Estonian native cattle, our cultural heritage

The Estonian native cattle is our cultural heritage that we need to preserve for future generations. We will never know when the genes of Estonian cattle need to be used in developing new breeds.

The Estonian native cattle is the oldest native dairy cattle breed in Estonia. This breed has been developed for over 100 years. The earliest documented notes date back 243 years. In 1845, landowner Wassili von Zuckerbecker was the first person to start improving the existing breed of cattle. However, in 1910, an extensive and consistent development of the breed began under the leadership of Alexander Lilienblatt. The herdbook of the Estonian native cattle was opened in 1914 and the Estonian Cattle Breeders Society was founded on 20 April 1920. Since 1993, the breed has been included in the international list of endangered species of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.


Estonian native cattle have a short stature and their colour varies from pale red to red. The landrace cattle are strong and resilient. They have no problems with their legs since they are strong and do not have to carry 700 kilogrammes of body weight (their average body weight is 483 kg, which is 20% less than the Estonian Holstein breed or Estonian Red breed). Their ability to breed naturally has been preserved. Even though the Estonian native cannot compete with the Estonian Holstein or the Estonian Red in terms of produce, their milk is of significantly higher quality. Personality-wise, the Estonian native is as stubborn and obstinate as any Estonian, but also very friendly and curious. They also have a very strong herd instinct. They are more resilient and less demanding than newly developed breeds. Thanks to the breed’s hereditary survival instincts, the Estonian native never allows itself to be milked to death, so to say. During gestation, the cattle uses its strong maternal instinct to keep most of its nutrients for the growing calf. Unfortunately, this inhibits milk production. Compared to new developed breeds, the Estonian native reaches maturity and its maximum production level at a slower rate, which is why it is most suitable for small households/farms.


Today, Estonian native cattle are kept in 144 households. At the end of 2020, there were 801 purebred Estonian native cattle and 647 calves in 173 households. The main problems regarding the Estonian native are the increasing age of keepers, economic pressure and limited financial capacity. The Estonian native cattle is a dairy cattle whose main task is to produce delicious and high-quality milk, but it needs to be milked at least twice a day. Over time, the requirements for producing raw milk and keeping animals have changed. This requires regular investments into buildings, tools and equipment. Regrettably, our financial institutions do not consider the Estonian native breed to be competitive, which is why it is impossible for native cattle farmers to receive money for investments.



See the full article in the April 2020 issue of Eesti Loodus (Estonian Nature), pp. 18-19 



Käde Kalamees, conservation activist of Estonian native cattle;

Ege Raid, the executive director of the Estonian Native Cattle Breeders' Society


Editor:  Reigo Roasto