Gloucester cattle are an ancient breed, numerous in the Severn Vale as early as the 13th century. They were valued for their milk (for Double Gloucester cheese), their beef, and for providing strong draught oxen.
However in the last two centuries, the introduction of other breeds and the development of intensive farming techniques, led to a dramatic reduction in numbers so that by 1972 only one herd remained.
Fortunately at its dispersal sale, a group of buyers determined that the breed should survive. The Gloucester Cattle Society was revived and since then, cattle numbers have increased from near extinction to over 700 registered females.
The Gloucester breed is strikingly beautiful. The body is dark mahogany with black head and legs. A white stripe passes from the small of the back over the tail and down over the udder, covering the belly. The picture is completed with mid-length, up-sweeping horns, which are white, tipped with black. In relation to modern breeds it is medium in size, being larger than a Guernsey and smaller than an Ayrshire.
By the late thirteenth century Gloucestershire was already producing large quantities of high quality cheese, and cattle complying with the general description of the breed were numerous.
By 1500 the city of Gloucester had a thriving cattle market as well as a cheese and butter fair. Demand for Gloucester cheese continued to increase until well into the eighteenth century. It was very popular in London and in the New England colonies. Gloucester cattle were to be found from Devon and Glamorgan to Essex, and it was in Berkeley in 1786 that Sir Edward Jenner took the first anti-smallpox serum from a Gloucester cow called Blossom. Her skin is still preserved.
During the eighteenth century the population declined, due to disease, and was replaced by Bakewell’s ‘improved’ Longhorns. This breed was in turn ousted by the Shorthorn breed during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and this new arrival also took its toll on the Gloucester population.
At the turn of the twentieth century the breed passed through a bottle neck of only two major breeders but, following a major sale at Badminton in 1896, there was a new wave of interest in the breed culminating in the formation of the Gloucester Cattle Society in 1919. The first herd book contained 130 animals in fourteen herds and by 1925 the numbers had risen to over 300 in over twenty five herds. However, this rather promising growth was cut short two years later by an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Gloucestershire and the surrounding counties. The population was reduced to 177 animals and continued to fall as the depression took hold. By 1930 only 142 animals remained in only four herds. The largest of these, at Badminton, was dispersed in 1950 after prolonged problems with in-breeding, which had resulted in chronic infertility. Colonel Elwes’ herd was dispersed in the same year leaving only fifty registered cows in two herds.
The Hon. Ralph Bathurst built his herd up to 148 animals which were dispersed after his death in 1965. Twelve of these animals survived to be registered in the new Society Herd Book in 1975.
Eric Dowdeswell maintained his old family herd at Wick Court until his death in 1968. His sisters, Ella and Alex, carried on but dispersed the herd in 1972 with the fear that this would be the end of their beautiful breed.
However, the enthusiasts in rare breed conservation and Gloucestershire tradition and history, gathered at the sale and were able to save every breeding female. Under the guidance of Charles Martell a new Society of breeders was formed and 70 animals were registered to some twenty breeders. By 1981 the numbers had risen to 165 registered animals with ten bulls standing at A.I.
A correspondent made the sad observation in 1959 that “The Old Gloucestershire breed has been a-dying for so long that its very tenacity of life leads one to hope, against all the evidence, that it may eventually survive”.
The Gloucester could be a useful general purpose breed again if given a fair chance to prove itself with the backing of a large number of pedigree herds. At the very least the Gloucester breed of cattle is an irreplaceable part of our living heritage which must be preserved at all costs for future generations.
Late 13th century
Cattle complying with the general description of the breed are numerous and Gloucestershire is already producing large quantities of high quality cheese.
The city of Gloucester has a thriving cattle market as well as a cheese and butter fair.
16th to early 18th centuries
Demand for Gloucester cheese continues to increase until well into the 18th century. It proves very popular in London and in the New England colonies in America.
Gloucester-type cattle are found from Devon and Glamorgan to Essex.
Mid 18th century
The pinnacle of Gloucestershire’s fame as a dairy county is reached and the breed looks forward to a prosperous future, only to be confounded by a double disaster that made the Gloucester rare within fifty years.
The great rinderpest epidemic is only one of a series of ‘cattle plagues’, but this outbreak stands apart due to its severity and length. The disease arrives in Gloucestershire in 1748 and all markets are stopped.
The greatest effect of this national calamity is the reduction in cattle breeding on an unprecedented scale. Some areas turn completely to arable farming.
After previous epidemics, numbers slowly increased back to normal through natural increase, but this time there was an alternative – the Longhorn – which started to be bred widely, due to favourable pricing and its more beefy characteristics.
Sir Edward Jenner takes the first anti-smallpox serum from a Gloucester cow called ‘Blossom’, hence the word ‘vaccination’ from the Latin vacca: a cow.
Blossom’s hide was later given to St. George’s Hospital in London by Jenner’s family, where it is still preserved in the Medical School Library.
