History of Angus
The History of Scottish Aberdeen Cattle
Historians believe that polled cattle existed in Scotland before recorded history as the likeliness of such cattle has been found in prehistoric carvings in the counties of Aberdeen and Angus. A hornless race of cattle has also been depicted in Egypt by sculpters and painters of civilisation. However some historians believe that the Aberdeen-Angus breed and the other Scottish breeds are derived from the aboriginal cattle of Scotland and that the breeds as we find them today are indigenous to the districts in which they are still found.
Aberdeen-Angus cattle were bred for improvements in the last half of the 18th century. For a start, the cattle found in the Northern regions of Scotland were not of uniform colour; many had varied colour markings or broken colour patterns. Many were polled but some still had horns. The other two well-defined breeds of polled cattle are the Galloway found in Scotland and the red-polled Norfolk and Suffolk breeds, found in England. The polled cattle were often referred to in the old Scottish writings as “humble”, “doddies”, “humlies”, or “homyl”.
The four counties that the Aberdeen-Angus were bred from were Aberdeen, Banff, Kincardine and of course Angus. These counties all touch the North Sea, extend inland and have some high or mountainous country. These counties have been favoured through the ages with a temperate climate and good crops, although the topography of the country is rough. Pastures do well in the area because of well-distributed rainfall. Plenty of grass, plus a nearly ideal temperature for cattle production, has made the area very suitable for some of the greatest improvement that has been made in these purebred breeds of cattle.
In the last half of the 18th century great progress was made in Scottish agriculture. As farming practices improved, men likewise sought to improve the livestock on their farms. Farmers began buying cattle of similar kinds from adjacent areas and as a result the cattle of the Angus “doddie” strain and the Buchan “humlie” were crossed. Crossing and re-crossing of the strains of cattle eventually led to a distinct breed that was not far different from either type, since the two strains were originally of rather similar type and colour pattern.
Hugh Watson of Keillor was one of the founders of the breed. He lived in the vale of Strathmore in Angus. At 19 when he started out farming his father gave him six of the best and blackest cows as well as a bull. That same summer he visited some of the leading Scottish cattle markets and purchased the 10 best heifers and the best bull that he could find that showed characteristics of the Angus cattle that he was striving to breed. The females were of various colours but the bull was black; Watson decided that the colour of his herd should be black so he started selecting in that direction. His favourite bull was Old Jock 126, who was awarded the number “1” in the Herd Book at the time it was founded. The bull was bred in 1842 and was sired by Grey-Breasted Jock 113. The bull was apparently used very heavily in the herd from 1843 till 1852 and was awarded the sweepstakes for bulls at the Highland Society Show at Perth in 1852 when he was 11 yrs old. Watson also had a very famous cow called Old Granny 125 who was calved in 1824 but was killed by lightening when past 35 years of age. She is reported to have produced a total of 29 calves, 11 of which were registered in the Herd Book.
Other early contributors of the breed were Lord Panmure who established a herd of polled cattle in 1835 and not only operated a private herd but also encouraged his tenants to breed good “doddies”. William Fullerton began to breed cattle in 1833. His most important early purchase was that of another Aberdeen cow named Black Meg. Black Meg 43 is sometimes referred to as the founder of the breed, since more cattle trace to her than to any other female used in the origin of the breed. She is the only cow to surpass Old Granny in this respect.
William McCombie of “Tillyfour” is regarded as the preserver and great improver of the Aberdeen-Angus breed. McCombie is known for his great foresight in planning matings, careful management, his unparalleled success in the show ring and in publicizing his famous cattle. His greatest success in the show-ring was at the International Exposition held in Paris in 1878 where he won first prize as an exhibitor of cattle from a foreign country and the grand prize for the best group of beef-producing animals bred by an exhibitor. McCombie also showed at Steer classes at market shows. Probably the most famous steer that he produced was Black Prince who won at the Birmingham and Smithfield shows in 1867 when he was 4 years old. This beast was taken to Windsor Castle for the personal inspection of Queen Victoria, who later accepted some Christmas beef from the carcass of Black Prince. This proved to be great publicity for McCombie’s herd, especially when Queen Victoria paid a visit to Tillyfour a couple of years later. McCombie had the further distinction of being the first tenant farmer in Scotland to be elected to the House of Commons.
