Choosing a breed of cattle to use on your farm, especially if you’re a new farmer, can be like searching for a needle in a haystack. There’s a vast range of choices out there, from the popular Hereford to the less well-known but no less useful Red Poll.

Red Poll cattle are a breed native to the U.K. that have found their way to farms worldwide due to their ease of care, docile natures, and beef and milk production. If you haven’t heard of this cattle breed, this guide will tell you everything that you need to know.


Quick Facts About the Red Poll Cattle Breed

british red poll cows
Image Credit: Alexa Zari, Shutterstock
Breed Name:Red Poll
Place of Origin:England
Uses:Dual-purpose (milk, meat)
Bull (Male) Size:Medium — 1,800 pounds
Cow (Female) Size:Medium — 1,200 pounds
Color:Deep red
Lifespan:Long-lived — often live past 15 years
Climate Tolerance:Adaptable, found in various countries around the world: England, the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and across Europe.
Care Level:Low
Milk Production:5,000 liters (4.2% butterfat; 3.5% protein)

Red Poll Cattle Breed Origins

Originally bred in the U.K., Red Poll cattle were first introduced in East Anglia. In the 1800s, the Norfolk Red and Suffolk Dun cattle were crossbred to take advantage of the strengths of both breeds — beef and dairy, respectively.

The combination was originally known as Norfolk and Suffolk Red Polled cattle and became “Red Poll” when the name was shortened in 1880. Although the breed mostly stayed in their home counties in the U.K., the late 1800s found them gaining popularity in the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

They were recognized as a new breed in 1846.

Red Poll Cattle Breed Characteristics

Red Poll cattle are known for their adaptability. Their original intention as a dual-purpose breed gives them a sturdiness that enables them to acclimatize to various climates, from cold and wet to warm and dry.

This adaptability stems from their home county in East Anglia in the U.K., where the climate ranges from cold, wet, and boggy during the winter months to dry in the summer. It also makes these cattle well suited for their usage in a variety of climates in Africa, Australia, Europe, and America.

In general, the breed requires little care and is happy to find their own food. Provided that they’re given plenty of fodder to make up for the lack of foraging available in the winter months, they’re hardy enough to be left in the pasture.

Their easy-to-care-for natures extend to their calving. Due to their high milk production levels — and high in both butterfat and protein — they produce calves that are low in weight but quick to grow. Red Polls are also well known for being excellent mothers, and many cows can continue calving at older ages.

Alongside this adaptability, this cattle breed is docile and a good choice for both novice and advanced farmers. Their quiet temperaments make them safe to handle for small family farms.


In the U.K., Red Polls are dual-purpose cattle, which means they’re intended for both meat and milk production. Where the Norfolk Red cattle were hardy, small, and primarily used for beef production, the Suffolk Dun breed focused on dairy. The Red Poll, in turn, is a good all-around breed and gets both their biggest strengths — milk and beef — from their ancestors.

In some countries, like the U.S.A. and Australia, the breed is primarily used for beef production rather than dairy. The beef that they produce has won awards for being high-quality and full of flavor.

Appearance and Varieties

The original breeding program for Red Poll cattle focused on both dairy and meat production, along with consistency. Breeders wanted a deep, reddish-brown coloring and polled (without horns) appearance in the breed without leaving much room for variety. While there are cases of sandy-colored Red Polls, they’re not considered a true representation of the breed and are often disqualified during purebred competitions.

Red Polls get their deep reddish coloring from both of their ancestors. Norfolks are red and white, while Suffolks range between red, yellow, and brindle. The original breeders wanted to hold onto the red coloring and polled appearance, and the only officially allowed variance is the occasional white marking on the udder or tail.

Like most English cattle, Red Polls are a medium-sized breed with a strong, muscular, and hardy constitution.


Red Polls are found all over the world, but their popularity varies depending on their purpose in each country. Outside the U.K. and Africa, where they’re considered dual-purpose breeds, Red Polls are more often used for beef production over dairy.

In the U.S.A., the Red Poll became a beef breed after WWII, and they’re now mostly found in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Washington State. After a decrease in population during the Great Depression — 1,100 in 1937 — the Red Poll population rose to 5,000 in the 1950s. Since then, the breed has been thriving on both small and large farms.

Are Red Poll Cattle Good for Small-Scale Farming?

Their high beef and milk production and their low care requirements make the Red Poll cattle breed suitable for both large and small-scale farms. Their docile and quiet temperaments, along with their easy calving and willingness to forage food for themselves, make them simple to take care of even for the most novice of cattle farmers.

The breed’s longevity also means there’s no need to replenish the herd’s numbers as often as shorter-lived cattle. Red Poll cows have been known to continue calving past the 15-year mark.


Final Thoughts: Red Poll Cattle

Originally bred in the U.K. in the 1800s, Red Poll cattle have since been distributed across the world. The breed is hardy and adaptable, making for a sturdy herd that can cope with a variety of climates. Long-lived and docile, they match well with novice farmers and can produce a high yield of both milk and beef.

Featured Image: Red poll cattle (Image Credit: Evelyn Simak, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0)