Sources indicate that South Devon cattle are the descendants of the French Normandy cattle that were brought to England around the time of the Norman invasion. However, the South Devon breed is thought to have developed around 400 years ago in South West England.
It appears that isolation caused the divergence between the North and South types, however sporadic cross-breeding is believed to have occurred until the mid 1800's. South Devon cattle have been selected for draught, beef and dairy purposes, including butterfat production. However, today, they are bred primarily for beef production.
The first importations of South Devon stock to arrive in Australia were of miling type. The late 1800's and early 1900's saw the arrival of large importations. Records show that the breed appeared in the Melbourne show as early as 1908. Much later, in 1969, Australia received British imports, and in 1971, the first purebred cattle arrived from New Zealand.
South Devon cattle boast the largest frames of all the British breeds. Mature bulls typically weigh between 1200 and 1500 kilograms. The breed is naturally horned, however some polled strains do exist. Their loose, thick skins is wrapped in a curly coat that varies in colour between shades of red, or black. Sometimes it appears mottled.
Bulls can be used once they reach 15-18 months of age, and they will continue to remain productive up to 12 years sometimes. South Devon cows mature early and can be calved as 2 years of. They will remain productive up to 15 years of age. South Devon cattle often serve as terminal sires.
They are known for their well-muscled bodies, early maturing, well-marbled, lean carcases, longevity, and high milk yield. Their meat is acknowledged for its optimum level of intramuscular fat (marbling). Consequently, South Devon beef is recognised for its flavour and tenderness.
The South Devon Beef Cattle Breeders Australia was established in 2002 and continues to update the herd book and provide information about the breed to the public.
Today, South Devon cattle can be found in most states throughout Australia. They are popular in cross-breeding programs with British, Bos Indicus and European based herds.
South Devon cattle can be found in all five continents, in countries including England, the United States, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.