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History of the Angus Society

History of the Angus Society

The Founding of a Breed Society, Subsequent Growth and Information of Interest to Prospective Breeders

The Aberdeen-Angus Cattle Breeders' Society of South Africa was founded in 1917 with a membership of 12. It was affiliated to the South African Stud Book Association in 1918 and received its certificate of incorporation on 23 March 1921. Presently there are 140 registered stud breeding members as well as 50 registered commercial members and 14 non-active members. In addition, there are 2300 beef farmers in South Africa on our data-base who use Angus in their commercial farming operations.

When encapsulating the origin and history of the Aberdeen-Angus breed (known in South Africa as SA Angus) it is unnecessary to plunge deeply into the undergrowth of the distant past to show that if any breed can claim to meet the requirements of the modern age in the character of its product, it is the Angus. Considering its achievements, it might have evolved within the last hundred years.

Evidence exists, however, in the archeological features of the northeast of Scotland - the accepted source-territory of the Aberdeen Angus breed - that polled cattle existed in Scotland more than a thousand years ago. These features are sculptured stones, at least seventeen of which show horned and hornless cattle. Whether the polled variety were brought in by the early Norse invaders, as some antiquarians contend, or whether they were there earlier is a matter, today, of mere academic importance.

The early written history of Angus is obscure and lost in the unwritten annals of 16th century Scotland. The first evidence in writing of Angus cattle is explained as follows in McDonald and Sinclair's History of Aberdeen Angus Cattle. "In the county of Aberdeenshire specific reference to the existence in 1523 of black polled or hummel cattle is found in a legal document...this document confirms the impression previously formed that this race is of great antiquity." In the adjacent Scottish counties of Aberdeenshire and Angusshire, two local hornless strains developed, known in Aberdeenshire as hummel or humlies and in Angusshire as dodded or doddies. These areas of Scotland surrounded the route of old-time cattle in both areas began about the same time and took definite shape in the first decade of the nineteenth century. The main local breed in Aberdeen was very similar to that in Angus and the double-barrelled name therefore fits the origin of the breed perfectly.

After the union of England and Scotland in 1707 many northern farmers began exporting their surplus cattle to England graziers. This led to a greater demand for what was to become known as Prime Scots beef in London. By 1795, with the French Revolution raging, the price of grain soared, and this pushed the demand for beef in England to even higher levels. Scottish farmers soon learned they could earn more by finishing their own cattle and this caused the specialized production of their native polled stock as meat animals. That is why Angus is known as the only pure breed in the world bred exclusively for beef since its beginning.

Early History of Aberdeen-Angus in South Africa

Black Angus

SA Black Angus
The first importation of Angus into South Africa was in 1895, when ten Aberdeen-Angus cattle arrived on the farm of Mr Charles Newberry in the Free State. These animals by their own obvious high qualities, crossed well with the native breeds, and slowly wormed their way into the good graces of astute stockmen.

In 1908, a consignment of bulls brought in from Scotland, elicited this news report in Cape Town: "These bulls created a sensation when they came off the boat. Farmers were astonished at the wonderful size and symmetry of these handsome animals. Their massive quarters and thick fleshy bodies appeared likely to counteract the deficiencies of the native cattle and their brisk liveliness and activity of movement bespoke hardiness and adaptability."

In 1910 an Aberdeen-Angus bull won the main prize at the Johannesburg show as "The sire best calculated to getting beef cattle". So it started, and so it has continued. Triumphs followed in most gratifying array, especially in interbreed and slaughter stock contests.

History and Characteristics of the Red Angus

The origin of Red Angus had its beginning in the mother country - the British Isles. In tracing the origin of the red type of Angus we must turn the pages of the past to the eighth century.

According to some authorities hardy Norsemen, raiding the coasts of England and Scotland, brought with them a small, dun-coloured, hornless cattle. These cattle, interbreeding with black native Celtic cattle of inland Scotland, which had upright horns, produced a naturally polled black breed.

Eric L.C. Pentecost, the noted English breeder of Red Angus cattle, offers a more specific and logical explanation for the introduction of the red colouration into the Aberdeen-Angus breed.

Red Angus

He traces it to the spread of the Norfolk husbandry system to Scotland in the eighteenth century. The black Scottish cattle were too light to provide sufficiently large draught oxen. Accordingly, larger English longhorns, predominantly red in colour, were brought in and crossed with the black native polled breed. The resultant offspring were all black polled animals, since black is a dominant colour and red a recessive one. All, however, carried the red gene, and subsequently interbreeding produced an average of one red calf in four, according to Mendel's laws of heredity.

Summarising this rule of genetics, so important to the cattle breeder, we find: Black, possessing no red gene, mated with red brings black offspring, black being the dominant colour, and red recessive. Red calves occur only

  • when both parents are red, or
  • when one parent is red and the other is black, carrying a red gene, or
  • when both parents are black, but each carrying a red gene

This third situation is the case when red calves appear in purebred black breeds, such as the black Aberdeen-Angus. The chances are one in four for production of a red calf when mating two blacks carrying red genes.

Early in the development of the Aberdeen-Angus, Hugh Watson of Keilor, Scotland, arbitrarily decided that black was the proper colour for the breed and by that started a fashion. He could have chosen red instead. On this subject Leon J. Cole and Sara V.H. Jones of the University of Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station published a pamphlet in 1920 on "The Occurrence of Red Calves in Black Breeds of Cattle", which contains this pertinent paragraph:

Red Angus

"One more point should be emphasized, namely that the red individuals appearing in such stock (Aberdeen-Angus)... are just as truly ‘purebred' as are their black relatives, and there is no reason why, in all respects save colour, they should not be fully as valuable. The fact that they are discarded while the blacks are retained is simply due to the turn of fortune that black rather than red became the established fashion for the Aberdeen-Angus breed. Had red been the chosen colour, there would never have been any trouble with the appearance of blacks as off-colour individuals, since red to red breeds true."

  The preceding paragraph was written more than three decades before the establishment of the Red Angus Association in America and to current efforts in Britain to revive the breed. It shows a true appreciation of the basic strength of the reds.

Red Angus

Early History of the Red Angus in South Africa
The first Red Angus breeders were Mr E W Bassingthwaighte of Melrose, Windhoek and Mr R W Dennler of Okatumba, Windhoek. In the early 1950s Mr Barry Kramer appreciated the advantages and future of the breed in South Africa. He imported the first Red Angus and invested in them considerably. Soon after the appearance of Red Angus at shows and sales numbers began increasing rapidly. There is little doubt that Red Angus has contributed immensely towards the total growth of Angus in South Africa where today, 69% of all registered Angus is Red and 31% is Black. One explanation is South African farmers' traditional preference for red cattle. Many members breed both Red and Black Angus


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