One of the most successful English breeds of cattle, the Angus has long been the cattle industry's “business” breed.
Its black color is highly sought after in crossbreeding programs as a potential seal of Angus quality. Perhaps the most representative breed in cowherds, the Angus holds a well earned spot amongst all beef breeds.
In the northeastern part of Scotland lie the four counties of Aberdeen, Banff, Kincardine, and Angus. These counties touch the North Sea and all extend inland and have some high or mountainous country.
They have been favored through the ages with a temperate climate and good crops, although the topography of the country is rough.
It is a fact that 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 our purebred breeds of cattle.
The county of Angus was early noted for its production of potatoes, grain crops, and feed. Counties are known as "shires" in the Great Britain, and this shire contains a fine expanse of highly cultivated land known as Strathmore - one of the very fine valleys in that part of Scotland which has become famous in the history of the Aberdeen-Angus breed.
The county of Aberdeen is the most productive agricultural region in Scotland and depends largely upon crops and livestock for income.
While the fishing industry is stressed along the coastline, the tiny counties of Banff and Kincardine have long been known as livestock centers.
Northern Scotland, although in a more northern latitude than the United States, has a more uniform temperature throughout the year. The Gulf Steam tempers the climate in the winter, and the summers remain cooler than weather commonly experienced in the United States.
This all lends to ideal land for cattle.
Polled cattle apparently existed in Scotland before recorded history because the likeness of such cattle is found in prehistoric carvings of Aberdeen and Angus.
Historians believe that there were hornless (polled) cattle in Siberia centuries earlier. And believe it or not, there is believed to have been a hornless race of cattle in other parts of the world such as what was depicted in Egypt by sculptors and painters of that ancient civilization.
Some historians feel that the Aberdeen-Angus breed and the other Scottish breeds sprang from the aboriginal cattle of the country and that the breeds as we find them today are indigenous to the districts in which they are still found.
The cattle found in northern Scotland were not of uniform color, and many of the cattle of the early days had varied color markings or broken color patterns. Many of the cattle were polled, and some did in fact have horns.
The characteristics that we commonly call "polled" was often referred to in the old Scottish writings by the terms of "humble," "doddies," "humlies," or "homyl."
Two strains were used in the formation of what later became known s the Aberdeen-Angus breed of cattle.
In the county of Angus, cattle had existed for some time that were known as Angus "doddies."
A local Rev. James Playfair wrote in 1797, "There are 1129 horned cattle of all ages and sexes in the parish. I have no other name to them; but many of them are dodded, wanting horns."
This seems to be the first authentic reference to polled cattle in the county of Angus, apart from ancient sculptures.
In the area of Aberdeenshire, other polled cattle were found and were called Buchan "humlies," Buchan being the principal agricultural district in Aberdeenshire.
These cattle were apparently early valued as work oxen, as were most of the other strains of cattle that later acquired various breed names. It is believed that polled cattle were found in Aberdeen in the 16th century.
The presence of polled cattle in Aberdeenshire, 400 years ago is proved beyond the shadow of a doubt, and it may generally be taken for granted that they were co-existent in various parts of northeastern Scotland, their purity being contingent on the degree of care exercised in breeding.
Apparently little attention was given to the breeding of cattle before the middle of the 18th century, but in the last half of that century, great progress was made in Scottish agriculture. And yes, it is not strange that as farming practices were improved, men likewise sought to improve the livestock on their farms.
Fact is that it was only natural that breeders, in improving their cattle, would buy cattle of similar kinds from adjacent areas. As a result, the cattle of the Angus doddie strain and the Buchan humlie strain were crossed.
This crossing and recrossing of these 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 color pattern.
Among the polled herds of Aberdeenshire that were famous for such production in the early 1800s were those of Messrs. It was those of Williamson of St. John’s Wells and Robert Walker of Wester Fintray.
The Williamson herd later supplied the herd of Tillyfour and, through it, the Ballindalloch herd with some of their humlies.
In the world of Angus cattle, the herds of William Fullerton, Lord Panmure, Lord Southesk, and Alexander Bowie contributed many of the Angus doddies that later became prominent in the breed. Robert Walker of Portlethen seems to have been the principal cattle breeder in Kincardineshire.
If not the first real improver of Aberdeen-Angus cattle, he was certainly the most systematic and successful.
Both his father and grandfather had been buyers and breeders of the Angus doddies. The family is known to have owned cattle as early as 1735. Hugh Watson was born in 1789 and, in 1808, at the time he was 19 years of age, he became a tenant at Keillor.
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 colors, but the bull was black; Watson decided that the color of his herd should be black and he started selecting in that direction.
A very large percentage of our living Aberdeen-Angus cattle trace to either Old Granny or Old Jock, or both of these very famous foundation animals, and most would trace many times if their pedigrees were extended to the foundation of the breed.
Lord Panmure 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, who was born in 1810, 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.
Robert Walker of Porlethen founded his herd in 1818 and continued to breed cattle successfully until his death in 1874.
Subsequently good herds of Shorthorn cattle were established in Scotland, and the cattle were used in the improvement of native stock. The use of the Shorthorn cattle on the black native cows was a very common practice of the period for the raising of commercial stock.
