Friday, January 6, 2012

Shorthorn and white Park Cattle - Crossbreeding Experiment with Notable Results

Champion  White Shorthorn, A very large 19th century
bovine, or so it would appear in comparison to man and dog.

The following late 19th century account of the crossing of white Shorthorns with white Park cattle from the Chillingham herd is a very interesting read.  The heterosis from the cross was remarkable, resulting in at least a doubling of the harvest weight of the resulting steers; per some references, an almost tripling of harvest weight of a pure wild white steer. 

"This wild breed holds its own very strongly, and the first cross is not distinguishable from the pure breed in its colour or distinctive marks."  The Earl of Tankerville, ~1890, in reference to the cross breeding experiment with white Shorthorn cattle.

"The calves at birth are pure white, more creamy white afterwards, ears reddish-brown. The horns of the animals as they grow are white, with black tips; hoofs and noses black; eyes fringed with long eyelashes, which give them depth and character; bodies symmetrically formed; backs straight and level; shoulders fine, enabling them to trot like match horses with amazing rapidity. The average weights of wild (whitecattle killed from 1862 to 1889 were : bulls, 560 lbs. ; cows, 420 lbs.; and steers, 570 lbs." (Houseman, 1897)

Bruce Herald, Volume XXIV, Issue 2485, 16 June 1893, Page 4

"Our readers have heard of the famous white cattle of Chillingham, Northumberland, supposed to be the descendants of the original "Bos primigenius," but much degenerated in size, that once roamed the plains and forests of Europe in prehistoric times. There is still a herd of these cattle at Chillingham, and a recent number of the 'Agricultural Gazette' publishes a chatty and interesting article about the animals and experiments with them and thusly proceeds:

"At the Royal Show at Kilburn and again at the Smithfield Club Show in 1888 the public were much interested in the specimens of white animals which Lord Tankerville exhibited, being a cross between his own famous white wild cattle at Chillingham Park and the pure Shorthorn. In 1876 an experiment was made in putting a wild bull on four pure-bred Shorthorn heifers; only two of them bred. One produced a heifer calf (Eve), which she in her turn, never bred, and the bull (Adam), whilst running with his dam, a fine white cow, Honored Guest, got her in calf, and the produce was another bull, called Cain. At three years old this animal showed great masculine character, with extraordinary hair and flesh, though retaining some of the wild nature.
In 1884 a second experiment was made the reverse way. Two wild heifers were crossed with the white Shorthorn bull, Baron Bruce 47,387; from one of these was born, on March 20th, 1885, a white heifer called Wild Rose, and on April 13th the following year the other heifer produced a white cow calf called Wild Blossom.  Both these have since been mated with purebred white bulls from Mr. Booth's herd, Wild Rose, still breeding, having produced five calves and Wild Blossom four.
Now the second calf of Wild Rose, a heifer calved in September, 1888, called Wild Rose 2nd, has produced in her turn two bulls, which, like the rest of the male calves, have been castrated. Altogether there are to be seen in the small paddocks outside the park and adjoining the farm the two original half-bred wild cows and their ten descendants, six being females and four steers.  
On a bright winter's morning at the close of the last year the wild herd appeared remarkably quiet and well; they were lying in "happy content" on the grassy plateau to the west of Ross Castle, high up under the woods, basking in the sun. Two or three, the stragglers of the herd, got up, stretched their legs, and picked a bit here and there, but the early morning graze was finished, and a quiet hour's look at the herd from the wood showed little of their individuality. 
The herd for many years past has been numbered, and during the last five years has exceeded the usual sixty, going up to seventy three in 1890. The females ranged in the five years from thirty-five to thirty-nine, but more bulls and fewer oxen have been kept of late years.  A bull was sent in 1886, at much risk of life and limb, to the Duke of Hamilton's wild herd at Cadzow Park, near Glasgow.
Champion White Shorthorn exhibited at Smithfield, Dec. 1874
Print available from

The half-breds are kept completely apart from the wild herd, and there is rich grazing and comfortable hammels in each paddock for them. Wild Rose and Wild Blossom, both by Baron Bruce but out of different original wild cows, though each have the short legs and long, curved, upward type of horn, are deeper in their bodies than their wild ancestors, but differ in general character.

Wild Rose, with red hairy ears and dingy nose, is of broad frame and comparatively tame, though her produce inherit the wildness of her ancestors; whilst, on the contrary, Wild Blossom retains the wild type of head and horn and wild nature of her race; her hind-quarters are drooping and plain, the udder is well shaped, and she is a good milker, yet her produce are singularly tame; her third calf, a heifer, Wild Blossom 2nd by Sir Reginald Studley 58,148, was calved on January 12th, 1891, in the snow, and rarely goes under cover.  
Wild Blossom's first calf by the Rajah was calved December 3rd, 1888, and steered. It ran in the paddocks, and had, in addition, hay, a few cut turnips, and a little cake. It was killed on December 17th, 1891, and weighed 112 stone of 14 lb live weight, and dressed to 70 stone, being sold for £36 19s 6d. This is a great increase of the weight of the wild steers, as many years ago "The Druid", when writing of the Chillingham herd says, the steers always grow larger horns, and weigh from 40 to 50 stones of  14 lb in their natural state. Four steers were feeding in the paddocks during November last, and two of them would have easily carried honors in the crossbred classes at the Smithfield Show, one of them, full brother to Wild Blossom's first calf, was sold on December 12th last year for £50, he weighed alive 130 stones, and dressed 81 stones 8 1b when just three years old.  
Wild Rose 2nd by Rajah out of Wild Rose by Baron Bruce, having two crosses Shorthorn blood, is more lengthy and broader in body than her dam, the head, horns, and eye assimilating more to the shorthorn. She was served in July, but came regularly in use and was served again until November, and yet she produced a bull calf in April to the first service. The three calves by Sir Reginald Studley running with their dams were of singular merit; although shy and galloping a short distance off when approached, they were remarkably full of abundant long white hair and thick flesh, such, indeed, as would astonish the public if exhibited in our show yards."