White Park cattle

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White Park is a Rare Breed of cattle.

The White Park (also known as the Ancient White Park in North America,[1][2][3] the White Forest, the White Horned, the Wild White, and simply "the Park") is a rare breed of horned cattle with ancient herds preserved in Great Britain.[4][full citation needed] It includes two very rare types often regarded as distinct, the Chillingham[5] and the Vaynol.[6]


The White Park is a medium-large, long-bodied bovine. A programme of linear assessment, including 200 bulls and 300 cows, has been carried out in the UK since 1994 to define its size and conformation. Mature bull weights vary from 800 to 1,000 kilograms (1,800 to 2,200 lb), depending on the quality of grazing, but bulls in good condition may weigh 1,250 kilograms (2,760 lb). Average withers height is 146 centimetres (57 in), chest depth 88 centimetres (35 in), body length (point of withers to point of pin bone (tuber ischii) 167 centimetres (66 in), hip (tuber coxae) width 64 centimetres (25 in), and scrotal circumference 45 centimetres (18 in). The relevant corresponding measurements for adult cows are 500 to 700 kilograms (1,100 to 1,500 lb), 132 centimetres (52 in), 76 centimetres (30 in), 148 centimetres (58 in) and 60 centimetres (24 in).[1][4][7] The colour is distinctive, being porcelain white with coloured (black or red) points, namely ears, nose, eye rims, hooves, and teats and tips of the long horns. The colour pattern is dominant to other colours. The horns of the cows vary in shape, but the majority grow forwards and upwards in a graceful curve. The horns of bulls are thicker and shorter, and not so uplifted. In their native environment in Britain, White Park cattle are noted not only for their distinctive appearance, but also for their grazing behaviour, where they show a preference for coarser herbage. They are well-suited to non-intensive production[3][4][7] and some herds are kept outside throughout the year on rough upland grazing without shelter or supplementary feed. They are docile, easy-calving, and have a long productive life. Some traits may vary a little in other countries, but the basic type is the same.

They are beef animals noted for the quality of their meat. Until relatively recently they were a triple-purpose breed – meat, milk and draught. The 3rd Lord Dynevor (1765–1852) kept a team of draught oxen, and the practice continued up to 1914. The records of one plough ox that was killed in 1871 at 14 years of age, show that he stood 183 centimetres (6.00 ft) at the withers and weighed 1,171 kilograms (2,582 lb). They were used as dairy cattle even more recently. Some cows were being milked in the Dynevor herd in 1951, but yields were moderate. Beef became the main product during the twentieth century, and gained a reputation as a textured meat, with excellent flavour and marbling, which commanded a significant premium in speciality markets. The best quality beef comes from 36-month-old animals,[citation needed] and fine marbling is the key to its eating quality, while the low cholesterol content adds to its attraction for the health-conscious consumers.

White Park cow and calf on Hambledon Hill in England

Several blood typing and DNA studies have revealed the genetic distinctness of White Park cattle[8][9][10] and the Oklahoma State University web site confirms the White Park is not closely related to two breeds of the same colour, but which are hornless, namely the American White Park (which actually is British White) and the British White and is genetically distinct from them. The colour-pointed coat pattern also appears in other cattle breeds such as the Irish Moiled, the Blanco Orejinegro, the Berrenda, the Nguni and the Texas Longhorn. The breeds most closely related seem to be the Highland cattle and Galloway cattle of Scotland, but the White Park "is genetically far distant from all British breeds".[4] The Chillingham has diverged from the main White Park population and various stories have grown up around them. Hemming references the work of Hall in the following excerpt: "- – In other words, since the Chillingham cattle, wherever they came from, cannot be aurochsen, they must be Bos taurus just like Jerseys or Herefords or any other breed. They do look more like miniature aurochsen, but that is because they have not been selectively bred for beef or milk, and cattle that have been left to their own devices will tend to revert to ancestral type. 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)."


