“Early accounts have suggested that hornless or polled cattle were introduced to Ireland and Britain from Scandinavia by Viking settlers (Wilson 1909). However, this theory is contradicted by the presence of polled cattle in the Irish archaeological record prior to the appearance of the Vikings (McCormick 1987).” DNA analyas of cattle from Viking Dublin 1999, D. E.MacHugh and others, P. 100.
The purpose of this project was to explore the ancient breed history of Britain’s Park Cattle and clarify the relationship between the ancient horned White Park of today and the ancient polled White Park of today (now referred to as British White). In 1918 the Park Cattle Society was formed in the United Kingdom and a herd book formally established which recorded both horned and polled ancient white park cattle of both black and red points. In 1946, breeders of ancient polled Park Cattle separated from the Park Cattle Society and formed the British White Cattle Society – thereafter the ‘polled’ park cattle were known by the distinguishing breed name – British White.
As a breeder of polled British White cattle I’ve often been asked “What is the difference between the White Park and the British White?” I couldn’t answer and found myself stumbling, as I knew Britain’s White Park Cattle Society quite oddly declares no relationship to the polled British White, yet the information currently available in essays and articles on the polled British White and the horned White Park reflects much of the same lore and legend.
They share this lore and legend because both varieties of park cattle were present in the British Isles since ‘time immemorial’. In Wild, White Cattle” (p.36) by James Edmund Harting (c.1880), it is clear that at the onset of the Middle Ages there were polled herds, horned herds with a variety of shape and length, and herds with both red and black color points. The distinguishing trait today that separates the two varieties is the presence of horns, and secondary to horns would be the disposition of the animal, and those same traits have existed for hundreds of years — the difference today is our 21st century need to peg this wonderful bovine into two distinct breeds. It’s interesting to compare the Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s (a UK charity supported national conservation society) descriptions of the two breeds. It strikes one that they are careful not to step on the toes of the horned White Park Cattle Society, likely because one of their most influential members has strong connections with the White Park Cattle Society. Conspicuously absent is any mention in the White Park breed description of the original founding Park Cattle Society that dates back to 1918 that encompassed all white park cattle, polled or horned, within the United Kingdom.
As well, there is no mention given to the introgression of English Longhorn and Welsh Black genetics into horned White Park herds; and certainly no mention that prior to the 1940’s owners of horned herds made use of polled white park (British White) bulls to improve their herds. The following is an excerpt from the Conclusion section of Jessica Hemmings’ excellent 2002 research article which would appear to lay to rest the claims of horned White Park Cattle, whether docile or wild, of being of ancient aurochsen origin which we are to believe makes them a breed of greater antiquity than that of the polled British White:
“. . . .The public literature distributed by the Chillingham Wild Cattle Association deliberately fosters this sense of mystery, as does the Association’s reluctance to accept the findings of recent zoological studies which indicate that the animals (Chillingham park cattle) are the feral descendants of ordinary domestic stock. Nobody claims that they come from the fairy mounds any longer, but arguing that they are the direct descendants of “the gigantic wild white bull of Caesar’s time, and of the monstrous bovine wonders of the Palaeolithic and neolithic ages” (Wallace 1907, 29) seems thematically similar. Where the origin is obscure, it is easy to imagine it to be remarkable. . .”
Within the existing horned White Park herds in the UK, there are apparently animals of both wild and tame disposition. However, the horned Chillingham herd of White Park cattle is considered to be representative of the true feral (wild) white park animal, and DNA testing is said to show these Chillingham animals as distinct from any other European breed. However, per Hemmings 2002 research:
“. . .Although both the late president and the patron have quoted genetic work done on the cattle to support their arguments, the zoological reports in fact make it quite clear that the Chillingham herd does not have any special relationship to the aurochs whatsoever (Hall 1982-3, 96; 1991, 540).”
The Chillingham cattle continue to live in their native habitat and the introduction of new blood is said to be minimal to non-existent. Unfortunately, many historians and breeders key in on this falsely supported DNA report and presume that all horned white park cattle are proven distinct from the polled British White. I believe this is an error of enormous consequence perpetuated by Britain’s White Park Cattle Society for their own disserving purposes that will one day be corrected. There is no public data that identifies the lineage of the British White animals that were used for the basis of these tests, but most assuredly in my opinion the horned White Park animal (s) that was tested was a cow or bull of the most exceedingly closed Chillingham genetics and bears no relationship to the fat and docile appearing horned White Park animals to be found more commonly in Britain, which even a novice can ascertain as having a distinct kinship with Britain’s and the USA’s polled British White cattle.
