This week on Weird cow breeds, we are profiling the bovine breed so old, it gets a mention in Irish mythology, the White Park.
The White park, also known as the British White, is one of the world’s oldest bovine breeds, with records dating back as much as over 2,000 years. They have links to all of the home nations, with records of the breed in Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland.
The first reference to the breed comes in Irish mythology during the Cúchulain cycle. Stories recount of when over three hundred white cows with colored ears were sacrificed at Magh Aí. In fact, the famous Táin Bó Cuailgne is believed to have been a White Park.
According to the Royal Dublin Society Historical Studies in Irish Agriculture, the breed were known and widespread in Ireland until the 1820’s. It is thought they then became extinct in Ireland from there on. Similar references to the breed can be found in Welsh history, though at a later date. One area in Wales, Pembroke, remained a hub for the breeding of the White Park until the 19th century.
Henry the third, in 1225, passed a legislation which saw many 'Park' cows fenced off into parks. It is estimated that there were over 12 white park cattle herds in Britain at the beginning of the 19th century, though a majority were killed out by the turn of that century. Numbers of the breed in the UK are now estimated to be in excess of 1,000 breeding cows.
The White Park breed was officially recorded in the British Rare Breeds Survival Trust back in 1973. It is estimated that the global population of the White Park, now stands at almost 2,000 purebred females, plus bulls and young stock. Two other rare strains have been developed from White Park cattle: Chillingham and Vaynol.
The White Park is a generally long bodied, medium to large sized bovine. They are, as the name suggests, white in colour. Their coloration is a distinctive porcelain white with coloured (black or red) points. Their ears and noses tend to be dark in colour, usually black.
They are also horned cattle, with horns varying in shape, but generally growing in an upwards and forward curve. A bull's horns tend to be shorter and thicker.
A mature bull can vary in weight from 800 to 1,000 kgs upon maturation. An adult cow meanwhile can vary from 500kgs to 700kgs. The White Park is an easy calver and are usually very docile, though as always bulls and new mothers can become aggressive. They also have a long life expectancy and can be kept outside year-round, without shelter or supplementary feeding. The White Park are also a very fertile breed, making them a good choice for beef and dairy farmers.
They are very efficient grazers and even prefer to munch on the weeds other breeds would ignore.
The White park was historically a triple-purpose breed, which was used not only for meat, but also for its milking qualities and draught. This was until recently, when they became more widely used for beef production.
Milk yields from the breed are moderate and in the 1950’s, dairy was the main use for the breed. Beef became the main trade for the breed since the 20th century. This is due to its meat being textured with an excellent flavour and marbling. This enables meat produce from the breed to sell for a higher premium. The breed has a great average daily weight gain and can usually gain about 1kg per day, with the optimum slaughter age is about 36 months.
Its meat has a strong, distinctive tastes and is softly chewy. It is also tender and even low in cholesterol!
Some call this breed, the bovine of mythology, whilst others may call it the triple threat. All we know is, they sure are beautiful!