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Aberdeen Angus Beef Cattle

They are naturally polled (do not have horns) and solid black or red, although the udder may be white. There have always been both Red and Black individuals in the population, and in the USA they are regarded as two separate breeds - Red Angus and Black Angus.

Aberdeen Angus cattle are naturally polled and can be black or red in colour although black is the dominant colour, white may occasionally appear on the udder.  They are resistant to harsh weather, undemanding, adaptable, good natured, mature extremely early and have a high carcass yield with nicely marbled meat. Angus are renowned as a carcass breed. They are used widely in crossbreeding to improve carcass quality and milking ability. Angus females calve easily and have good calf rearing ability. They are also used as a genetic dehorner as the polled gene is passed on as a dominant characteristic.

In the North Eastern part of Scotland lie the 4 counties of Aberdeen, Banff, Kincardine, and Angus. These counties touch the North Sea and all extend inland and have some high or mountainous country. They have been favoured through the ages with a temperate climate and good crops, although the topography of the country is rough. Pastures do well in the area because of well-distributed rainfall. Plenty of grass, plus a nearly ideal temperature for cattle production, has made the area very suitable for some of the greatest improvement that has been made in our purebred breeds of cattle. The county of Angus was early noted for its production of potatoes, grain crops, and feed. This shire contains a fine expanse of highly cultivated land known as Strathmore, which is one of the very fine valleys in that part of Scotland and which has become famous in the history of the Aberdeen-Angus breed. The county of Aberdeen is the most productive agricultural region in Scotland and depends largely upon crops and livestock for income. The fishing industry, however, is stressed along the coastline. The tiny counties of Banff and Kincardine have long been known as livestock centres.

Northern Scotland, although in a more northern latitude than the United States, has a more uniform temperature throughout the year. The Gulf Steam tempers the climate in the winter, and the summers remain cooler than weather commonly experienced in the United States.

Aberdeen Angus Archive Film

Foundation of the Breed

Although little is known about the early origin of the cattle that later became known as the Aberdeen-Angus breed, it is thought that the improvement of the original stock found in the area began in the last half of the 18th century. The cattle found in northern Scotland were not of uniform colour, and many of the cattle of the early days had varied color markings or broken colour patterns. Many of the cattle were polled, but some few had horns. The characteristics we commonly call polled was often referred to in the old Scottish writings by the terms of "humble," "doddies," "humlies," or "homyl."

Two strains were used in the formation of what later became known s the Aberdeen-Angus breed of cattle. In the county of Angus, cattle had existed for some time that were known as Angus doddies. MacDonald and Sinclair quote the Rev. James Playfair as having written in 1797,

"There are 1129 horned cattle of all ages and sexes in the parish. I have no other name to them; but many of them are dodded, wanting horns." This seems to be the first authentic reference to polled cattle in the county of Angus, apart from ancient sculptures. In the area of Aberdeenshire, other polled cattle were found and were called Buchan "humlies,"

Buchan being the principal agricultural district in Aberdeenshire. These cattle were apparently early valued as work oxen, as were most of the other strains of cattle that later acquired various breed names. MacDonald and Sinclair believed that polled cattle were found in Aberdeen in the 16th century, and stated: 

The presence of polled cattle in Aberdeenshire 400 years ago is proved beyond the shadow of a doubt, and it may generally be taken for granted that they were co-existent in various parts of north eastern Scotland, their purity being contingent on the degree of care exercised in breeding.

Improvement in Scottish Agriculture. Apparently little attention was given to the breeding of cattle before the middle of the 18th century, but in the last half of that century, great progress was made in Scottish agriculture. It is not strange that, as farming practices were improved, men likewise sought to improve the livestock on their farms. It was only natural that breeders, in improving their cattle, would but cattle of similar kinds from adjacent areas, and as a result, the cattle of the Angus doddie strain and the Buchan humlie strain were crossed. Crossing and re-crossing these strains of cattle eventually led to a distinct breed that was not far different from either type, since the two strains were originally of rather similar type and colour pattern.