And yes, if you're wondering, this practice of crossbreeding did in fact threaten the Aberdeen-Angus breed with extinction. Yes, extinction.
It is often suggested that some Shorthorn blood found its way into the Aberdeen-Angus breed prior to the time the Herd Book was closed.
Alexander Keith, secretary of the Aberdeen-Angus Cattle Society from 1944 to 1955, takes exception to this opinion by writing:
William McCombie of Tillyfour came along and is regarded as the preserver and great improver of the Aberdeen-Angus breed.
Fullerton and others had started the blending of the two types of cattle, which later became known as the Aberdeen-Angus, but this success was enlarged at Tillyfour.
He was an excellent breeder. Known as the Master of Tillyfour, he was born in 1805 and died in the spring of 1880.
Like his father before him, he had been a successful dealer in cattle before he began his operations in 1829 as a tenant farmer. Mr. McCombie is distinguished in the history of the Aberdeen-Angus breed because of his great foresight in planning matings, his careful management, his unparalleled success in the show ring, and in publicizing his famous cattle.
Probably his crowning success in the show ring was at the great International Exposition held at Paris in 1878. There he won the first prize of $500 as an exhibitor of cattle from a foreign country and also the grand prize of $500 for the best group of beef-producing animals bred by any exhibitor.
Probably the most famous steer that her produced was the famous show animal Black prince, who won at the Birmingham and Smithfield Shows in 1867 when he was four years of age. From the latter show, he was taken to Windsor Castle for the personal inspection of none other than Queen Victoria.
It's said that later, Queen Victoria accepted some Christmas beef from the carcass of the steer. And yes, I'm almost sure she had a great Bar-B-Q afterwards.
Remember that we're talking about a time when having a visit from the Queen was looked at as a huge tribute. Since her visit was made to an outstanding breeder, naturally it attracted great attention to the already famous herd.
Later, McCombie had the further distinction of being the first tenant farmer in Scotland to be elected to the House of Commons.
Although his original stock was gathered from many sources and his purchases were many, Mr. McCombie’s outstanding acquisition was probably the good yearling heifer Queen Mother 41 at the Ardestie Sale.
The bull’s success, however, was more pronounced in the breeding pen, and he probably made his greatest contribution to the breed through his double grandson, Black Prince of Tillyfour 77, calved in 1860.
Few, if any, cattle of the breed are living today that do not trace at least a dozen times to Black Prince of Tillyfour.
It is difficult to say how much contribution Mr. McCombie made to the Aberdeen-Angus breed through his successes in the show ring, but he outstripped all of his competition in England, Scotland, and France. Consequently, the name of Aberdeen-Angus became known on an international basis.
It was on the farm of William McCombie where the Aberdeen-Angus breed really took shape. Prior to his time, people spoke of the cattle as Aberdeen and Angus.
In his herd was found the justification for leaving out the "and" and replacing it with the hyphen that has become familiar. At Tillyfour, the master breeder molded the two original strains into one improved breed superior to either of its components. There is no question but to state the fact that William McCombie, "the Great Preserver of the Angus" cattle, left the breed far better than he found it.
Sir George drew heavily on Tillyfour cattle in establishing his herd. And yes, it was very fortunate for the breed that the Ballindalloch herd was kept in the family for over three generations.
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 mush 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.
When George Grant transported four Angus bulls from Scotland to the middle of the Kansas prairie in 1873, they were part of the Scotsman's dream to found a colony of wealthy, stock-raising Britishers.
Grant died five years later, and many of the settlers at his Victoria, Kansas colony later returned to their homeland. However, these four Angus bulls, probably from the herd of George Brown of Westertown, Fochabers, Scotland, made a lasting impression on America's cattle industry.
Sir Grant, a forward thinker, crossed the bulls with native Texas longhorn cows, producing a large number of hornless black calves that survived well on the winter range.
The Angus crosses wintered better and weighed more the next spring, the first demonstration of the breed's value in their new homeland.
Mostly to the Midwest, in a period of explosive growth, a heavy importation of Angus cattle direct from Scotland followed when 1200 cattle were brought in from 1878 to 1883.
As a side not, remember that this was the peak of the boom of the American Cowboy.
By 1877, the largest of the cattle-shipping boom towns, Dodge City, Kansas, shipped out 500,000 head of cattle.
By the 1880s, barbed wire was sectioning off rangeland because overgrazing stressed the open range. With railroads ever expanding to cover most of the nation, and meat packing plants were built closer to major ranching areas, making long cattle drives from Texas to the railheads in Kansas became unnecessary.
Though Cowboys were used on small local drives and in feed lots and on some ranches, the age of the open range was gone and large cattle drives were over - and so was the need for so many Cowboys.
As for Angus cattle, well over the next quarter of a century these early owners, in turn, helped start other herds by breeding, showing, and selling their registered stock.
The American Aberdeen- Angus Breeders’ Association was founded on Nov 21, 1883 in Chicago, Illinois.
In 1950, it was renamed the American Angus Association. Today, it holds the distinction of being the largest purebred beef registry in the world.
- 10 to 16 square-inch ribeye area
- Less than 1-inch fat thickness
- No hump on the neck exceeding 5 cm (2")