The British Ox

In the earliest and most reliable accounts which we possess of the

British Isles--the Commentaries of Caesar--we learn that the ancient

Britons possessed great numbers of cattle. No satisfactory description

of these cattle occurs in any ancient author; but, with occasional

exceptions, we know that they possessed no great bulk or beauty. Caesar

tells us that the Britons neglected tillage and lived on milk and flesh;

and this account of the early inhabitants of the British Isle is

corroborated by other authors. It was such an occupation and mode of

life as suited their state of society. The island was divided into many

little sovereignties; no fixed property was secure; and that alone was

valuable which could be hurried away at the threatened approach of the

invader. Many centuries after this, when--although one sovereign seemed

to reign paramount over the whole of the kingdom--there continued to be

endless contests among the feudal barons, and therefore that property

alone continued to be valuable which could be secured within the walls

of the castle, or driven beyond the assailant's reach--an immense stock

of provisions was always stored up in the various fortresses, both for

the vassals and the cattle; or it was contrived that the latter should

be driven to the domains of some friendly baron, or concealed in some

inland recess.

When the government became more powerful and settled, and property of

every kind was assured a proportionate degree of protection, as well as

more equally divided, the plough came into use; agricultural productions

were oftener cultivated, the reaping of which was sure after the labor

of sowing. Cattle were then comparatively neglected and for some

centuries injuriously so. Their numbers diminished, and their size also

seems to have diminished; and it is only within the last century and a

half that any serious and successful efforts have been made materially

to improve them.

In the comparatively roving and uncertain life which the earlier

inhabitants led, their cattle would sometimes stray and be lost. The

country was at that time overgrown with forests, and the beasts betook

themselves to the recesses of these woods, and became wild and sometimes

ferocious. They, by degrees, grew so numerous as to be dangerous to the

inhabitants of the neighboring districts. One of the chronicles asserts

that many of them harbored in the forests in the neighborhood of London.

Strange stories are told of some of them, and, doubtless, when

irritated, they were fierce and dangerous enough. As, however,

civilization advanced, and the forests became thinned and contracted,

these animals were seen more rarely, and at length almost disappeared. A

few of them, however, are still to be found in the parks of some of the

leading English noblemen, who keep them for ornament and as curiosities.

The color of this wild breed is invariably white, the muzzle being

black; the whole of the inside of the ear, and about one-third of the

outside, from the tips downward, red; horns white, with black tips, very

fine, and bent upward; some of the bulls have a thin, upright mane,

about an inch and a half or two inches long. The beef is finely marbled

and of excellent flavor.

At the first appearance of any person they set off in full gallop, and

at the distance of about two hundred yards, make a wheel around and come

boldly up again in a menacing manner; on a sudden they make a full stop

at the distance of forty or fifty yards, looking wildly at the object of

their surprise; but upon the least motion they all again turn round and

fly off with equal speed, but not to the same distance, forming a

shorter circle; and, again returning with a more threatening aspect than

before, they approach probably within thirty yards, when they again make

another stand, and then fly off; this they do several times, shortening

their distance and advancing nearer and nearer, till they come within

such short distance that most persons think it prudent to leave them.

When the cows calve, they hide their calves for a week or ten days in

some retired situation, and go and suckle them two or three times a day.

If any persons come near the calves they clap their heads close to the

ground to hide themselves--a proof of their native wildness. The dams

allow no one to touch their young without attacking with impetuous

ferocity. When one of the herd happens to be wounded, or has grown weak

and feeble through age or sickness, the rest set on it and gore it to


The breeds of cattle which are now found in Great Britain, are almost as

various as the soil of the different districts or the fancies of the

breeders. They have, however, been very conveniently classed according

to the comparative size of the horns; the long-horns, originally from

Lancashire, and established through most of the midland counties; the

short-horns, generally cultivated in the northern counties and in

Lincolnshire, and many of them found in every part of the kingdom where

the farmer pays much attention to his dairy, or where a large supply of

milk is desired; and the middle-horns, a distinct and valuable breed,

inhabiting, principally, the north of Devon, the east of Sussex,

Herefordshire, and Gloucestershire; and of diminished bulk and with

somewhat different character, the cattle of the Scottish and Welsh

mountains. The Alderney, with its crumpled horn, is found on the

southern coast; while the polled, or hornless, cattle prevail in

Suffolk, Norfolk, and Galloway, whence they were first derived.

