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Native Cattle

Category: History and Breeds

The foregoing comprise the pure-bred races in America; for, though other
and well-established breeds--like the Galloways, the long horns, the
Spanish, and others--have, at times, been imported, and have had some
influence on our American stock, yet they have not been kept distinct to
such an extent as to become the prevailing stock of any particular

A large proportion, however--by far the largest proportion, indeed--of
the cattle known among us cannot be included under any of the races to
which allusion has been made; and to the consideration of this class the
present article is devoted.

The term "breed"--as was set forth in the author's treatise, "The Horse
and his Diseases"--when properly understood, applies only to animals of
the same species, possessing, besides the general characteristics of
that species, other characteristics peculiar to themselves, which they
owe to the influence of soil, climate, nourishment, and the habits of
life to which they are subjected, and which they transmit with certainty
to their progeny. The characteristics of certain breeds or families are
so well marked, that, if an individual supposed to belong to any one of
them were to produce an offspring not possessing them, or possessing
them only in part, with others not belonging to the breed, it would be
just ground for suspecting a want of purity of bloods.

In this view, no grade animals, and no animals destitute of fixed
peculiarities or characteristics which they, share in common with all
other animals of the class of which they are a type, and which they are
capable of transmitting with certainty to their descendants, can be
recognized by breeders as belonging to any one distinct race, breed, or

The term "native" is applied to a vast majority of our American cattle,
which, though born on the soil, and thus in one sense natives, do not
constitute a breed, race, or family, as correctly understood by
breeders. They do not possess characteristics peculiar to them all,
which they transmit with any certainty to their offspring, either of
form, size, color, milking or working properties.

But, though an animal may be made up of a mixture of blood almost to
impurity, it does not follow that, for specific purposes, it may not, as
an individual animal, be one of the best of the species. Indeed, for
particular purposes, animals might be selected from among those commonly
called "natives" in New England, and "scrubs" at the west and south,
equal, and perhaps superior, to any among the races produced by the most
skillful breeding.

There can be no objection, therefore, to the use of the term "native,"
when it is understood as descriptive of no known breed, but only as
applied to the common stock of a country, which does not constitute a
breed. But perhaps the entire class of animals commonly called "natives"
would be more accurately described as grades; since they are well known
to have sprung from a great variety of cattle procured at different
times and in different places on the continent of Europe, in England,
and in the Spanish West Indies, brought together without any regard to
fixed principles of breeding, but only from individual convenience, and
by accident.

The first importations to this country were doubtless those taken to
Virginia previous to 1609, though the exact date of their arrival is not
known. Several cows were carried there from the West Indies in 1610, and
in the next year no less than one hundred arrived there from abroad.

The earliest cattle imported into New England arrived in 1624. At the
division of cattle which took place three years after, one or two are
distinctly described as black, or black and white, others as brindle,
showing that there was no uniformity of color. Soon after this, a large
number of cattle were brought over from England for the settlers at
Salem. These importations formed the original stock of Massachusetts.

In 1725, the first importation was made into New York from Holland by
the Dutch West India Company, and the foundation was then laid for an
exceedingly valuable race of animals, which, subsequent importations
from the same country, as well as from England, have greatly improved.
The points and value of this race in its purity have been already
adverted to under the head of the Dutch cattle.

In 1627, cattle were brought from Sweden to the settlements on the
Delaware, by the Swedish West India Company. In 1631, 1632, and 1633,
several importations were made into New Hampshire by Captain John Mason
who, with Gorges, had procured the patent of large tracts of land in the
vicinity of the Piscataqua river, and who immediately formed settlements
there. The object of Mason was to carry on the manufacture of potash.
For this purpose he employed the Danes; and it was in his voyage to and
from Denmark that he procured many Danish cattle and horses, which were
subsequently scattered over that entire region, large numbers being
driven to the vicinity of Boston and sold. These Danish cattle are
described as large and coarse, of a yellow color; and it is supposed
that they were procured by Mason as being best capable of enduring the
severity of the climate and the hardships to which they would be

