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The South Devon Breed

Breed Characteristics:
• Docile temperament giving easy management
• Milky dams with excellent mothering qualities
• Longevity
• Fast growth and early maturity

• Excellent grass conversion ability
• Hardiness and adaptability
• Good modern conformation with length & width

The South Devon Bull:
Known as “the Gentle Giant”, the South Devon’s docility enables it to be easily handled and managed.

With rapid growth and early maturity, a bull can begin to be used around 15-18 months of age on a relatively small group of females which will gradually increase over the first year. He can often work up to 11 or 12 years of age.

Those not selected for future breeding stock can either be steered or kept entire for bull beef, depending on local market requirements.


In the non-pedigree herd the South Devon bull has two main uses – as a crossing sire or as a terminal sire.

As a crossing sire the South Devon bull will allow the production of replacement breeding females on-farm. The breed attributes of good beef conformation and good milking and mothering abilities mean the South Devon will assist in the improvement in quality of a suckler herd’s base stock, whilst providing good quality beef animals. The South Devon can also be used in breeding schemes where two or three sire breeds are used to increase hybrid vigour at each generation.

As a terminal sire the South Devon improves the quality of the meat, killing out percentages and carcase classification, improving marbling, tenderness and taste, and can decrease the time required for finishing. He also passes on his docility to the next generation.

The South Devon Female:
The South Devon female is early maturing and may be calved at 2 years of age, although calving at 2½ - 3 is still quite common. Her early maturity is of major importance to those interested in high output systems and rapid genetic improvement. Calving is not usually a problem, but does depend on the usual factors: the size and condition of the dam and the choice of bull. As with the other large beef breeds in the UK care should be taken in the choice of bull for heifers.


The South Devon cow’s average gestation length is 286 days and she will calve every year for as long as 15 years. As a breed with strong origins in the dairy industry, the dam is very milky, and her calf grows on well and suckles easily. When a cow has the misfortune to lose a calf her strong mothering instincts usually make fostering a fairly easy alternative. Most births are single calves but twins do occur in approximately 10% of calvings.

With a breed of such longevity, only a small proportion of the annual crop of heifers are required for replacement breeding stock in the herd, and those that are not sold for breeding stock outside the herd will go for beef.