The Early Herds. By the beginning of the 19th century, the polled cattle of the Buchan district had attained considerable favour as market cattle for the production of carcass beef. Among the polled herds of Aberdeenshire that were famous for such production in the early 1800s were those of Messrs. Williamson of St. John’s Wells and Robert Walker of Wester Fintray. The Williamson herd later supplied the herd of Tillyfour and, through it, the Ballindalloch Herd with some of their humlies. In Angus, the herds of William Fullerton, Lord Panmure, Lord Southesk, and Alexander Bowie contributed many of the Angus doddies that later became prominent in the breed. Robert Walker of Portlethen seems to have been the principal cattle breeder in Kincardineshire.

The Aberdeen-Angus breed is recognised throughout the world and is the only beef breed to have true “brand” characteristics. Angus cattle (Aberdeen Angus) are a breed of cattle much used in beef production. They were developed from cattle native to the counties of Aberdeenshire and Angus in Scotland, and are known as Aberdeen Angus in most parts of the world.

William McCombie of Tillyfour (6ft-2in seen here in prime and old age) was a celebrated breeder of the Aberdeen Angus.

The statue of the Aberdeen Angus bull just outside Alford is a place of pilgrimage for cattle breeders the world over and commemorates the work he and others did in developing the breed. This William was also Liberal MP for West Aberdeenshire, the first tenant farmer to sit in the House of Commons. 

William McCombie number two farmed at Cairnballoch, Alford and subsequently became best known as owner and first editor of the Aberdeen Free Press, one of the forerunners of the Press & Journal.


The History and Development of the World´s Finest Beef Breed
The Aberdeen-Angus breed was developed in the early part of the 19th century from the polled and predominantly black cattle of North East Scotland known locally as “ Angus Doddies” and “Hummlies”.

The earliest families trace back to the middle of the 18th century but it was much later that the Herd Book (1862) and the Society (1879) were founded. The breed’s establishment was entirely due to the efforts of three very progressive lairds and farmers of that time.

Hugh Watson became tenant of Keillor Farm in Angus in 1808. He gathered stock widely and produced cattle of outstanding quality and character. Hugh Watson can be considered the founder of the breed; he was instrumental in selecting the best black, polled animals for his herd. His favourite bull was Old Jock, who was born 1842 and sired by Grey-Breasted Jock. Old Jock was given the number "1" in the Scottish Herd Book when it was founded. Another of Watson's notable animals was a cow, Old Granny, which was born in 1824 and said to have lived to 35 years of age and to have produced 29 calves. The pedigrees of the vast majority of Angus cattle alive today can be traced back to these 2 animals.

McCombie’s Aberdeen Angus Herd

William McCombie took the farm of Tillyfour in Aberdeenshire in 1824 and founded a herd from predominantly Keillor bloodlines. His well documented close breeding produced outstanding cattle that he showed widely in England and France. The reputation of the Aberdeen-Angus breed was founded on the efforts of the McCombie family During his lifetime William McCombie was best known as a major breeder of black polled cattle, the Aberdeen Angus. His herd was established around 1845 and won major prizes at the Highland Society and the Royal Northern show. As late as 1887Black Beauty of Easter Skene’, a heifer, won 1st prize in its class and Champion Scot at both Smithfield and Birmingham. Indeed his cousin at Tillyfour pointed out that, for its size, the herd had produced more prize winners than any other in the north.

McCombie is regarded as the preserver and great improver of the Aberdeen-Angus breed. Fullerton and others had started the blending of the two types of cattle, which later became known as the Aberdeen-Angus, but this success was enlarged at Tillyfour. The master of Tillyfour was born in 1805 and died in the spring of 1880. Like his father before him, he had been a successful dealer in cattle before he began his operations in 1829 as a tenant farmer. Mr. McCombie is distinguished in the history of the Aberdeen-Angus breed because of his great foresight in planning matings, his careful management, his unparalleled success in the show ring, and in publicizing his famous cattle. Probably his crowning success in the show ring was at the great International Exposition held at Paris in 1878. There he won the first prize of $500 as an exhibitor of cattle from a foreign country and also the grand prize of $500 for the best group of beef-producing animals bred by any exhibitor.

