Ayrshire cattle are a breed of dairy cattle from Ayrshire in southwest Scotland. The adult Ayrshire cow weighs from 450 to 600 kilograms. Ayrshires typically have red and white markings; the red can range from a shade of orange to a dark brown.
Ayrshires are red and white in colour. The red colour is a reddish-brown mahogany that varies in shade from very light to very dark. On some bulls, the mahogany colour is so dark that it appears almost black in contrast to the white. The colour markings vary from nearly all red to nearly all white. The spots are usually very jagged at the edges and often small and scattered over the entire body of the cow. Usually, the spots are distinct, with a break between the red and the white hair. Some Ayrshires exhibit a speckled pattern of red pigmentation on the skin covered by white hair. Brindle and roan colour patterns were once more common in Ayrshires, but these patterns are rare today.
For many years, the Ayrshire horns were a hallmark of the breed. These horns often reached a foot or more in length, they gracefully curved out and then up and slightly back. When polished for the show ring, the Ayrshire horns were a spectacular sight. Horns are not very practical, and today almost all Ayrshires are dehorned as calves.
Ayrshires are medium-sized cattle and weigh approximately over 1200 pounds at maturity. They are strong, rugged cattle that adapt to all management systems including group handling on dairy farms with free stalls and milking parlors. Ayrshires excel in udder conformation and are not subject to excessive foot and leg problems.
Few other breeds can match the ability of the Ayrshire to rustle and forage for themselves under adverse feeding or climatic conditions. The ruggedness of the terrain and the unfavourable climatic conditions of their native land led to the selection for those points of hardiness that adapt them to less than ideal conditions. These traits make Ayrshires outstanding commercial dairy cattle.
Other traits that make Ayrshires attractive to the commercial dairyman include the vigor of Ayrshire calves. They are strong and easy to raise. Ayrshires do no possess the yellow tallow characteristic that would reduce carcass value, so Ayrshire bull calves can be profitably raised as steers.
The Ayrshire is a moderate butterfat breed. Top producing Ayrshires regularly exceed 20,000 pounds of milk in their lactations. The current world record for Ayrshire is held by Lette Farms Betty’s Ida. In 305 days, on twice-a-day milking, she produced 37,170 pounds of milk and 1592 pounds of fat. The Ayrshire Breeders’ Association does not officially recognize records in excess of 305 days, but one Ayrshire has produced over 41,000 pounds of milk and 1800 pounds of butterfat in 365 days.