The WHITE PARK is the most ancient native breed of cattle and an integral part of the heritage of the British Isles


  -   White Park history; British Isles and abroad; published history
  -   White Park qualities; local adaptation, conservation grazing; quality beef
  -   Herd improvement; improving White Park cattle; CLL services

The origins of the White Park are rooted in British history more deeply than any other breed of cattle. The first known references to white cattle as a special type are found in Ireland, and occur in place names such as Inishbofin (island of the white cow) off the coast of Connemara. They are an integral part of Irish saga and legends dating back as far as the first millennium BC when Queen Maeb of Connacht invaded Ulster because of Finnbennach, the white horned bull owned by her husband.

They also played a significant role in Welsh history. Wales was the final refuge of the Druids retreating from Roman persecution, and they used white cattle for sacrifice. The cattle are recorded specifically in 856 AD when Rhodri Fawr established Dynevwr (also known as Dynevor and Dinefwr) as the seat of political power in the kingdom of Deheubarth, and this was the foundation of the Dynevor herd. Rhodri's grandson, Hywel Dda, formulated the famous codes of legislation in which the white cattle assume a special status as currency in the payment of fines.                      
                                                                                                                                Cattle at Dynevwr by Donald Grant © CLL

Herds were established in England and Scotland in the thirteenth century when the Charta Forestae (1225) allowed forests and hunting chases to be emparked. The Blair Atholl, Cadzow, Cumbernauld and Drumlanrig herds in Scotland, and the Barnard Castle, Chartley, Chillingham, Hoghton and Lyme Park herds in England were formed in this way. The Cadzow and Chartley herds continue to be registered in the herd book, and the Chillingham is a semi-feral herd.

Although White Park cattle can be kept in intensive systems, it is not their natural environment. They show to best advantage where their hardy thriftiness and preference for coarse herbage can be exploited in extensive low-input systems of management for commercial production, or in parkland surrounding stately homes where their distinctive appearance can be fully appreciated.

White Park cattle have been exported to several countries. Churchill considered them an important part of the British heritage and sent a group to Canada at the beginning of WW2 to protect them. They now are found in UK, Ireland, Canada, USA, Australia and Germany.

The full history of the breed, 'A Breed of Distinction', was written in 1997 (go to 'Books' page).

Qualities                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     .

The White Park has avoided the selection pressures which have had a detrimental effect on many breeds in the last 100-200 years, and thus has retained its essential and distinctive qualities, especially -

~ Local adaptation and grazing behaviour is eminently suited to conservation grazing in a wide range of habitats from heath to wetlands and woodland to parkland. White Park cattle often show a preference for coarser herbage. 

~ Thrifty efficiency in low-input extensive systems (go to 'White Park; Dynevor' page) enables high quality beef to be produced from upland pastures. Although intensively-fed animals can attain weights of circa 900 kg at 3 years of age, the usual target at that age is a carcase of 350 kg from non-intensive management. 

~ The superlative quality of its beef was recognised in perpetuity in the summer of 1617 when James 1, after a day of hunting, so enjoyed the beef from the resident herd at a banquet at Hoghton Tower in Lancashire that he dubbed it 'Sir Loin'. Its marbling and full flavour give it pride of place for discerning gourmets.

Herd Improvement                                                                                                                                                                     

My herd (Dynevor) of White Park cattle is the senior herd in the breed, and my experience in the development of breeding programmes is available to other breeders who are interested to investigate the merits of linebreeding, breeding objectives and trait evaluation. The quality of bulls is improved by an inspection procedure at 2 years of age which includes visual inspection by a senior inspector, linear assessment to predict the mature type of each bull, and an evaluation of pedigree. Their parentage is verified by DNA testing. Only the best sires and dams should be identified as potential parents of bulls.

           Below right: Distinctive dominant White Park colour markings © CLL

           Below: A White Park herd at a stately home © CLL