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Ancient White Park

Horned, white cattle have been documented in Britain since the 13th Century. There are still several ancient herds in existence that date from that time. They were bred and used for ceremonial purposes during the pre Christian era. In the centuries that followed, herds of feral cattle became scattered throughout England, Scotland and Wales and were hunted as trophy animals. Some of the herds were enclosed into deer parks, such as those at Cadzow, Chartley, Chillingham, Dynevor, and Vaynol, though most cattle were free to roam. As their habitat was gradually reduced, the free roaming cattle disappeared, leaving only the “park” animals as representatives of the ancient type. Bloodtyping has demonstrated the importance of conserving Ancient White Parks, since remarkable genetic distance exists between this breed and all other breeds of domestic cattle. This is due to the breed’s long isolation and the limited role of human selection in its development.

In 1918, the Park Society was formed to promote these historic cattle and identified nine herds of horned cattle and six herds of polled cattle in its first herd book. British White cattle were originally included, but were reclassified as a separate breed in 1946. Many of the park cattle were eventually re-domesticated, selected for beef production, and crossbred. A few of the herds were conserved as pure stocks and were the foundation strains for the Ancient White Park breed of today. The Ancient White Park attracted conservation efforts in the 1970s and became the emblem of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.

Ancient White Park cattle came to North America during World War II. They were evacuated as part of a British program that sent national treasures to America for safekeeping. The cattle went first to the Bronx Zoo and then to the King Ranch in Texas, where they were maintained as a closed herd for 40 years. The cattle were dispersed in the 1980s, and several conservation herds were established in the United States and in Canada. Breeders formed the Ancient White Park Cattle Society of North America to monitor the status of the population, which by 2008 had reached nearly 300 breeding animals. These North American breeders have an important role to play in conserving some genetic variants that are now rare or have disappeared in the British population.

Ancient White Park cattle are athletic and lean in appearance. The mature cows can weigh from 1200–1800 pounds by the age of 4 to 5 years while bulls can reach 1800–2000 pounds at the same age. The light colored, black tipped horns curve out and then up in a “u” shape. The breed is known by its “white park” color pattern with the coat being white accompanied by black (or red) eye rings, ears, nose, feet, and teats. Many of the animals have dark skin, and some have small speckles of black or blue scattered on the coat. A few individuals are born solid black or red. Historically these were culled, though they are being maintained now as a source of additional diversity to the breed. The Ancient White Park breed should not be confused with the American White Park, a polled beef breed developed in the United States after World War II or the polled dual purpose British White. These three populations are quite dissimilar in appearance, history, and use. The original White Park breed is called the Ancient White Park to emphasize its distinctiveness.

Status: See CPL

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