THE BRITISH OX
In the earliest and most reliable accounts which we possess of the British Isles,
the Commentaries of Cæsar, 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. Cæsar 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 death.
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 varieties.
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.
THE WELL-FED BEASTS
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
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 undegenerated.
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 others.