The original Devon is naturally horned animal although in the past it appears that there were a considerable number of Devon type animals that were naturally polled.
It appears that these ‘natts’ disappeared around the middle of the nineteenth century and they were said to have been small in stature and often black.
Somerset seems also to have had a polled variety known as the Somerset Poll at about the same period. These too have disappeared without trace. So, the poll factor could have been developed from these early cattle but it appears they did not have the same qualities for stud breeding as the horned cattle of the time, and were subsequently culled.
The modern beef industry finds horns an unnecessary encumbrance so, in common with most other naturally horned breeds, the poll gene has been introduced to develop a Poll Devon. This has been done either by introducing this gene from other inherently polled breeds such as Red Angus, Red Galloway and Red Poll or by using rare naturally occurring ‘sport’ poll calves out of pure-bred horned Devons.
So far as the modern Devon was concerned, a polled strain was developed in 1925 in America from a hornless bull born into a horned herd. The problem was that this animal lacked quality in other respects with the result that the strain acquired a poor reputation. It was some thirty years later that W.E.Gird, a Californian breeder, decided to develop a polled strain of Devons and bought up all the naturally polled Devons he could find. To ensure the quality of his herd would improve he imported a number of top class horned bulls from England to cross with the polls. This program was interrupted by Girds death and the herd was widely scattered. But the potential of the polling program was recognized by a newcomer to the breed Leo M. Parker, who was based in Mississippi. Parker acquired several of Gird’s polled bulls as well as a number of the best females and took over the lead in the development of the polled Devon.
Interest in polled Devons gathered pace among UK breeders around 1954 when steps were taken to acquire bulls from Parker, as well as introducing the poll gene from other breeds. The Council of the Devon Society accepted proposals for an amendment to the Herd Book to admit a polling section with various grades developing up to pure-bred status.
Many polled herds were established, some of which became very prominent in the breed. Although there was some initial reluctance by some of the traditional breeders to accept this new development, the market dictated that, sooner or later, the change would be inevitable.
The Poll Devon was also developed in other countries as well. In Australia in the late fifties several sport calves appeared in the Ravensworth herd of Mr. D. M. Hamilton at Rylstone in NSW, all by the bull Havilah Midas 94th. Polled calves were born into the well known Newstead herd in 1959 & 1962, this time by two separate imported bulls, Halsdon Model 3rd & Mainstone Briton. These animals were obtained by Mrs. Janet Officer from Kilmorey South in Victoria and used as the foundation for the Lister herd.
At around the same time two bulls were imported from the Parker herd in America by Mr. Ted Cunningham from Collinsville in Queensland. These bulls over horned cows were the base of the Strathmore herd of Mr. Cunningham, one of the largest in the country.
Several other herds developed their own poll strains by importing the poll gene from other breeds. The Whites at Havilah and Trethewie’s from Elverton, Western Australia, used Red Angus, the Dickensons at Woodilee in Victoria used Poll Shorthorns and the Gees in Tasmania Red Poll.
The Lister and Strathmore herds were regarded as the foundation of the Poll Devon in Australia. Since then there have been many new herds begun using various combinations of the available bloodlines. Notable herds included Joe Garmony’s Naul Park in Western Australia, based mainly on Lister, Roger Dickenson has taken over his father’s Range View Park herd in South Australia, based on Woodilee stock, Barry Connard developed the Candlewood herd in Victoria using a combination of Lister, Strathmore and Woodilee lines, while Peter Knight at Coonabarabran NSW built up the Belar herd from a Lister female base but using another sport bull, Devonbrook Sport, and other lines from the various herds to create the largest poll herd in Australia.
While it has been long recognized that the poll section of the Devon breed is very necessary to meet the demands of the modern beef industry there are many who stay true to the original horned animals. In the US the Milking Devon must be horned to preserve the integrity of its status as the original breed of cattle imported into the country. In some parts of New Zealand Devons, with their wide sweeping horns, were found to be particularly useful in keeping bush tracks open. In Australia some breeders keep the horns so that the cows can defend themselves and their calves from dingo attacks.
The range of genetics in the polls covers some that are not now available as horned. The quality of the Poll Devon is now generally equal that of the horned.