The history of the American West includes legendary tales of cowboys and cattle drives. Today, the multi-billion-dollar American beef industry now includes more than a million businesses, farms and ranches. Not many people realise, however, that the hardy and adaptable cattle that make up the largest segment of American agriculture have deep roots in the rugged terrain of Scotland.
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Over 350 years before "Certified Black Angus" beef began appearing on American menus, cattlemen in Aberdeen and Angus counties in northeastern Scotland began crossbreeding two strains of livestock that eventually developed into the breed known today as "Aberdeen-Angus." The distinctive black Aberdeen-Angus cattle are naturally "polled" or hornless, long-lived, easily bred and managed, and require less labour than some other breeds. They possess good foraging ability and produce quality beef with little concentrate feeding.
Four Aberdeen-Angus bulls were transported from Scotland to Victoria, Kansas, in 1873. Those four animals made an enduring impression on the American cattle industry.
The legendary black cattle of Galloway emerged from the rugged, exposed uplands of Galloway centuries ago. Bred to live in the windswept and damp coastal hillsides and moors of southwest Scotland, Galloway cattle are well-suited to rough grazing, thriving on grasses and weeds that less hardy breeds ignore. A double coat of long fur sheds rain, and a soft undercoat that some compare to beaver fur eliminates the need for winter housing. The warm undercoat allows Galloways to retain warmth without having a heavy layer of fat, resulting in lean beef. Known as excellent producers of rich milk, Galloways are black-, red-, or dun-coloured. An interesting variation is the belted Galloway, which is black with a thick white belt around the midsection.
The beef shorthorn is registered in the oldest cattle-herd book in the world, first published in 1822. Originating in northeastern England, the original shorthorn was bred to distinct strains. One strain was bred to produce milk, the other to produce quality beef. Many of the best beef shorthorn herds were developed in Scotland.
The naturally polled beef shorthorn is recognised by its characteristic red, white or roan colour. It fell out of favour in the UK from the 1970s through the 1990s when breeders became concerned about its lack of size compared to some other breeds. Selective breeding has revived the beef shorthorn, and it has experienced a resurgence in popularity.
The highland is Scotland's most distinct and recognisable cattle breed. A handsome native of the rugged and remote Scottish highlands, this hardy longhair beast with sweeping horns survived for centuries in some of the harshest conditions imaginable. Highland cattle can live on difficult mountain terrain and make the best of poor forage to thrive in conditions where no other cattle breed could exist.
Highlands can withstand extreme weather conditions and require virtually no indoor housing, even for calving. American cattlemen recognised the breed's qualities and imported them to improve the bloodlines of their herds. Highlands are found today across North America, Europe and in Australia and South America.
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