A General History of Randall Lineback Cattle

All history pages have been authored by Joe Henderson and Phil Sponenberg


The Randall Lineback breed is the last survivor of the once numerous “all-purpose” local landrace breeds of cattle that became popular throughout New England beginning in the late 1600s. These landrace breeds of cattle produced the milk, provided the meat, and did the heavy agricultural work of New England for hundreds of years. The precise origin and antecedents of the Randall Linebacks are shrouded in the mists of time, and will most likely never be known exactly, because they preceded the era of “purebred” cattle. However, the distinctive color pattern, the blood types, and the history of cattle introduction and breeding in New England all help to determine the likely origins of this breed.

Numerous European cattle from different homelands were introduced into New England in the first half of the 1600s. That century brought three formative trends to bear on New England cattle: first, over time, the imports were mixed together; second, they were isolated from further crossing; and, eventually, third, individuals with desirable traits were selected to produce hardy, useful cattle that served local demand for milk, draft, and meat for centuries thereafter. After 1650 the numbers of European cattle imported to New England diminished considerably due to the availability of cattle from elsewhere in North America and the high expense of new importations from Europe. Thus, North American sources of breeding stock from as far south as Virginia and as far north as Quebec became important breed stock sources for New England through the late 1600s, 1700s and mid-1800s while at the same time importations from Europe drastically diminished. The farmers in local areas created populations of cattle for local purposes and conditions. Local populations of “all-purpose” cattle were developed during the 1700s in the Mid-Atlantic and New England American colonies. It stands to reason that these cattle would have “all-purpose traits” since these early centuries demanded homesteading stock, in many cases for subsistence farming. These are referred to as “landrace” breeds.

“Landrace” is a designation that is used to denote animal populations that arise in local areas for local production purposes. The breeding of landraces is usually fairly casual, and they gain uniformity mainly through their isolation from other livestock. This landrace pattern of development results in useful breeds, adapted to their particular geographies. This was true of the New England lineback cattle of the 1700s and 1800s. A drive to specialization, and the resulting introduction of standardized pure breeds of specialized cattle in the late 1800s and throughout the 1900s led to the eventual disappearance of most landrace cattle. The local cattle suffered two fates. Some were graded up with purebred bulls, becoming over time more and more like the purebred breeds of those bulls. Others were replaced outright by the pure breeds, which tended to emphasize a particular attribute such as volume of milk production, or amount of marbled beef. Changing to the standardized pure breeds brought with it some increase in production – but also a decrease in adaptation to a particular geography, along with that geography’s climate, parasite and disease prevalence, and forage.