Not only did Mr. McCombie show in breeding classes but he also exhibited in steer classes at the market shows. Probably the most famous steer that her produced was the famous show animal Black Prince, who won at the Birmingham and Smithfield Shows in 1867 when he was 4 years of age. From the latter show, he was taken to Windsor Castle for the personal inspection of Queen Victoria, and later her Majesty accepted some Christmas beef from the carcass of the steer.

The English Crown has long been interested in livestock improvement, and Queen Victoria paid a personal visit to Tillyfour a year or 2 after the visit of the famous Black Prince to the castle. Such a tribute to an outstanding breeder naturally attracted great attention to the already famous herd. McCombie had the further distinction of being the first tenant farmer in Scotland to be elected to the House of Commons.

    According to the historian Sanders:

Aberdeen-Angus history may fairly be divided into 2 periods; the 1st, before William McCombie’s time; the 2nd, since. That is as good as any other way of saying that the Master of Tillyfour recognized cattle king of his day and generation in Aberdeen - Angusshire and of all Scotland stands a very colossus upon any canvas which accurately portrays the original arrival of black cattle as a factor of world importance in the field of prime beef production.   

William McCombie always had utility in mind in producing his cattle, and his ideal beast seems to have been one with size, symmetry, and balance, yet with strength of constitution and disposition to accumulate flesh.

Important Developments at Tillyfour. Although his original stock was gathered from many sources and his purchases were many, Mr. McCombie’s outstanding acquisition was probably the good yearling heifer Queen Mother at the Ardestie Sale.

Mr. McCombie purchased the bull Hanton, calved in 1853, from the breeder Alexander Bowie. This bull was a grandson of Old Jock and was said to have weighed a ton at maturity. Despite the fact that he had scurs, he was a great show bull and was exhibited widely by Mr. McCombie. The bull’s success, however, was more pronounced in the breeding pen, and he probably made his greatest contribution to the breed through his double grandson, Black Prince of Tillyfour, calved in 1860. Few, if any, cattle of the breed are living today that do not trace at least a dozen times to Black Prince of Tillyfour. It is difficult to say how much contribution Mr. McCombie made to the Aberdeen-Angus breed through his successes in the show ring, but he outstripped all of his competition in England, Scotland, and France. Consequently, the name of Aberdeen-Angus became known on an international basis. It was on the farm of William McCombie that the Aberdeen-Angus breed really took shape, because prior to his time, people spoke of the cattle as Aberdeen or Angus. In his herd was found the justification for leaving out the "and" and replacing it with the hyphen that has become familiar. At Tillyfour, the master breeder moulded the 2 original strains into one improved breed superior to either of its components. There is no question but that the "preserver" of the Angus breed left the breed far better than he found it.

There are additional genes that affect horn-like growth, scurs, on an animal's head. Scurs are incompletely developed horns which are generally loose and movable beneath the skin, not attached to the skull. They range in size from small scab-like growths to occasionally almost as large as horns. Because the gene for scurs is transmitted separately it has no effect on the presence or absence of horns. Not all horned cattle carry the gene for scurs and not all polled cattle lack scur gene.

At his death the herd was sold off, some of it to the north of England, but most of it staying in the north, including the top sale ‘Adonis of Easterskene’ which sold for 35 guineas.

When William McCombie died in 1890 aged 88, his funeral was attended by many dignitaries, including the Earl of Caithness and ex-Lord Provost William Henderson, 20 carriages conveying the party from Aberdeen. The shops in the village were closed and blinds were drawn as the cortege passed, the church bell ringing out every half minute. The Aberdeen Journal reports the coffin being carried down the tree-lined avenue by relays of the tenantry to “the quiet little God’s acre just outside the policies”.

Other Early Contributors. Lord Panmure established a herd of polled cattle in 1835, and not only operated a private herd but also encouraged his tenants to breed good doddies. William Fullerton, who was born in 1810, began to breed cattle in 1833. His most important early purchase was that of another Aberdeen cow named Black Meg. Black Meg is sometimes referred to as the founder of the breed, since more cattle trace to her than to any other female used in the origin of the breed.  She is the only cow to surpass Old Granny in this respect. Robert Walker of Porlethen founded his herd in 1818 and continued to breed cattle successfully until his death in 1874.

