British Cattle Breeds
The White Park
The United Kingdom has a number of native livestock breeds. The White Park cattle are one of the cattle breeds indigenous to the UK. The White Park is also known as the Park, White Forest, White Horned and Wild White.
Early references were made to cattle of this colouring almost 2,000 years ago. Irish epics of pre-Christian times mention white cattle. The Druids took their cattle with them when displaced by the Romans from their Irish homeland into the northern and western coasts of Britain. Although found in all these areas prior to the 16th century, there are none now in Ireland.
Documents relating to Dynevor Castle in Wales mention cattle being used to as currency to pay fines and make payments. The Castle was the military and political centre of Wales for half a century. A herd still exists in the Dyenvor area. The Cadzow, Drumlanrig and Chartley herds are also still continuing. Drumlanrig was dispersed in 1780 and Chartley in 1905 but both have been re-launched. Two more herds, the Chillingham and Vaynol, are still in existence and are regarded as semi-feral.
These six herds (Dyenvor, Cadzow, Drumlanrig, Chartley, Chillingham and Vaynol) are still in existence and are regarded as constituting the whole of the White Park cattle population. In the early 1800s there were a dozen or so herds but most of these were decimated by the turn of the century.
The White Park was used a draught oxen and as currency. Thus they played an important part in the daily life of that time. They were probably used as sacrifices to the gods as well. These cattle were huge. The last draught ox of the Dynevor herd was slain in 1871. He was fourteen years old and weighed a massive 23 hundredweight (1168kg). He stood six feet (183cm) high at the withers and the span of his horns, from tip to tip, measured 5 feet (152.5cm).
The Park Cattle Society was formed in 1918. Both polled and horned varieties of Park Cattle were registered but later the two groups were split. The horned cattle became known as White Park and the polled animals as British White Cattle. Their interests were looked after respectively by the White Park Cattle Society and the British White Cattle Society, both of which still function and seek to protect and promote the breeds. Both of these societies were formed in 1946.
Several pairs of White Park cattle were sent to Canada in the late 1930s. There is evidence to suggest that this was done in an effort to ensure the survival of the breed during the Second World War. The progeny eventually ended up at the Bronx Zoo. Later they were moved to Texas and finally sold to Mr and Mrs John Moeckly of Iowa.
Through the 1960s the only domesticated and recorded White Park cattle remaining were animals at Dynevor, Cadzow, Woburn and Whipsnade. Exports were made to Canada and the United States in the 1970s. By 1995, these numbers had grown to five herds in North America. White park cattle are today also found in Germany, Denmark, France and Australia. Three pure White Park cows were imported from the United Kingdom to Western Australia in 1987 for the purpose of establishing a herd.
The current Herd Books date back only to 1972 but there are some much older records remaining.
The White Park cattle were not just dual purpose but multi purpose over centuries of agriculture. They provided draught power, milk and meat. Today they are regarded as a beef breed. They are of medium size. Adult cows weigh around 1400 pounds and bulls about 2100 pounds. They are an excellent choice to fit in with organic farming and conservation grazing methods.
The White Park is white but has coloured ‘points’ The ears, nose, feet, teats and the rims of the eyes are coloured. The intensity of the colour varies from herd to herd. The upper surface of the tongue is black and the underside generally pink.
The breed produces lean, tasty but well-marbled meat. It is an excellent crossing sire, passing on its attributes to its offspring. They are genetically remote from any other breed and this factor can be put to good use in a cross-breeding program. The hindquarters are long. This is desirable in a beef breed and also assists in allowing easy delivery of calves.
The newborn calves are vigorous and lively. The White Park is suited to most conditions but may not do so well under intensive systems. They thrive on poor quality feed which would see some modern breeds wasting away. They have a natural resistance to eye problems and sunburn.
The White Park is possibly most closely related to Highland and Galloway cattle but it is genetically distinct from all British breeds. An ongoing breeding program is in place in an endeavour to ensure that the breed survives. The status of the breed is critical with only around 600 purebred females remaining. The Rare Breeds Survival Trust of Great Britain lists the White Park as an ‘at risk’ breed.