News

Darrin Mayer Confirms Resilience Is Still a Trademark Today

The Legend of Tomboy and AliceIf you ever doubt the tales of just how hardy and healthy Ayrshires are, just read about the adventures of Tomboy and Alice.

Never heard of them, you say? True, as famous duos go, they’re not as celebrated as Antony and Cleo­patra, Lewis and Clark, or Simon and Garfunkel.

Heck, they’re not even as big as Batman and Robin.

But if you truly love the Ayrshire breed, then you should know the story of Tomboy and Alice. You see, 88 years ago, Tomboy and Alice were a pair of Ayrshire cows who walked—literally walked—all the way from the Ayrshire Breeders’ Association national headquarters in central Vermont to St. Louis for the 1929 National Dairy Show. (They weren’t alone, of course, seeing as cows have a terrible sense of direction. They were walked all the way by their handlers.)

Not only did Tomboy and Alice survive, but they both calved and went on to become exceptional milkers.

Based on his experiences, the story of Tomboy and Alice doesn’t surprise Darrin Mayer, a professor in the Dairy Science Department at Delaware Valley University in Doylestown, PA.

“We don’t have too many sick Ayrshires,” he says in reference to the dairy farm on the grounds of the university. “We’ve never had many that have feet or leg problems.”

Part of the breed’s sturdiness is attributable to their ances­tors in Scotland. The Ayrshires were bred there to withstand the cold climate and hard, rocky ground. According to Mayer, the Ayrshires remain “genetically more consistent” than most other breeds in America.

“When you get into the Ayrshires, they’re more like what they came from in their original country,” he says. “They’re more a pure form of cattle that were once a dual‑purpose breed.”

Another reason that the Ayrshires are built to last is their somatic cell count, or SCC.

“They have the best somatic cell count of any breed,” Mayer says. “The SCC is a measurement of how healthy the cow is based on how many white blood cells there are in their milk.”

So, we’ve established that Ayrshires are tough. You could even say that they’re the Chuck Norris of cattle breeds. And that explains how they ended up in America. You see, Ayrshires were first brought to New England (which explains why the national headquarters were in Vermont). It’s believed that a Connecticut farmer named H.W. Hills was the first to import the breed sometime in the 1820s.

The hard, unyielding soil that’s so common to Scotland is extremely similar to what you find in New England. The Ayrshires got a foothold, if you will, in New England, and then expanded to other parts of the country. Today, large numbers of the breed are registered in New York, Ohio, Iowa, and other states in the Midwest and Mid‑Atlantic regions. In fact, Ayrshires are very popular in Pennsylvania.

“Pennsylvania is very good for the breed state‑wide,” Mayer says. “There are some prominent breeders in Pennsylvania.”

New England. The Northeast. The Midwest. Obviously, Ayrshires have established themselves in many areas around the country. They may not be as popular in America as Hol­steins or Jerseys, but they’re not going to back down from a challenge. Seriously: Ayrshires do not back down. In addition to being a vigorous breed, they’re not afraid to mix it up with another cow that’s trying to start trouble. Just ask Mayer.

“They don’t take any guff off any other breed,” he says.

Tomboy and Alice would be proud.