HISTORY OF BRITISH WHITE BREED IN AMERICA
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
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
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 (1996) the breed is prospering as never before in England. There are now
(1996) 111 herds that are registering cattle in England. In 1993 these herds had new
registrations of 406 females and 57 bulls. 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
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 promotional 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.
CHARACTERISTICS OF BRITISH WHITES
The American British White cow is of moderate size, 1000 to 1500 pounds. Bulls are from
1800 to 2300 pounds. They are smooth polled although an occasional “ scur” will be observed.
Scurred animals may be registered if the scur has not been removed. Both bulls and cows are
very docile in nature. The cow udders are well set and tight with small black teats. Back lines
are straight and strong with a slight slope to the tail head. The bull’ s scrotums are well shaped
and large in size, a 38 to 42cm circumference in yearling bulls is normal.
British Whites are a breed noted for fertility, calving ease, efficiency and trouble free. They
have a lean and tender carcass with superior milking ability and hardiness.
Another very important characteristic of British Whites is their ability to prosper and excel on
average to poor pasture. A British White herd will give the rancher "more pounds of beef per
acre" than any other breed of cattle. Also, they will honor the fence that’ s not in the best of
The people who own British Whites swear by “ em. They say she can’ t be beat to give you a
live, healthy calf year after year. Owner after owner will tell you that the British White cow will
give you more pounds of calf per acre than any other breed in existence. She will give those
extra pounds at less cost and less trouble than other more recognized breeds. In talking with one
owner who has run approximately seventy head of mama cows yearly for twenty years, he says
he has assisted a total of only four or five calves in those 20 years. This includes heifers with
their first calf.
They are known to be gentle with lots of milk. It is not unusual for an owner to take guests out
to the pasture and walk among the cows and their babies without disturbing them. Veterinarians
agree that this breed causes them less trouble “ in the chute” to the point the vet even enjoys
working ‘em. That docility spills over into the feed lot where calm calves will fatten on less
feed than a nervous calf.
The milk is there! In interviewing several breeders, they report that it is not unusual for their
bull calves to average close to 600 pounds and heifers in the 550 pound category at weaning.
These weights are on grass without creep. Birth weights in the 70 to 80 pound category is
common among purebred British White calves.
There are several different white breeds with colored points described in the book, “
Handbook to the Breeds of the World.”
British Cattle breeds as to their pedigree based on their ancestry. This has led in many instances
to physical characteristics such as color coat and/or horns. As we all know, this can be very
misleading. Breeds seem to develop along the lines and wishes of the breeder, so that it is not
necessarily true that a large black animal in one part of the country is blood related to a large
black animal in another part of the country. One such proof of this scenario is the results of the
blood protein studies that show the horned, black eared, white coated White Park and the
polled, black eared white color coated British White are not blood related. In fact this same
study shows that the British White is no more closely blood related to the White Park than to
the Angus, Hereford, Shorthorn and other British Breeds. It is believed that the British White
breed is much more influenced by infusion of Shorthorn blood in the past than White Park.
Color pointed cattle are pretty rare on a World Wide basis. However, in Britain two breeds
seem to stand out, the horned White Park , including the Chillingham and Dynevor types, and
the polled British White. It should be noted that even though the White Park and British White
breeds shared the same herd book for many years they are very separate and distinct breeds as
far as genetics.
The true White Park is genetically far distant from all British Breeds. The breeds that appear
to be most closely related to the White Park are the Kerry of Ireland and the Highland and
Galloway of Scotland.
Because of their color pattern, these cattle were a favorite in Celtic lore. It is written that the
color is mentioned in records dating back to the fifth century BC. This would mean that they
were known well before the Roman invasion. Some of the cattle were referred to as White
Polled in the late nineteenth century. Two of the oldest polled herds were the Guisborough
Priory in Cleveland and the Whalley Abbey in Lancashire. These cattle were believed to have
derived from the wild white horned cattle that roamed the nearby Bowland Forest in the
sixteenth century. They were bred specifically to perpetuate their polled genetics.
The British White is no longer classified as a rare breed as their numbers are growing around
the World. They are popular in Australia, and it is one of the basic breeds in the developing of
the Mandalong Special breed.
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.
She is in a class by herself.
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