Today livestock history is alive and well in New Braintree and Hardwick as represented in the continued husbandry of a very special breed of cattle known as Red Devon or Ruby Red Devon.
Through the centuries this remarkably pure, ancient breed has been known for its docile nature and exceptional quality of the “Three Ms”: meat (superior flavor), milk (high fat) and muscle (on the Oregon Trail they were the sought after as Oxen).
Red Devons trace their English lineage back to Caesar’s conquest of Britain in 55 B.C. Although not native to England, it is speculated that they were brought to the island by Phoenicians trading for Cornish tin.
Red Devon cattle arrived in America, from Devonshire England in 1623 aboard the ship Charity: one bull and three heifers, – the first “American” Devons. So prized and expensive were these cattle, that instead of owning one, a wealthy individual (such as Plymouth colony’s Governor William Bradford) would buy only a “share” in an animal.
A local historic note involving the Devon’s tremendous strength was that in the winter of 1775-1776, Devon oxen teams were selected by General Henry Knox to pull a train of 59 artillery cannons over icy rivers and through deep snow from Fort Ticonderoga, NY to Cambridge, MA. The artillery train traveled through Warren, MA and was used by General George Washington to evacuate the British in Boston.
Thrifty New England farmers of the Civil War era were said to pass over the improved English breeds and stick with their reliable Devons. The first American Devon Herd Book in 1855 was followed by the formation of the American Devon Cattle Club in 1884. The Quaboag Valley and greater New England would remain a Devon stronghold in the years to come, even when many other areas of the country started to adopt the Shorthorn and other breeds starting around 1900.
These heritage herds can be seen gracing our town’s pastures, just as in the 1700’s, reminding us that quality endures.