Until the 19.th century the Estonian farmers bred aboriginal cattle. The milk and meat yield was very little and the main income came from selling of cereals and the bovines were kept to get the manure. With the progress of manufacturing the cities grew larger and the demand for milk and meat rose. The breeding in direction of meat and milk production began.
In the beginning of 19.th century in the conception of crossbreeding was expanded, since the improving of cattle was rarely achieved with pure breeding. In the beginning of 19.th century breeding animals of different cattle breeds were imported to Estonia. They were mainly mutually mated but steers were used also to mate the local aborigine cows.
Wholesale import of breeding animals was in years 1850….1875. There where all cattle breeds known in Europe imported to the Estonia. Most of the not numerous populations imported from Europe degenerated quickly and mingled to the local cattle. In the influence of imported cattle the local cattle in Estonia almost perished.
Purposeful breeding to create the Estonian native cattle from local aborigine cattle began in 1910, when A. Lilienblatt (1880-1914) who had gained the professional education in Finland started the improvement of local breed with west-finnish steers.
In 1913 the research on Estonian aborigine cattle in the leading of professor E. F. Liskutin was started. The expedition was organized to find typical local aborigine cows and total of 1315 bovines were measured in five counties. The aborigine cattle was characterized by its small height: withers height of 109….113 cm (average 111,5 cm), shot back (multicoloured) and they were horny.
In 1920 the Estonian Native Cattle Breeders Association was established. The association appointed its first aim to breed from existing local aborigine cattle a new cattle breed, that is:
- adapted to the local conditions;
- with average body weight and strong frame;
- with high production rate (including the high fat content of milk);
- with high provender profitability;
- whitish-red milk-cattle.
To reach the breeding goal the studies on herds were organized and more west-finnish breed steers were imported.
The local aborigine cattle was intensively improved with different cattle breeds (the Estonian red cattle is a result of crossbreeding where the local aborigine cattle was interbreeded with angli, north-sleshwig and Danish red cattle, the overside of 19.th century is counted as the beginning of breeding; the breeding of Estonian Holstein cattle began on the first half of 19.th century, when breeding animals from the Netherlands and east-friesland were imported; the breeding of Estonian native cattle began in 1910, when west-finnish breed was accepted as breeding component) and former aborigine cattle became the basis of three local cattle breeds in Estonia.
As a result of breeding, the main body measurements of native cattle increased, the animals became bigger and sturdier.
During the war and years after it the diminishing of cattle the increasing of inbreeding became a problem. To diminish the inbreeding in Estonian native cattle, 1956…1961 jersey breed steers were used as blood refreshment. The jersey breed is from type and looks close to the Estonian native cattle and is known for its high fat and protein content in milk.
Since Estonian cattle breeders liked the beige hornless cattle, that was received in the result of using of west-finnish cattle in breeding, the using of west-finnish steers were proceeded and the further breeding based on imported steers, heifers and their offspring.
To prevent the inbreeding, the solution was thought to find in using of Ayrshire, shviits and red Holstein breed steers in breeding, but desired results were not reached. So the using of west-finnish breed was proceeded. In 1990 the jersey breed steers from Denmark were used and in the overside of 1990-s the Swedish native breed steers were used in breeding.
As a result of the purposeful selection of breeding animals and using the west.finnish cattle the Estonian native cattle is formed from the local aborigine cattle. The Estonian native cattle is mainly whitish red (there are some other shades of red presented) and hornless.
The total amount of bovines in Estonia is significantly decreased and even thought there is the Estonian cattle counted much less than other breeds, the percentage of the native cattle comparing to the other cattle breeds is not decreased but stays steadily by 0,4…0,5 % of all Estonian cattle breeds.
According to the Estonian Republics government’s decree no. 42 from the 30th of January 2001 Estonian native cattle was named endangered breed and it is entered into endangered breeds list of FAO.