However this may have been, they very soon spread among the colonists of
the Massachusetts Bay, and have undoubtedly left their marks on the
stock of the New England and the Middle States, which exist to some
extent even to the present day, mixed in with an infinite multitude of
crosses with the Devons, the Dutch cattle already alluded to, the black
cattle of Spain and Wales, and the long horn and the short horn--most of
which crosses were accidental, or due to local circumstances or
individual convenience. Many of these cattle, the descendants of such
crosses, are of a very high order of merit; but to which particular
cross this is due, it is impossible to say. They generally make hardy,
strong, and docile oxen, easily broken to the yoke and quick to work,
with a fair tendency to fatten when well fed; while the cows, though
often ill-shaped, are sometimes remarkably good milkers, especially as
regards the quantity which they give.

Indeed, it has been remarked by excellent judges of stock, that if they
desired to select a dairy of cows for milk for sale, they would make
their selection from cows commonly called native, in preference to
pure-bred animals of any of the established breeds, and that they
believed they should find such a dairy the most profitable.

In color, the natives, made up as already indicated, are exceedingly
various. The old Denmarks, which to a considerable extent laid the
foundation of the stock of Maine and New Hampshire, were light yellow.
The Dutch of New York and the Middle States, were black and white; the
Spanish and Welsh were generally black; the Devons, which are supposed
to have laid the foundation of the stock of some of the States, were
red. Crosses of the Denmark with the Spanish and Welsh naturally made a
dark brindle; crosses of the Devon often made a lighter or yellowish
brindle while the more recent importations of Jerseys and short horns
have generally produced a beautiful spotted progeny. The deep red has
long been a favorite color in New England; but the prejudice in its
favor is fast giving way to more variegated colors.

Among the earlier importations into this country were also several
varieties of hornless cattle, which have been kept measurably distinct
in some sections; or where they have been crossed with the common stock
there has been a tendency to produce hornless grades. These are not
unfrequently known as "buffalo cattle." They were, in many cases,
supposed to belong to the Galloway breed; or, which is more likely, to
the Suffolk dun, a variety of the Galloway, and a far better milking
stock than the Galloways, from which, it sprung. These polled, or
hornless cattle vary in color and qualities, but they are usually very
good milkers when well kept, and many of them fatten well, and attain
good weight.

The Hungarian cattle have also been imported, to some extent, into
different parts of the country, and have been crossed upon the natives
with some success. Many other strains of blood from different breeds
have also contributed to build up the common stock of the country of the
present day; and there can be no question that its appearance and value
have been largely improved during the last quarter of a century, nor
that improvements are still in progress which will lead to satisfactory
results in the future.

But, though we already have an exceedingly valuable foundation for
improvement, no one will pretend to deny that our cattle, as a whole,
are susceptible of it in many respects. They possess neither the size,
the symmetry, nor the early maturity of the short horns; they do not, as
a general thing, possess the fineness of bone, the beauty of form and
color, nor the activity of the Devons or the Herefords; they do not
possess that uniform richness of milk, united with generous quality, of
the Ayrshires, nor the surpassing richness of milk of the Jerseys: but,
above all, they do not possess the power of transmitting the many good
qualities which they often have to their offspring--which is the
characteristic of all well established breeds.

It is equally certain, in the opinion of many good judges, that the
dairy stock of the country has not been materially improved in its
intrinsic good qualities during the last thirty or forty years. This may
not be true of certain sections, where the dairy has been made a special
object of pursuit, and where the custom of raising the best male calves
of the neighborhood, or those that came from the best dairy cows, and
then of using only the best formed bulls, has long prevailed. Although
in this way some progress has, doubtless, been made, there are still
room and need for more. More attention must be paid to correct
principles of breeding before the satisfactory results which every
farmer should strive to reach can be attained.

Having glanced generally at the leading breeds of cattle in Great
Britain, and examined, more in detail, the various breeds in the United
States, the next subject demanding attention is,

Next: The Natural History Of Cattle

Previous: The North Devons

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