The Kerry cow is black, sometimes with a little white on the udder. She is of dairy type, well ribbed with fine bone. She has slender white horns tipped with black, though most herds are now dehorned. She has character, is alert and light on her feet. Cows weigh 350 to 450 kgs depending on the type of land on which they are kept. They are equally suited to being one of a big herd or single house cows. The bull is similar in character to the cow. He is usually docile and easily managed.
The cows enjoy a long useful life, still strong and calving regularly at 14 and 15 years of age. They are extremely hardy and will out winter quite happily, growing a good coat of hair which keeps the cold out. Their agility enables them to travel safely over rough ground and they do little damage to the pastures. Because of their size at least three Kerries can be kept to two of other breeds.
The cows rarely have trouble calving, for there is more room in the pelvis than would appear from the size of the cow. The calves are easily reared and the bullocks will fatten, though they may take 4 to 6 months longer than other breeds. They make excellent quality beef weighing up to 550 kg.
The globules of butterfat in Kerry milk are much smaller than those found in other breeds, thus making it easier to digest. As a result it is ideal for feeding to babies, invalids and others who find it hard to take fat. This emphasises the breed as eminently suitable for fresh milk, cheese and yogurt production. Several Irish farmhouse cheese makers use Kerry milk. The average milk yield is between 3000 and 3700kg at 4% butterfat. However there are quite a number of cows capable of yielding over 4500kg.
The Kerry Cattle Society of Ireland was formed in 1917 to do all such things necessary to promote and maintain the purity of the breed. In 2002 the Society registered as a Co-Op and became The Kerry Cattle Society Ltd, in order to be better able to carry out its work. The Society now has membership in Ireland, Great Britain, USA and Canada.
Volume 1 of the herd book was published in 1890. The following quotation is taken from the preface to that volume. In 1879 the County Kerry Agricultural Society passed a resolution approving of the publication of a Herd-book under their own auspices; but difficulties arose which prevented the project from being carried out.
The “Farmers’ Gazette” undertook the publication of a Register, and in January, 1887, published the first issue of their “Register of Pure Kerry Cattle and Dexters”. This Register extended to three volumes, including 46 Kerry Bulls and 100 Kerry Cows. It did not include any Dexter Bulls, and only 10 Dexter Cows. The Royal Dublin Society acquired from the publishers of the “Farmers’ Gazette” their rights in connexion with this Register; and the Cattle, with the numbers originally assigned to them, are now included in the Society’s Herd-book.
The Royal Dublin Society maintained the herd book until the end of 2001. It is now maintained by The Kerry Cattle Society Ltd., who are responsible for all registrations, issuing of herd book certificates and publishing the herd book.