Sir George MacPherson-Grant returned to his inherited estate at Ballindalloch, on the River Spey, from Oxford in 1861 and took up the refining of the breed that was to be his life’s work for almost 50 years.  By line breeding and selection for type, these early pioneers established the foundation for what is arguably the greatest beef breed in the world.  On May 17, 1873, George Grant brought 4 Angus bulls to Victoria, Kansas. He took the bulls to the fair in Kansas City where they were the topic of much conversation at a time when Shorthorns and Longhorns were the norm. The black hornless animals were often called "freaks" by those who saw them. The bulls were used only in crossbreeding and have no registered progeny today. However, their offspring left a favourable impression on the cattlemen of the time and soon more Angus cattle were imported from Scotland to form purebred herds.

The Ballindalloch Herd. Another very famous Aberdeen-Angus herd in Scotland was that of Ballindalloch, but the origin of this herd is lost in the mists of antiquity. It was probably first founded by Sir John MacPherson Grant, but it was not until the time the farm came into the hands of Sir George, a son, that systematic breeding was started. Sir George drew heavily on Tillyfour cattle in establishing his herd.

It was very fortunate for the breed that the Ballindalloch herd was kept in the family for over 3 generations. The main herd was dispersed on August 8, 1934, but it had already left a great imprint on the Aberdeen-Angus world. Not only was the Ballindalloch herd the outstanding herd in Scotland but it mush also be given credit for having furnished a great deal of very valuable foundation stock to the herds of the United States and other foreign countries.

In those early days Britain was regarded as the fount of Aberdeen-Angus genetics and leading world breeders came here to source stock. The export market has continued to favour the Aberdeen-Angus breed and now breeders look worldwide to source the very best genetics.

Exporting Aberdeen Angus Bulls

The First Angus In America. When Sir George MacPherson-Grant transported four Angus bulls from Scotland to the middle of the Kansas prairie in 1873, they were part of the Scotsman's dream to found a colony of wealthy, stock-raising Britishers. Grant died five years later, and many of the settlers at his Victoria, Kansas colony later returned to their homeland. However, these four Angus bulls, probably from the herd of George Brown of Westertown, Fochabers, Scotland, made a lasting impression on the U.S. cattle industry.

When two of the George Grant bulls were exhibited in the fall of 1873 at the Kansas City (Missouri) Livestock Exposition, some considered them "freaks" because of their polled (naturally hornless) heads and solid black colour (Shorthorns were then the dominant breed.) Grant, a forward thinker, crossed the bulls with native Texas longhorn cows, producing a large number of hornless black calves that survived well on the winter range. The Angus crosses wintered better and weighed more the next spring, the first demonstration of the breed's value in their new homeland.

Early Importers and Breeders. The first great herds of Angus beef cattle in America were built up by purchasing stock directly from Scotland. Twelve hundred cattle alone were imported, mostly to the Midwest, in a period of explosive growth between 1878 and 1883 . Over the next quarter of a century these early owners, in turn, helped start other herds by breeding, showing, and selling their registered stock.

Red Angus

Red Angus have all of the characteristics of Black. The cows are hardy, and grow quickly. They produce Marbled Meat like that of the Black Angus, and their meat is also highly desired in butchers, supermarkets, restaurants, and in the home

Red Angus is a red coloured breed of Beef Cattle selected from the population of Aberdeen Angus cattle.  Although the black was more fashionable the recessive red gene still produced some red animals.  From the founding of the Aberdeen Angus herd book in 1862 red and black animals have been registered without distinction, and this is the case in most of the world.  The American Aberdeen Angus Herdbook stopped registering red calves from 1917, leading to reds becoming very uncommon in the American population.  Since 1945 some cattlemen have selected out the few red calves, believing them to have advantages of heat tolerance and the ability to cross with other red breeds without introducing the dominant black colour.  In 1954 the Red Angus Association of America was founded, based in Sheridan, Wyoming.  Registration was conditional on meeting performance targets to create a superior breed.  This breed is now popular in countries like Australia, and is famous for its beef.

