Chillingham beef

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Chillingham herd

The Chillingham beef is a rare feral breed of cattle of which only two herds remain. The larger of the two herds lives wild at Chillingham Castle in Northumberland in England , Great Britain .

This herd numbered 62 animals in 2006 and lives in a large forest area that has existed in this form since the Middle Ages . Since then there has been allegedly no more fresh blood from outside; Total genetic isolation of the herd has been documented since around 1700. It is noteworthy that the herd survived at all due to extreme inbreeding. Their survival can most likely be explained by purging .

The breed is listed as Endangered by the UK Rare Breeds Survival Trust .

Description of the Northumberland habitat

Chillingham bull

The most characteristic feature of the historic habitat at Chillingham is the large number of ancient oaks , which give a glimpse of what all of Britain must have looked like in the Middle Ages . A great variety of vascular plants and insects find a habitat here that has remained originally due to extensive grazing.

In the 1760s, Charles Bennet, 5th Earl of Tankerville, added large numbers of beeches and oaks as part of a major landscaping project. More tree species were introduced in the mid-19th century, including a giant sequoia and one of the first Sitka spruces in the UK. The lower areas are covered with a thicket of alder that has hardly changed since the Middle Ages.

The nature reserve is also home to many other species such as the Eurasian squirrel , red fox and badger , but also roe deer and fallow deer . The two species of deer are often observed, while the foxes and badgers are naturally shy. There are around 55 species of birds in the area, including buzzard , green woodpecker and nuthatch . In the latter, the area represents the northernmost occurrence of the species in the United Kingdom.

In 2006, access to the Northumberland Habitat was provided by a hiking trail of around 1.5 kilometers with an altitude difference of around 200 meters. A ranger leads small groups on foot to the Chillingham herd of cattle. On some days they are very easy to find in one of the easily accessible meadows, while on other days they are almost impossible to find because they are hiding in the thicket within this vast area.

History of the Chillingham Cattle

Skulls of Chillingham cattle

According to the "Chillingham Wild Cattle Association", Chillingham cattle are said to have something in common with the aurochs ( Bos primigenius ), the extinct progeny of most of today's domestic cattle breeds . This is said to be based on the structure of the skull and the position of the horns relative to the skull. The Society also claims that the Chillinghams are direct descendants of the ancient cattle that inhabited the British Isles as far back as the Stone Age. According to Tankerville, these traits differ markedly from those of the cattle breeds brought to England by the Romans .

The Chillingham herd is believed to have lived in this area for at least seven centuries. Prior to the 13th century, this breed was found in a vast area of ​​wooded land stretching from the North Sea to the Clyde Estuary , according to the Countess of Tankerville. There is evidence that once during the 13th century the King of England allowed Chillingham Castle to be "crenellated" and a dry stone wall to be built to contain the flock. This made it easier to encircle and kill the animals in order to get to the meat. In the Middle Ages , increasing food resources was considered important enough to build such an expensive facility. The wall also protected the herd from poachers and cattle thieves. In the late Middle Ages , Scottish looters were added as an additional reason for the fortification .

White Park cattle and Chillingham cattle are believed to have common ancestors dating from the time of the Roman occupation or earlier, according to the Chillingham Wild Cattle Society. Both breeds have a constant white coat color. The Chillingham herd has changed phenotypically since 1250 AD, including a. the size of the skull has decreased compared to older skulls. This could be due to inbreeding.

Genetic data

Advances in blood typology and mitochondrial DNA analysis in the late 20th century made it possible to study the blood counts and genetic information of Chillingham cattle in detail. Dr. JG Hall of the Edinburgh Animal Breeding Research Organization analyzed the DNA of Chillingham blood samples and found that Chillingham DNA was different from that of all other cattle breeds tested. This huge difference makes it even more difficult to pinpoint the origin of the Chillinghams. In addition, the allele analysis showed that the allele frequencies of the Chillingham herd members are amazingly similar. The blood groups are also unique within the Western European cattle breeds.

Social behavior

The strongest bulls become Alpha Taurus by intimidating other bulls or defeating them in a comment fight. So they rule within the Chillingham herd. Typically, an alpha bull rules for two to three years. Then he is replaced by a younger, stronger bull. As with other mammalian species, only the alpha bull mates with the cows, adding to the inbreeding intensity and perhaps leading to this remarkable herd DNA homogeneity. In any event, inbreeding is ultimately minimized by the alpha bulls' natural cycle. So the Alpha Taurus never covers his own daughters. With Chillingham cattle, the cows are only sexually mature from the age of three; at this time the father was already replaced by another bull.

Younger story

In 1939 the Chillingham Wild Cattle Society was established to study and protect this particular breed. However, the number of animals declined and reached its low point in the winter of 1947 when only 13 animals remained. With the death of Count Tankerville in 1971, the herd was bequeathed to society. However, when the land was sold in 1980, the only way to save the herd was through the intervention of the Duke of Northumberland, who leased the land to the company for 999 years. In 2006 there were 80 animals again, including a small reserve herd of 20 animals on the grounds of the Crown Estate in Scotland. There could have been a center of this breed in prehistoric times, as it has an extraordinary tolerance to cold.

See also


  1. Peter M. Visscher et al .: Viable Herd of Genetically Uniform Cattle . In: Nature . Volume 409, issue 6818, 2001, p. 303, ISSN  0028-0836 , doi: 10.1038 / 35053160 .
  2. RBST Annual Watchlist. ( Memento of September 7, 2012 in the web archive ) Rare Breeds Survival Trust, watch list.
  3. ^ Georgina L. Tankerville: The Wild White Cattle of Chillingham. The Chillingham Wild Cattle Association, Chillingham, Alnwick 1994.


  • Leslie Bilton: History of the Chillingham herd of wild white cattle . Dissertation . University of Manchester, 1952.
  • Race, Breed, and Myths of Origin-Chillingham Cattle as Ancient Britons. In: Harriet Ritvo: Noble Cows and Hybrid Zebras . University of Virginia Press, 2010, ISBN 978-0-8139-3060-2 .

Web links

Commons : Chillingham Beef  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files