The first reference to the Gloucester breed as such is made in the records of the Badminton herd, probably the greatest Gloucester herd of all time.
The Gloucester Dairy School and the Gloucester Dairy Association are established following a three day National Cheese Conference in Gloucester.
The conference was called for by Dr. Francis Bond of Gloucester, who went on to achieve considerable success with his cheeses. Particularly successful were his ‘Gloucester Roundels’ that were, “designed…for the purpose of encouraging a large consumption of cheese, a too-much neglected article of diet, and also for promoting the special Gloucestershire industry of cheese-making.”
Although the breed passes through a bottle neck of only two major breeders, after a successful sale at Badminton on 14th October 1896 there is a new wave of interest in the breed. This is the first significant sale for 44 years and several new herds are established as a result.
Publicity for the breed increases in the years following the Badminton sale and the Duke of Beaufort takes some Gloucesters to the 1909 Royal Show at Gloucester. The show succeeded in getting the breed official recognition.
After two major sales at Fretherne and Hardwicke, a whole new generation of enthusiastic Gloucester breeders emerges and the Gloucester Cattle Society is formed. The first herd book contains 130 animals in fourteen herds.
Numbers rise to over 300 animals in over 25 herds.
An outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Gloucestershire cuts short the promising growth of the last few years. The population reduces to 177 animals and continues to fall as the depression takes hold.
Only 142 animals remain in just 4 herds.
Gloucester Dairy School 1936 – butter is being churned on the left and Double Gloucester cheese is being made on the right.
The largest Gloucester herd, at Badminton, is dispersed after prolonged problems with in-breeding that had resulted in chronic infertility. Colonel Elwes’ herd is also dispersed, leaving only 50 registered cows in just 2 herds.
A correspondent makes the sad observation that, “The Old Gloucestershire breed has been a-dying for so long that its very tenacity of life leads one to hope, against all the evidence, that it may eventually survive.”
Having built his Ciceter herd up to 148 animals, The Honourable Ralph Bathurst dies.
Eric Dowdeswell maintained his old family herd at Wick Court until his death this year. His sisters, Ella and Alex, carry on the herd until their dispersal in 1972.
With the dispersal sale of the Wick Court herd, it is feared that the end of the beautiful breed is nigh. However, enthusiasts in rare breed conservation and Gloucestershire tradition and history gather and are able to save every breeding female from the Wick Court herd.
On the initiative of Charles Martell, a new Society of breeders is formed and the Herd Book is re-established with some 70 animals registered to about twenty breeders.
Classes for Gloucesters appear at the Three Counties Show for the first time at a major show for 38 years. They have been shown there ever since.
Twelve of the animals in the Bathurst herd of 1965 survive to be registered and appear in the re-formed Society’s first Herd Book, printed this year.
Numbers rise to 165 registered animals.
This is a year of celebration – marking 75 years since the formation of the original Gloucester Cattle Society and 21 years since the society’s reformation. A variety of activities is arranged during the year. Adam Stout’s book, ‘The Old Gloucester’ is updated and reprinted. A special byre effect in cattle lines is created at the Three Counties Show by Clifford Freeman for an impressive turnout of show cattle. An exhibition of archive material in the Gloucester Folk Museum, including paintings and photographs, is brought together by Paul Weaver.
Although pedigree information had been computerised in the mid 1980’s, a computer programme is now developed to access all pedigree and mismarking information back to 1973, providing valuable information for breeding decisions not previously available.
Crucial to breed’s future, the branding and marketing of the high quality Old Gloucester Beef are initiated.
The first year of the new millennium sees Gloucesters enjoy probably their greatest numbers for 200 years, with over 700 registered females. Excellent show cattle demonstrate real improvements in breed type. Milking herds and cheese makers do well and the market for Old Gloucester Beef continues to grow steadily.
A national outbreak of foot and mouth disease threatens the breed again and Gloucester cattle breeders and Society members are desperately worried that all their hard work and commitment to building the breed back up might be destroyed. Although a number of herds are very close to outbreaks, only a few Gloucesters are lost and the breed is spared.
A new book is launched, “Tales of Gloucesters – the Rescue of a Cattle Breed”, recording the history and progress the breed has made in the last quarter of the 20th century. Its launch at this difficult time emphasises the confidence that Gloucester Cattle Society members and supporters have for the future of the breed, in otherwise depressing farming circumstances.
Cattle Society represent breed at Terra Madre in Turin. Gloucester Cattle become presidium of ‘Slow Food’with beef and cheese
T.B takes its toll on breed
Ingenty DNA have been investigating DNA profiles on sample animals. Old Gloucester cattle placed as Category 3. vunerable
Sir Edward Jenner
1. Aim to maintain representation of all the founder animals
2. Identify the three rarest founder bloodlines and maintain these by a line breeding system
3. Owners of cattle with the highest representation of the three founder bloodlines should be asked to select from Society recommended bulls
4. Try to ensure that these breeders notify the Society before castration or disposal of offspring.
5. Five lines are to be identified from the population which when bred in a cyclic manner will produce cattle with a low inbreeding coefficient – ie below 6.25%
6. Breeders may,if they wish use the Geniped system to check the inbreeding coefficient of the progeny of any proposed mating
7. Maintain AI bulls by a line breeding system. The use of conservation bank semen would be dependent upon agreement betwen the breeder and the RBST giving the RBST the option to collect semen from any male offspring.