Exploring different references to the British White, I was surprised to learn that there are Galloway’s that are white with black points, and considering the genetic dominance of the pattern of white with black (or red) points. . .
“Although there is strong evidence that the White Galloway and White Park patterns are due to the tyrosinase gene, the mutation does not occur in the coding portion of the gene and therefore no DNA test has been developed. This temperature sensitive expression of pigment, like that of the Siamese cat, is inherited as a dominant. If a rancher breeds 7 non-white cows and obtains 7 white calves, there is a 99% chance that the sire is homozygous for this trait.” DNA Tests for Cattle – Dr. Sheila Schmutz
. . . .of the polled British White (pre 1946 White Park) markings it could be easily surmised that at some point in time the British White was bred into the Galloway, and I would instinctively surmise this occurred well before the modern days of 1960. I would have thought the odd white Galloway would be found more closely linked to the British White judging from simply the look of these ancient polled cattle and their docile nature and the dominance of the white park markings once introduced into a breed, this White Galloway breeder appears to concur.
“As can be clearly seen, the breeders of these cattle were engaged in a continual struggle to maintain numbers, and from time to time the blood of other breeds was introduced in order to avoid problems associated with in-breeding and to achieve the desired type. (The article on page 7 of the 1998 British White Breed Journal by Mr J Cator gives a full account of these outside sources used between 1840 and 1918 in the Woodbastwick herd).” (source: British White Cattle Society – UK)
The polled variety of the white park cattle was considered superior by this elder cattleman of the UK in the early 20th century. The excellence “since time immemorial” of the polled white park cattle referred to by this gentleman continues today. . .
Sir Claud Alexander, owner of the Faygate herd, writing in the 1912 “Amateur Menagerie Club” Year Book says:”I would, however, strongly advise anyone who may think of forming a herd to go to the polled variety for his foundation stock, for they have been kept from time immemorial for their milk and beef producing qualities, and right well do they justify their existence… The Somerford cows are excellent milkers and one of mine averages five gallons a day when in full profit. In addition to this they are big heavy beasts and give a good return from the butcher when their milking days are over…. Mr Quinton Gurney’s herd at Northrepps Hall is a thoroughly practical one, for on it devolves the task of keeping the town of Cromer supplied with milk. At Woodbastwick too, some grand milkers are to be found, and here great attention is paid to beef producing powers, as the records of the local fat stock shows frequently testify… If anyone who reads these notes and feels inclined to form a herd will communicate with me, I shall be pleased to supply any information that may be required.”
What I find most interesting is the casual inference that the polled variety has better milk and beef producing qualities and has from “time immemorial”. The domesticated white park cattle (British White) from the days of the Druids should have better milk and beef producing qualities than the wild variety of the horned Ancient White Park.
A few years after the excerpt above was printed, the Park Cattle Society was formed in the UK in 1918, which encompassed both horned and polled examples of the breed. In 1946 the group split and the polled white “Park Cattle” animal became formally known as a British White and the British White Cattle Society in the UK was established. Through their efforts the polled British White has risen from numbers so low as to be listed a rare breed, to it’s status now as a minority breed. Their numbers will continue to grow as this beautiful, docile animal becomes more broadly known across the world as the breed that delivers all that an owner can wish for in health, longevity, fertility, milk, and beef.
Extract FROM JOHN O’GROATS TO LAND’S END, SEVENTH WEEK’S JOURNEY, Oct. 3 to Nov. 5 1871. “We now bade good-bye to the River Dove, leaving it to carry its share of the Pennine Range waters to the Trent, and walked up the hill leading out of the town towards Abbots Bromley. We soon reached a lonely and densely wooded country with Bagot’s Wood to the left, containing trees of enormous age and size, remnants of the original forest of Needwood, while to the right was Chartley Park, embracing about a thousand acres of land enclosed from the same forest by the Earl of Derby, about the year 1248. In this park was still to be seen the famous herd of wild cattle, whose ancestors were known to have been driven into the park when it was enclosed. These animals resisted being handled by men, and arranged themselves in a semi-circle on the approach of an intruder. The cattle were perfectly white, excepting their extremities, their ears, muzzles, and hoofs being black, and their long spreading horns were also tipped with black. Chartley was granted by William Rufus to Hugh Lupus, first Earl of Chester, whose descendant, Ranulph, a Crusader, on his return from the Holy War, built Beeston Castle in Cheshire, with protecting walls and towers, after the model of those at Constantinople. He also built the Castle at Chartley about the same period, A.D. 1220, remarkable as having been the last place of imprisonment for the unfortunate Mary Queen of Scots, as she was taken from there in 1586 to be executed at Fotheringhay.”