History of White Park Cattle

(Adapted from an article by G.L.H. Alderson)


It is a standard procedure when writing the history of a breed to claim that the origins of the breed are lost in the mists of time. In reality very few breeds have a history of more than 200 – 300 years, but the White Park can claim with confidence to be a truly ancient breed. In historical texts it was sometimes referred to as ‘White Forest’, as it mostly frequented more remote wooded areas of Britain.

Druids and Celts

The earliest references to cattle of White Park type are found in the pre-Christian Irish epics, such as ‘Tain Bo Cualgnel (The Cattle Raid of Cooley), where white cattle with coloured points were often mentioned as a special and choice breed. With the arrival of the Romans, the Druids were pushed to the northern and western fringes of Britain and into Ireland. It is in these areas that the old herds (pre-sixteenth century) of White Park cattle were found, although none remain in Ireland.

White Park Cattle in Wales

Other early references to White Park cattle occur in Wales. The Laws of Hywel Dda measure fines and payments in numbers of white cattle with coloured points, similar to the earlier Irish customs. In the Dimetian Code of Laws it is recorded that fines were paid to the Lords of Dynevor in these cattle. Dynevor Castle was the military and political centre of Wales for five centuries, and the Princes of South Wales ruled from Dynevor Castle from about 800 AD. In 1210 AD the wife of William de Breos (Brecon) tried unsuccessfully to appease King John with a gift of a bull and four hundred cows of White Park colour.

Emparked Herds

Several herds were emparked in various parks in Britain in the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and the historical associations of some of these ancient herds are perpetuated in the current Herd Book. The Dynevor and Cadzow herds are ancient herds that continue today. The Chillingham herd continues, but it is a feral unit and is not included in the modern breed. The Chartley and Drumlanrig herds are both of ancient origin, but were dispersed in 1905 and 1780 respectively before being re-established in recent years.

White Park Cattle in Recent Times

The breed reached its most endangered position following the Second World War. During the War the White Park was considered by the Government to be sufficiently important as a part of the British heritage for a small unit to be shipped to the U.S.A. for safe keeping. During the 1960’s only four domesticated and recorded herds remained, namely the Dynevor, Cadzow, Woburn and Whipsnade herds.

The current series of Herd Books were collated from 1972 onwards, and full records on all animals have been maintained since that time. However, detailed records had been maintained in some herds for a much longer period. The breed is officially recognised in the EU, and animals have been exported to North America, Australia, Denmark, Germany and France.