Most bovine historians have come to the conclusion that the British White breed of cattle traces its roots to early 8th or 9th century Scandinavia. There is some historical evidence that polled white cows with black points were in evidence at that time in the mountains in Scandinavia. Apparently a few of these distinctly colored cows were brought to the British Isles by the Vikings, either as conquerors or via trading.
The first written records would indicate that a herd of white polled cattle with black or brown ears and black muzzles were located in Northern England around the latter part of the 17th century. The records show that the cattle were kept in the park (at that time) of Whalley Abbey, then within the Forest of Bowland near Clitheroe.
The main herd was moved to Norfolk, north and east of London in the early 1800’s. Records indicate that the herd was sold piecemeal in small lots to the Nobility of the surrounding countryside and remained under Nobility ownership for several decades. The foundation of British Whites in England, United States and Australia, in all likelihood, may be traced back to 1840 when Albermarle Cater of Norwich, England, purchased a herd of pedigree British Whites from Lord Suffield of Gunton. That herd has remained intact under the stewardship of John Cator and his son, Henry. The Cator prefix, “Woodbastwick”, is wide spread throughout all three countries.
Another substantial British White herd is located at Hevingham, England, near Aylsham. This herd has also played a key role in the breed’s history and survival. Miss Diana Birkbeck has presided over this herd with skill and dedication, winning many show championships. The first British White herd book was established in England in 1918 with five herds represented. They are as follows: Bawdeswell, Hevingham, Woodbastwick, Faygate and Kellmarsh. Today the breed is prospering as never before in England. In 1996, 111 herds were registering cattle in England. The breed is now well accepted as a viable economic asset to the bovine industry of Great Britain.
In 1941, on the brink of a German invasion of England, five cows and one bull of the British White breed were shipped to a Pennsylvania Prison Farm in the United States. These cattle were held at this location until 1949 and then disbursed. These original British White five cows and one bull, plus several other full blood British White bulls that have been imported from England form the foundation of today’s British White herds in America.
Since no accurate records were kept of the actual number of British White Cattle sold in 1949 from the Pennsylvania Prison Farm, or to whom, the following is a piecemeal bit of their history. It is accurate to the best of our knowledge.
Most, if not all, of the British Whites were purchased by a cattleman from Indiana, a Mr. Nerhood. Apparently he held the cattle together until most, if not all, were sold to another cowman from Cuba, Illinois, a Mr. Joe Williamson, either in the late 1950s or early 1960s.
During the Nerhood and Williamson ownership, no records were maintained of the parentage of the progeny as the herd increased in numbers. There is evidence that the British White herd, brought into Illinois, had outside blood introduced at a minor level during this period of time.
There is also some evidence that British Whites had been introduced into the United States in the 18th century by English Immigrants. The Jackson Family of Sturgis, Mississippi, have maintained a herd of British Whites that had been brought over by their ancestors in the 17th or 18th century. None of the Jackson animals were sold to outsiders. What were not butchered were kept and maintained by the Jackson Family. In the event that herd culling took place, those culled animals were sold for kill. Consequently, the Jackson herd became quite inbred. However, the Jackson genetics were excellent and were introduced into many herds with excellent results.
What was now the Williamson British White herd was held intact in Illinois until the early 1970s. In 1973, Williamson sold the greater part of his herd to a land promoter, Roger Westman, out of Ames, Iowa. The newly purchased British Whites were then moved to a farm near Williamsberg, Iowa, for a short period of time. In 1974, Westman then moved the cattle from Williamsberg, Iowa, to Williamsberg, Missouri.