8. Maintain the diversity of AI bulls by adding those which produce offspring with a low inbreeding coefficient across a large proportion of the herd to the AI stocks.
9. Push forward the breeding programme for the starred animals
10. A new grading up policy is deemed unnecessary unless the inbreeding coefficient can be seen to be unable to be controlled by the use of the Geniped analysis system.
The object of ten point strategy above is to minimise inbreeding. The Directors would like as many members as possible to get involved whether simply by asking the Registrar to check the coefficients of co-ancestry for any proposed bull across your herd before you buy or whether you wish to be part of the cyclic breeding system.
The Gloucester Cattle Society launched a Type Classification Scheme (TCS) in 2015, to try and accelerate breed progress within herds and in turn improve the overall population of Gloucester cattle. The TCS is a voluntary scheme open to all members to have, at a fee, their cattle inspected by an independent professional classifier who will assign each animal assessed with a score out of 100. The final score, together with the ranking, either Poor, Fair, Good, Very Good or Excellent, will be automatically appended to the end of the animal’s name and made visible in the herd book and eventually on pedigree certificates.
The 4 main categories assessed by the classifiers are Body Conformation, Breed Character, Udder and Legs and Feet. The overall final score depends on the composited scores assigned to each category. If an animal is weak in 1 or more categories, the overall final score will be lower accordingly. The score given to each category is calculated from the functional and linear traits associated with that category. The scores of each linear trait are typed into a hand-held computer and a software programme then calculates the final overall score, assigning the correct weighting of points to each category.
At the start we had to get a bench mark for the Gloucester. One of the larger herds was used as a trial from this the society gained valuable data and information. With the help of the assessors there was some tweaking so that the model would fit the Gloucester breed.
The society has held several workshops on classification and the benefits it can have in helping to improve the breed for the future.
There has currently been a slow response to getting herds classified, but those that have, have been pleasantly surprised by the results .
The council urges all members to consider getting their herds classified.
If you are interested and would like further information, please contact the secretary.
The Gloucester is a Dual Purpose breed and therefore attention should be paid to both milk producing characteristics and body conformation.
• Body black brown
• Head and legs black
• Dark muzzle including skin on the nose
• Dark skin around the eyes
• Cow’s horns fine, wide and inclined to turn up, with black tips
• White tail, long hair or bushy switch
• White streak on the back
• Fine short hair
• White belly
• Broad forehead, long cheek and Roman nose.
• (Postscript – dehorning is allowed)
Scale of Points
To be used by breeders to assess their own cattle, by Judges in the Show Ring and by breed inspectors.
|General conformation, Character and Style
A dual purpose animal, well fleshed and milky, fine in quality, bright and
alert but docile.
Medium size with a long body, black brown in colour. A good spring of rib
and well fleshed over the rump and hind quarters.
Head feminine and held proud. Black with dark muzzle including dark skin
on the nose. Dark skin around the eyes which should be bright and alert.
Broad forehead, long cheek and Roman nose (not dished).
The roof of the mouth and top of the tongue should also be dark.
Horns fine, wide and inclined to turn up with black tips. (Dehorning is allowed)
|Top Line, Tail and Belly
Strong level back with white streak. White tail well set on, preferably free
from coloured spots of hair. White belly.
|Legs, Feet and Gait
Strong reasonably straight legs, fine boned with neat tidy fee. Black in
colour with no white on the lower part of the shank (the bone from the knee
or hock to the heel) or running up from the heel or hoof. Gait free and straight.
White, full and well attached with properly spaced teats, preferably black.
Skin supple to the touch.
|General Conformation, Character & Style
A dual purpose animal, well fleshed, strong and alert but docile.
Bulls are darker and larger than cows with a long body, black brown in
colour. Good spring of rib and well fleshed over the rump and hindquarters.
|Head, Neck and Horns
Head masculine with broad forehead, and shorter in proportion than in the
cow. Head held proud, black in colour, with dark muzzle and dark skin on
the nose and around the eyes. Strong with prominent crest. Horns thicker,
shorter and straighter with black tips. (Dehorning is allowed).
|Top Line, Tail and Belly
Strong level back with white streak, strong in the loin. White tail well set on
and free of coloured spots of hair. White belly.
|Legs, Fee and Gait
Strong reasonably straight legs, with good sound feet. Black in colour with no
White on the lower part of the shank (bone from the knee of hock to the heel)
or running up from the heel or hoof. Gait free and straight.
Scrotum white, testicles even sized and firm.