What makes a Devon a Devon? What are the inherent characteristics that make it a Red Ruby Devon, not just a cow with a red coat?
The suit of characteristics that are fundamental to the Red Ruby Devon are what we refer to as “Breed Character”.
Each cattle/sheep/dog breed will have their own set of Breed Characteristics which are encapsulated within each breed’s Standard of Excellence. Breed Character is a coming together of all the fundamental characteristics of a breed; it is not an easy thing to put your finger on, yet it is critical that we, as Red Ruby Devon breeders recognise it (or lack of it!) and work within our breeding programmes to maintain and protect it.
Breed Characteristics can be broken down in to the following main constituents:
- Colour & Texture of Coat
Perhaps colour is the most recognisable trait of a Red Ruby. The coat should ideally be a rich, red ruby colour. Deep ruby but far from chocolate brown. There are slight variations in shades, often dependent on soil type but an animal should not veer too much towards orangey tan.
The coat should be of medium length and “mossy” thick as opposed to a slicker jacket. This breed trait is not just aesthetic. The coat is vital in giving the Devon the ability to thrive in harsh climates for which she is famed. This coat helps hold condition without the need for extreme extra feeding.
- Distinctive Differences between Males & Females (besides the anatomical obvious!):
The Devon head should ooze character. The head is the very first thing that reels in the eye and a very good head will often signify a very good animal. Bulls must be bred to be masculine. When walking amongst the herd the bull should be instantly recognisable amongst the females. He must have a good width to the forehead, eye and muzzle with his eye of kind appearance with a generous mossy coat across the forehead and ears.
The females must remain feminine, pretty girls both in their heads and bodies; they must not appear to be a field of bullocks. They must be of medium size and remain smart on parade.
In both sexes, heads which are narrow between the eyes and forehead and of a longer length are not displaying sufficient breed character. Ears are large, well set and laced with hair.
The nostrils must be wide, clean, open and pink – darker blue colouring of the skin (“Blue Nose”) is absolutely not acceptable.
Should your Devons be horned, they must match as a pair and be tipped by a darker shade but not black.
- General Conformation
The Red Ruby Devon is naturally an easy fleshing animal, well covered but not excessively fat. The flesh should be firm to touch (not wobbly!) We must be aware of how easily a Devon will flesh in our feeding plans as carrying excess weight is the biggest contribution to any calving problems.
The udder of a cow must be tidy with well placed teats (which are not too large).
The only admissible white on the Devon is on the udder with a female which must not come any further forward than the naval. A little white in front of the purse is admissible for a bull but not on any other part of the limbs or body.
The shoulder of both bulls and females must be moderate without point or excess width. Ribs are well sprung with a clean brisket (not showing an excess of fatty waste).
The back must be long with a full loin through to the rump which should not slope away and the pins of a cow must be wide for continued calving ease for which the breed is famed.
Bulls must have a neck of medium length with a good crest.
The tail should be thick from the root (not “ratty”) with a well-placed neat head and a copious, creamy white switch.
The legs and feet of an animal should never be overlooked; they are vitally important for our foraging Devon. They must stand with “a leg in each corner” and should never sink underneath or sweep when in motion. Hocks must never be sickle and feet remain tidy and in their square formation.
- Stature & Size
The breed is of a medium frame and stature, built to withstand all extremes of climate. It may be tempting to equate an ever-increasing size with an increase of profit: however – the beef industry has switched on to the fact that this can often be false economy or “Fools Gold”.
Our medium stature is one of our most commercially relevant traits; we do not need or want to mimic our commercial counterparts. Whilst nobody is advocating a return to buckle-high Devons, the medium size of our Devon makes it one of the most functional suckler cows for any beef system.
The Red Ruby Devon is notably exceptionally docile. It is paramount that we as breeders, maintain this behaviour so it continues as the highly desirable attribute for which the breed is famed. Devons are personable creatures; easy to handle inside the shed and out in the field.
Good temperament is not just nice to have but it is a hugely significant factor in creating a profitable beef herd.
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The Standard of Excellence (available in all DCBS Herd Books) is our bible for the breed.
The Red Ruby Devon has proved itself relevant through generations of farming and has withstood short-lived fashions and fads. We should be rightly proud of our breed.
It endures because its breed characteristics make it such a versatile breed, able to contribute positively to the whole gamut of beef production systems whilst responding to ever changing requirements.
We must not lose sight of the Devons inherent breed characteristics which are a precious aspect of what makes our breed so special.