White Park cattle are a remarkably ancient breed. Two thousand years ago a type of cattle similar to the White Park breed were found through much of the British Isles, particularly in Ireland, Wales, northern England and Scotland. At about that time in Ireland there are references in the story of Cruacha in the Cúchulain cycle to the sacrifice at Magh Aí of three hundred white cows with coloured ears, and the special status of white cattle is woven into stories such as the ancient Irish epic Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley) from the Book of Leinster that survives in recensions dating back to at least the 12th century and preserving stories from perhaps a thousand years earlier.[4][11] In one of the Irish law tracts, the penalty for satirising King Cernodon of Ulster includes "seven white cows with red ears". Either it was a common colour at that time or, more likely, it was a colour specially prized and maintained for ritual and ceremony. Place names give further clues; for example, the name of Inishbofin off the coast of Connemara translates as "the island of the white cow". The first issue of the Royal Dublin Society Historical Studies in Irish Agriculture is a book on ancient Irish cattle breeds which states that white cattle were known in Ireland until at least the 1820s, and cites the journal of a nineteenth-century Kilkenny farmer who noted animals of this type among the breeds at the Callan fair, although they became extinct in Ireland in that century.[clarification needed]

Similar references are found in Welsh history at a slightly later period. Wales was the final refuge of the Druids as they retreated from persecution, and Pliny recorded in 43 AD a ceremony of sacrifice that was practiced before the Roman invasion involving two bulls of a white colour. Significantly, there were Irish colonies in Wales from the end of the third century AD. The princes who ruled the southern Welsh kingdom of Deheubarth from Dynevor Castle (alternative spelling Dynevwr or Dinefwr) had established trading links with the rulers of Wicklow and Wexford on the adjacent area of Ireland. The cattle have prominent mention in Welsh laws made by a series of rulers. Rhodri Fawr (Rhodri the Great), who built the castle as a defence against the Vikings made references to the white cattle in 856 AD. Hywel Dda wrote the Venedotian and Dimetian code of laws in the tenth century and decreed that "the Lord of Dynevwr (shall have) as many white cattle with red ears as shall extend in close succession from Argoel to the Palace of Dynevwr with a bull of the same colour with each score of them" for the infringement of his prerogative. Pembroke in western Wales remained a main centre of the breed until the nineteenth century and they were driven in large numbers to the pastures of the Severn and the neighbouring markets in England.

In 1225 the Charta Forestae created by Henry III removed many forest areas from the protection of the Forest Laws enacted by William the Conqueror and later kings. As a result several parks were enclosed and several herds, including those at Chartley and Chillingham in England and Cadzow in Scotland, date to the mid-13th century at a time when White Park cattle were "emparked", i.e., enclosed in hunting chases.[1][4][7] There were more than a dozen white Park Cattle herds in Britain in the early 19th century, but most of these were exterminated by the turn of the next century.

The Park Cattle registration programme in Britain was started in 1918 but registrations lapsed during in 1946. By then, only the Dynevor, Woburn, Whipsnade, and Cadzow herds survived as domesticated herds; the ancient herds at Vaynol (Faenol) in Wales and the above-mentioned Chillingham herd having become semi-feral. In 1973 the Rare Breeds Survival Trust was formed in Britain, and the following year the registration programme was revived for the remaining British herds in the "White Park" herd book.[4][7] Numbers have increased and now exceed 1,000 breeding cows in the UK.

Since 2011 White Park cattle have been grazing in the nature reserve "Karower Teiche" in the northeast of Berlin, Germany.

