Cattle Farming: Rare and Striped Cattle
In Britain there are three rare breeds of cattle distinguished by a pattern known as ‘finching’ or `eelstriping’: the Longhorn, previously a popular breed, and the Gloucester and Irish Moyled, both minority breeds restricted to a limited locality.
One of the most distinctive colour patterns found in cattle is the eelstripe. This ancient pattern was found in the aurochs, the wild cattle from which today’s domesticated breeds have descended.
The eelstripe, otherwise known as finching, is distinguished as a white or pale coloration that runs as a stripe down the middle of the back, over the hindquarters, and on the underparts and tail. The extent of the pattern varies considerably: in some animals the stripe starts at the withers, but in others it may not extend further forward than the mid-back. The colour contrast also varies : in some breeds the pattern is pure white on on a dark background, while in others, including the aurochs, it is simply a light brown pattern on a darker base.
In the past, colour has been important in the formation and recognition of different breeds. Attractive colours and patterns were more likely to be selected, and the eelstripe pattern consequently was widespread. It is still found in widely separated localities, although only in limited numbers. The colour pattern is so strong that it has persisted for several generations, even when modern breeders have discriminated against it.
This was originally a triple-purpose breed. Because of its size and strength it was mainly a draught animal until only relatively recently, when horses superseded cattle as the main source of power on farms.
It also produced meat, and rich milk that was valuable in the manufacture of butter. The Longhorn was first developed in the Craven district of Yorkshire. From there it spread to Cumbria and Lancashire, and then to the Midlands, where it was transformed by the famous breeder, Robert Bakewell, into a specialist beef breed. For the past 150 years its main purpose has been the production of meat.
The body colour varies from light roan to a dark plum-brindle that is preferred by today’s breeders. The nose and ears are dark, and a broad white stripe — the finching — runs the full length of the back and may extend to the top of the neck. The tail, rear parts, hind legs below the hock, the underparts and inside forelegs are white, and some animals have a white patch on each thigh.
In contrast to the Longhorn the Gloucester is found only in the region where it was developed. It owes its survival today to the enthusiastic support stimulated by local sentiment. It makes no claims to commercial qualities and breeders regard it more as a part of their local heritage. In the mid-1960s only two herds remained, and it was from the remnants of these herds that the breed was re-formed. Few herds now exist, although breeders keep one or two animals for conservation.
The breed, originally derived from the Glamorgan, was adopted in Gloucestershire by the Duke of Beaufort. It was claimed that the animals were docile enough not to be disturbed by the hounds of the Beaufort Hunt. The milk was used for Double Gloucester cheese, and a herd has once again been established to recommence the production of this cheese.
The breed standards of the Gloucester favour a dark mahogany colour, but this can vary from black to mid-brown. The finching starts at the withers or mid-back, and the demarcation between the white and the body colour is more clearly defined in the Gloucester than in the Longhorn, with no suggestion of roan. The white continues down the tail and rump area and along the underparts. Some animals have a white ‘garter’ above the hocks on their hind legs.
The Irish Moyled
This is now the rarest of British cattle breeds. It has never spread far beyond Ulster. Cattle from the two remaining herds have been used to form new herds in the last few years, both for genetic conservation and to preserve the local heritage. Like the Gloucester, it has little ability to compete effectively in the contemporary commercial cattle industry.
The Irish Moyled is a polled breed (`maoile’ is the Gaelic word for hornless), but its colour pattern is almost identical to that of the Longhorn. The body colour is red or red-roan. The head is light coloured, with a dark muzzle and ears. The white pattern extends from the top of the neck or the withers along the ridge of the back, down the inside thighs and tail, and along the underparts.
The eelstripe or finching colour is linked in some way to the white colour with the dark points pattern found in the wild white cattle. In some cases crossing a wild white with a whole-coloured animal produces progeny with the finching pattern.