These leading breeds, however, have been intermingled in every possible

way. They are found pure only in their native districts, or on the

estate of some wealthy and spirited individuals. Each county has its own

mongrel breed, often difficult to be described, and not always to be

traced--neglected enough, yet suited to the soil and the climate; and

among small farmers, maintaining their station, in spite of attempts at

improvements by the intermixture or the substitution of foreign


Much dispute has arisen as to the original breed of British cattle. The

battle has been sharply fought between the advocates of the middle and

of the long-horns. The short-horns and the polls are out of the lists;

the latter, although it has existed in certain districts from time

immemorial, being probably an accidental variety. The weight of

argument appears at present to rest with the middle horns; the

long-horns being evidently of Irish extraction.

Great Britain has shared the fate of other nations, and oftener than

they been overrun and subjugated by invaders. As the natives retreated

they carried with them some portion of their property, consisting, in

the remote and early times, principally of cattle. They drove along with

them as many as they could, when they retired to the fortresses of North

Devon and Cornwall, or the mountainous region of Wales, or when they

took refuge in the retirement of East Sussex; and there, retaining all

their prejudices, manners, and customs, were jealous of the preservation

of that which reminded them of their native country before it yielded to

a foreign yoke.

In this way was preserved the ancient breed of British cattle.

Difference of climate produced some change, particularly in their bulk.

The rich pasturage of Sussex fattened the ox into its superior size and

weight. The plentiful, but not so luxuriant, herbage of the north of

Devon produced a smaller and more active animal; while the privations of

Wales lessened the bulk and thickened the hide of the Welsh Stock. As

for Scotland, it set its invaders at defiance; or its inhabitants

retreated for a while, and soon turned again on their pursuers. They

were proud of their country, and of their cattle, their choicest

possession; and there, also, the cattle were preserved, unmixed and


Thence it has resulted, that in Devon, in Sussex, in Wales, and in

Scotland, the cattle have been the same from time immemorial; while in

all the eastern coasts and through every district of England, the breed

of cattle degenerated, or lost its original character; it consisted of

animals brought from all the neighboring, and some remote districts,

mingled in every possible variety, yet conforming to the soil and the


Careful observations will establish the fact, that the cattle in

Devonshire, Sussex, Wales, and Scotland are essentially the same. They

are middle horned; not extraordinary milkers, and remarkable for the

quality rather than the quantity of their milk; active at work, and with

an unequalled aptitude to fatten. They have all the characters of the

same breed, changed by soil, climate, and time, yet little changed by

man. The color, even, may be almost traced, namely: the red of the

Devon, the Sussex, and the Hereford; and where only the black are now

found, the recollection of the red prevails.

As this volume is intended especially for the farmers of our own

country, it is deemed unnecessary in this connection to present any

thing additional under the present head, except the names of the

prominent species of British cattle. These are, commencing with the

middle horns, the North Devon, the Hereford, the Sussex, the Welsh (with

the varieties of the Pembrokeshire, the Glamorganshire, the Radnor

black, the Anglesea and some others); and the Scotch with its chief

varieties, the West Highlanders, the North Highlanders, the North

Eastern, the Fife, the Ayrshire, and the Galloways.

As to the long horns, which came originally from Craven in Yorkshire, it

may be remarked that this breed has been rapidly disappearing of late,

and has everywhere given place to better kinds. Of this species there

are--or perhaps were--two leading classes, the Lancashire and the

Leicestershire improved.

Of the short horns, the leading breeds are the Dutch, the Holderness,

the Teeswater, the Yorkshire, the Durham, the Northumberland, and some


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