To repeat, during this transition period, evidence indicates outside blood was introduced into the herd. However, there remains a bull line, headed by an original Penitentiary bull nicknamed “Old Ugly” (no other name is known). Old Ugly was a full blood and sired a great full blood bull, Atlas. Atlas progeny can still be found in many British White herds throughout the US. Two of these Atlas sired bulls were G & G Progress and G & G Punjab. In addition to Old Ugly and Atlas, several full blood British White bulls have been imported from England. They are as follows: Woodbastwick Premium Bond, Woodbastwick Statesman and Woodbastwick Mastermind, which were imported by E. Vannorsdel of G & G Land Ltd., Nevada, Iowa. Another bull “Woodbastwick Regis” was imported by Tom Zimmerman of Des Moines, Iowa. Two English full blood bulls, Harswell Sampson and Castleton Daniel were brought to America in the mid 1980s along with one female and semen from a bull named “Brendan” by R. Woodcock of Illinois. As well as semen imported on Premium Bond, Mastermind and Statesman. The influence of these imported English bulls is widespread throughout the breed in America. Additionally other semen has been imported.
The Williamsberg, Missouri, herd was purchased by Everett Vannorsdel of Nevada, Iowa, in late 1974. In 1976, a dentist, Dr. Merle Bean of Des Moines, Iowa, joined Vannorsdel and became a partner in G & G Land Ltd. Also, previous to Dr. Bean becoming his partner, Vannorsdel had called a meeting with the purpose to form a National Association. In attendance at that first meeting, held on June 7, 1975, were Joseph Williamson of Illinois, Auvergn Jackson of Sturgis, Mississippi, Jim Shey of Missouri and others. It was decided to name the new association the “White Park Cattle Association of America.” This later created much confusion as the cattle, in reality, were British White rather than White Park. There was, and is, a White Park Society in England. These animals are genetically unrelated to British Whites, but with the same coloring. English White Parks have huge horns and are smaller in stature than British Whites with a much fiercer temperament. However, when history speaks of the wild white cattle of England running in the wild for thousands of years, in all likelihood, it is speaking of horned White Parks not British Whites.
From the initial meeting, June 7, 1975, the White Park Association of America showed steady growth over the next several years. Through Everett Vannorsdel’s leadership, yearly National Sales and private production sales were initiated and proved successful. In addition, a National registry and office were put into place and maintained. Most, if not all, of the White Park (British White) herds were owned by small farmers and/or part time cattlemen. Growth was steady but certainly not spectacular.
At the time that the White Parks (British Whites) were being introduced to America there was a “big is better” movement that hit the American cattle scene. Continental breeds huge in size were being introduced in America and popularized. In the United States, British Whites were smaller in stature than the Continental breeds. At that time, this smaller size worked against the American owners, but today the pendulum has swung back to moderate size. About this time other factors were developing that proved to be a problem. Problem number one was that individuals elected to White Park leadership were not promotionally minded. Consequently, the cattle were never promoted with consistency. The cattle were, and are, excellent, but the promotion was not equal to the quality of the breed.
In 1987 a group of White Park (British White) breeders and members felt that for long term growth and betterment of the breed of cattle, they should be identified by their correct name of British Whites. This group formed the “British White Cattle Association of America, Ltd.” and filed their Articles of Incorporation as an Iowa Non Profit Corporation with the Iowa Secretary of State on December 16, 1987.
Tom Zimmerman, a Des Moines, Iowa businessman and cattleman was the leader of the movement to break away from the White Park Association and became the new Association’s first President. Several other breeders soon followed suit. Any British Whites registered under the White Park banner were allowed to be transferred into the new British White Association at the discretion of their owner. Many changes were instigated and adopted by the new British White Association. Among the most important, no horned animals were to be admitted. This rule was in compliance with both the British White Societies of England and Australia.
As we enter the 21st Century the British White Cattle Association of America is showing substantial growth. Membership is spread throughout most of the states. There is a unity and common objective of the membership that gives much promise that the British White breed in America is on its way to establishing an important niche on the American cattle scene.
Through its long and storied history, the British White cow has proven itself as a superior animal. Different fads in cattle come and go but high quality and efficiency will always be in style. No other breed of cattle in the World can compete with the British White economically. They are in a class by themselves.
A Brief History of British White Cattle in America is available to download. Click Here.