Shetland Kye

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What are my special features?

Shetland Kye Cattle are a small, well-proportioned, dual-purpose breed, with a small head and short inward-curving horns. The neck is comparably long and thin but the back is short with wide hindquarters. The breed usually has black and white colouring.

Shetland Cattle have great environmental benefits. The wide muzzles of the cattle cannot graze or crop pastures closely and so protect a wide range of ground-hugging wild flowers and herbs such as violets, orchids and primroses. In comparison to other cattle, Shetland Kye have lighter and broader hooves meaning that they are less likely to damage the soft ground.

Tests carried out on Shetland Kye show that the meat has low levels of saturated fat, is high in omega-3s and has high doses of conjugated linoleic acid, thought by many to be a cancer fighter.

What is my history?

This breed has been present in the Shetland Islands for the past 3000 years. Traditionally known as ‘The House Cow’, the Shetland Kye played an essential role in the life of the crofting family who would survive on milk, potatoes and flour. A croft is a small, usually tenanted farm, in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, similar in size to a smallholding. The breed was ideally suited to the crofting lifestyle because of its ability to thrive under the adverse Shetland weather conditions.

Calves would usually be reared and sold to produce income, but aged cows would be slaughtered for meat.  In days before refrigeration several families would share the cow, using virtually every part and salting a large proportion of the beef.

Why am I forgotten?

The increasing trend for improvement saw the importation of larger mainland breeds to improve the native stock. The number of pure-bred Shetland cattle significantly reduced and although there are Shetland breeding cows in the UK, only a few of these remain in the native Shetland area.

Don’t lose me… cook me!

Product Category:


Area of Production:

Shetland Islands

Slow Food UK Contact:

[email protected]


Uradale Farm


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