Aberdeen-Angus Cattle Society. The company began as the Polled Cattle Society in 1840, under which name it was incorporated in 1879.  The Aberdeen-Angus breed was first established in the early 19th century, principally by Hugh Watson, though his work was developed and mapped by William McCombie and Sir George Macpherson-Grant. In 1907 it changed its name to The Aberdeen-Angus Cattle Society, which it has operated under ever since.  The aim of the society is to safeguard the pedigree of the Aberdeen-Angus breed of cattle through use of registration of cattle and the updating of the herd book (first 19 conceived in 1862 - presumably the other herd books held above relate to herds other breeds or non-pedigree cattle).  The Society also seeks to promote the breed, and arranges sales and promotional events for pedigree cattle. There is close association between the society and the Royal family, going back to Queen Victoria’s fondness for Aberdeen-Angus beef.  She was the first patron of the society, and was succeeded by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.  The current patron of the Society is Prince Charles. At present Prince Charles runs his own herd in Caithness.  The Society currently has over 2600 members, and has registered over 13000 pedigree cattle.

William Murray applied for a building permit for a tallow market in Aberdeen in 1874, and this appears to have been the first such market in Aberdeen, which was a notable cattle town in Scotland.  The Murray family went on to develop the Aberdeen Hide and Tallow Company from their own business, which seems to be related to the later Aberdeen Hide, Skin and Tallow Market Company (either as the same company, or the parent or holding company of it).  In 1908 this company applied for a building warrant for the erection of a tallow market on the north side of Hutcheon Street, and also appears to have had offices in Dingwalls in the Highlands.  The Aberdeen Hide Market was still operational during the investigation into warble fly infection affecting cattle in 1935, and there are court cases involving this company by name in 1930 and 1961 in the National Archives of Scotland.  It appears to have been absorbed by Grampian Country Foods (probably in 1996, prompting the name change), and then liquidated when this company was in turn bought out by Vion Foods UK in 2008.


Aberdeen Angus cattle are naturally polled and can be black or red in colour although black is the dominant colour, white may occasionally appear on the udder.  They are resistant to harsh weather, undemanding, adaptable, good natured, mature extremely early and have a high carcass yield with nicely marbled meat. Angus are renowned as a carcass breed. They are used widely in crossbreeding to improve carcass quality and milking ability. Angus females calve easily and have good calf rearing ability. They are also used as a genetic dehorner as the polled gene is passed on as a dominant characteristic.


  • Calving ease and vigorous, live calves - the Angus cow consistently delivers a calf that hits the ground running, with little assistance required. The Angus mothering instinct is very strong, as is the calf’s instinct to get up and suck within the first few moments after birth.

  • Superb mothers with superior milking ability - The Angus cow is renowned for her maternal traits, calving ease and ability to milk producing a calf each year that more than exceeds half her body weight. An Angus mother puts her all into her calf, producing an abundance of milk right up to weaning.

  • Early maturity, fertility and stay-ability - The Angus cow does her job well, whether it’s her first or her fourteenth calf. Stayability (a cow’s continuing ability to bear calves) is more than just a word with Angus – it’s not unusual for 12- and 13-year-old Angus cows to be productive.

  • Naturally polled - No dehorning is required with Angus cattle as they carry a highly heritable, natural polled gene. Horns can cause bruising and tearing and good animal care is another reason to choose Angus.

  • No cancer eye or sunburned udders - The dark skin and udders of red and black Angus cattle mean that sunburned udders are rarely a problem. Similarly, cancer eye is not prevalent in Angus cattle.

  • Adaptable to all weather conditions - Angus thrive under all conditions with a minimum of maintenance.

  • Superior feed conversion - A recent study of crossbred cow types demonstrated that Angus-cross were among the most efficient, providing higher net returns on investment.

  • Natural marbling for tasty, tender beef - The market is calling for carcasses with more marbling in order to satisfy consumer demand. The heritability of marbling is moderately high. The correlation between marbling and tenderness is also moderately high so when cattle producers select for marbling, tenderness improves. Using Angus cattle with their superior marbling ability opens the door to improved beef tenderness and increased consumer acceptance of beef

  • Preferred carcass size and quality - Research demonstrates that Angus sires can be selected to produce progeny that have an increased ability to grade AAA without compromising feed efficiency or animal growth – and without increasing yield grade at the expense of carcass quality.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013