide profile suitable branding and commercial products.

Molecular genetics studies have shown Eastern Finncattle displaying relatively high within breed genetic variation (Kantanen et al. 2000, Iso-Touru et al. 2016). The effective population size of Eastern Finnish cattle has gradually increased and is now estimated to be in the order of 40-60 (Siipola, 2019).

According to the farmers, the breeds’ main strengths and possibilities are special traits such as longevity, health, and fertility, along with the added value of products (Gandini et al. 2010).

Eastern Finncattle has been studied most among the Nordic cattle breeds (Kierkegaard et al. 2020). More than 40 different studies have been published on it, emphasizing the mapping of genetic diversity with molecular genetics or genomics. In contrast, there are fewer international studies on phenotypic traits or the breed’s cultural and social significance. Besides, Eastern Finncattle has the most abundant studies on the social significance of all Nordic cattle breeds, which confirms that the breed has a great symbolic value in Finland (Kierkegaard et al. 2o2o; Gandini et al. 2010).

Production: (2021) 

Milk: 4450kg  

  • Fat content: 4.29% 
  • Protein content: 3.45% 

Did you know? 

On linguistic grounds, the Eastern Finnish herd have existed as breeds of at least some degree for at least 2,000 years (Niinikoski). 

Date published: February 28, 2022



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