White Park cattle have been exported to several countries. In 1921 animals were exported to Denmark, and from there to Latvia in 1935 and thence to Germany in 1972. Meanwhile they also were included in the experiment by Heck to breed-back to the aurochs. In 1986 Hans Jensen of Gislev re-established a herd of White Park cattle in Denmark, and sold some animals in 1991 to the Tierpark Warder in Germany, which also obtained White Park cattle used in Heck's aurochs reconstruction experiment. Further exports were made to Germany in 2008 and 2011. In 1987 cattle were exported to Australia. In 1940 one or two pairs of White Park cattle from the Cadzow herd were exported to Canada to preserve a British "national treasure" from the threat of Nazi invasion.[1][4] They were kept at the Toronto Zoo. The Canadian-born offspring of those cattle were transferred to the Bronx Zoo but facilities there were inadequate for their long term housing and they were moved to the King Ranch in Texas where they remained for almost the next forty years before being purchased by Mr. & Mrs. John Moeckly of Polk City, Iowa.[4] Correspondence authored by Captain Jean Delacour of the New York Zoological Society states on 10 Feb 1942 "- – they are neither wild nor vicious. In fact, they are just a breed of very old and primitive domestic cattle – - the probable ancestors of Shorthorns." Further, Robert Kleberg of the King Ranch tells us "- – We were also interested in these cattle because at one time we ran Shorthorns in very large wooded pastures – - there were many cases in which they reverted to red ears or black ears and we thought there must be some connection between the Shorthorn cattle and the Wild Park Cattle of England. In fact, I do believe this to be the case." [12] A portion of that herd was sold to the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, in 1988 and single heifer was sold to Joywind Farm in Ontario. This was followed by the sale of all but a few old cows and the White Park breed registry to the B Bar Ranch in Big Timber, Montana. The last few aged cows were sold to Mark Fields of Clark, Missouri.[1][4] There were only five North American herds in 1995 and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy regards the status of the breed in the USA as critical[2] but the population has increased to several hundred animals. In USA the breed is known as Ancient White Park to avoid confusion with the hornless American White Park.

Most national populations of White Park cattle have been DNA tested to verify parentage, to confirm the provenance of products, and to enable assignment of applicant animals to breed and determine the optimum breeding programme to ensure their effective conservation survival.[4] The breeding programme in the UK aims to increase the desirable characteristics of the breed while maintaining genetic diversity. Heterozygosity is low due to inbreeding through much of the twentieth century. Faygate Brace (born 1906) contributed circa 40% of the ancestry of the breed by the 1940s, and Whipsnade 281 (born 1956) repeated this pattern in the second half of the twentieth century. His grandson, Dynevor Torpedo is now the dominant influence in the breed. Two herds, Dynevor and Chartley/Woburn, have been the dominant influences throughout this time. The global population now is almost 2,000 purebred females, plus bulls and young stock.[4] They are mostly found on farms producing speciality beef, but also on Rare Breed farms such as Wimpole Home Farm in Cambridgeshire, England, Appleton Farms in Massachusetts, or the previously-mentioned B Bar Ranch in Montana.[13][full citation needed][14][full citation needed]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Media related to White Park cattle at Wikimedia Commons

A new herd of White Park Cattle established on the Isle of Mann, November, 2013:


  1. ^ a b c d e [1] B Bar Ranch
  2. ^ a b [2] American Livestock Breeds Conservancy
  3. ^ a b [3] White Park Grass Fed Beef
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l [4] Oklahoma State University: Cattle Breeds
  5. ^ Rare Breeds Survival Trust Chillingham cattle fact sheet
  6. ^ Rare Breeds Survival Trust Vaynol cattle fact sheet
  7. ^ a b c d Alderson, L. 1997. A Breed of Distinction. CLL, Shrewsbury
  8. ^ Royle, N. 1983. Polymorphisms of Rare Breeds of Cattle. PhD thesis, University of Reading.
  9. ^ Flynn, P. 2009. Characterisation of Rare Irish Cattle Breeds by Comparative Molecular Studies using Nuclear and Mitochondrial DNA Markers. MSc thesis, University College Dublin
  10. ^ Jamieson, A. 1966. The distribution of transferring genes in cattle. Heredity 21, 191–218
  11. ^ Cecile O'Rahilly (ed. & trans., 1967), Táin Bó Cuailnge from the Book of Leinster, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.
  12. ^ Robert J. Kleberg, King Ranch, July 1981, in correspondence to the Earl of Tankerville.
  13. ^ The Trustees of Reservations: Appleton Farms
  14. ^ Wimpole Home Farm

[Animal Symbolism in Celtic Mythology. A paper for Religion 375 at the University of Michigan by Lars Noodén, 22 November 1992 http://www-personal.umich.edu/~lars/rel375.html]