What a great question! I needed help with this one, so I emailed Tracy Martin, Assistant Curator at the Vermont Historical Society. Tracy responded:
I am sending along a link to a page on the Vermont Secretary of State’s website that gives the history of the State Coat of Arms. The statutory language associated with the Coat of Arms simply calls for a “red” cow without specifying any breed (the State Seal is rendered in black and white). It is my understanding that most of our familiar dairy breeds were not introduced to the state until the mid 19th century, but that many of the multi-purpose cattle found on 18th and early 19th century farms in Vermont were red. Unfortunately, recent renditions on nylon state flags often have a fire engine red cow. We know that “red” in the cow world translates “reddish-brown.”
After a bit of searching online for information about Vermont cattle, cows, livestock, 18th century I found a Mother Earth News article that I think answers the breed of cow question.
The article states:
Long before the Quartly and Davy herds, the small triple-purpose Devon had made its way to the New World with the Pilgrims. This original Devon type is still represented in America by the Milking Devon breed, but it no longer exists in Britain. Devon cattle were certainly well known and common by the end of the eighteenth century. It is believed that George Washington, like many colonists, raised Devons for draft, beef, and milk. The first official seal of Vermont was designed in 1778 and prominently features a Red Devon cow. The state’s coat of arms also depicts the beloved “old red cow.” Milking Devon were brought into Canada in the early 1800s and were reimported in the1960s.
Read more: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Sustainable-Farming/Devon-cattle-heritage-livestock-zeylaf.aspx
So, I would venture to say the breed of cow on the Vermont Coat of Arms (also on the flag) is a Red Devon from Devonshire, England. The Red Devon may have been selected to be on the Coat of Arms because it the most common cow found on Vermont farms during the 18th and early 19th century. I wonder why they included a cow rather than a sheep? Sheep were very important to Vermont during this period. Hmm…another question to ponder.
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