Other famous cattle in McCombie’s herd were the good yearling heifer Queen Mother 41. The bull Hanton 80, calved in 1853 from the breeder Alaxander Bowie, was purchased. This bull was the grandson of Old Jock 126 and was said to have weighed a ton at maturity. Hanton 80 had a grandson calved in 1860 called Black Prince of Tillyfour 77 – most Angus cattle living today can be traced back a dozen times to this bull.
McCombie was also the first breeder to leave out the “and” and hyphenate the Aberdeen-Angus name.
The Ballindalloch Herd is another very famous Aberdeen-Angus herd in Scotland. It was probably first founded by Sir John MacPherson Grant, but it was not until the time the farm came into the hands of Sir George, a son, that systematic breeding was started. Sir George drew heavily on Tillyfour cattle in establishing his herd. It was very fortunate for the breed that the Ballindalloch herd was kept in the family for over three generations to retain the bloodlines. The main herd was dispersed on August 8 1934 but it had already left a great imprint on the Aberdeen-Angus world. Not only was the Ballindalloch herd the outstanding herd in Scotland but it must also be given credit for having furnished a great deal of very valuable foundation stock to the herds of the United States and other foreign countries.
The establishment of the breed in the USA took place at the end of the 19th century. By 1901 the USA was registering more pedigree cattle than in Britain and now register 40 times more. Very soon the breed was to be found in other English speaking countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and in South America especially Argentina. Today all these countries have greater populations of pure Aberdeen-Angus than the British Isles and it is bred specifically for its famous beef and docile nature.
History of New Zealand Angus
The first shipment of Angus cattle to New Zealand – a single bull and three cows – was recorded in 1863. Subsequent shipments made by the New Zealand and Australian Land Company in 1875 and 1883 led to the establishment of two herds of approximately 60 head at Edendale, Southland and Totara, Oamaru. For almost a hundred years the name Aberdeen-Angus was familiar to most New Zealanders as one of our premier cattle breeds. These original animals were a small, short and stout breed and this type was retained until the 1950’s.
New Zealand Angus cattle were exported to Australia as early as 1885, with registration records for NZ Angus dating back to the same time. In 1891 Angus cattle were moved to the North Island, with studs initially established in the Hawkes Bay.
The New Zealand Aberdeen Angus Cattle Breeders Association was inaugurated in Hastings in 1918. In 1969 the Association changed its name to The New Zealand Angus Association.
The first National Angus Sale was held in Hastings in 1919, moving two years later to Dannevirke. The breed grew rapidly, with entries in the sale increasing from 44 bulls in 1926 to 387 in 1962. In 1975 the National Angus Show and Sale moved to Palmerston North where it continues to be a key feature of National Beef Bull Week.
From the 1960’s the breed underwent a radical change because of the swing towards a demand for a leaner meat. New Zealand animals were crossed throughout the country with imported Angus bloodlines, mostly of larger animals. The result was the disappearance of the original Scottish type Aberdeen-Angus and the development of a taller, rangier breed simply called Angus – or New Zealand Angus. There is only a small number of cattle left in NZ that claim to be of pure Scottish blood, which can be traced back to the New Zealand and Australian Land Company original imports to NZ.
Over the years, importation of cattle, and more recently of semen and embryos, has seen New Zealand Angus breeders utilising genetic stocks from the United Kingdom and North America. This is today a two-way process. In the past 20 years over 1,000 Angus cattle have been exported and semen sales made to China, Japan, Scotland, Europe, the United States and Australia.
Total beef breeding cow numbers in 2004 in New Zealand are reported to be 1.10 million cows. Angus and Angus-cross cattle would account for over 60% of the beef breeding cow numbers.