Other common names: Gwartheg Duon Cymreig
The Welsh Black is Wales' native cattle breed and for centuries these jet black beasts have been a feature of the crags and hillsides of Wales. Indeed, it is considered a native breed and the lineage goes back to pre-Roman times (Roman writers described them and wrote of them as the 'Celtic Ox'). The Welsh Black Cattle Society was established in 1904, and is the keeper of all breed records. The breed's hardy nature coupled with its habit of browsing as well as grazing makes it ideal for rough pasture such as heathland and moorland, and for conservation grazing. In Welsh they are known as da duon (black kine).
Welsh Black Cattle are medium sized and very solidly built, giving then excellent beef quality. From Elizabethan times, the Welsh Black were known as Wales' Black Gold. Indeed, drovers would collect the cattle from upland farms and would herd them for weeks to sell in the English markets. They would then return with heavy purses (which made them prone to bandits). British banking began with drovers banks, the most prominent of these being the Bank of the Black Ox (which evolved into Lloyds Bank). The Welsh Black is a very hardy breed and can withstand extremes of temperature and terrain. Though confined to Wales up until the 1960s herds have now been sold as far afield as Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Germany with new herds established in Saudi Arabia, Jamaica and even Uganda.
There is a resurgence of interest in this breed, partly as they are very hardy and partly as they are one of the fastest growing of all the British cattle breeds.
Appearance / health:
As the name suggests, the cattle are naturally black. They generally have white horns with black tips, but these may be removed, and there are also naturally hornless (polled) strains. Red individuals occasionally occur (red and other colours were more common in the past) but they have essentially been bread out with the establishment of the Welsh Black Cattle Society. Coat length can vary from short in lowland strains to quite shaggy in true mountain varieties (which helps them combat the snow and winter conditions).
Welsh Black Cattle are a very hardy breed with good genetic diversity. Under normal conditions they require little maintenance. They are also noted for their hard, black, hooves, adapted for rocky hillsides.
Behavior / temperament:
Welsh Blacks are fairly stress-free cattle. But the bulls can be aggressive if they have not been trained or are used to people. In the main, Welsh Blacks are kept in small herds and their milking heritage means that they have been bred for docility. But they are large animals and, if used to humans can cause injury by crushing without intending to do so. Because the mountain Welsh Blacks are a smaller breed they are excellent for smallholdings. They also make excellent mothers and typically can be approached whilst calving if intervention is needed. They are known for their easy calving.
Housing / diet:
As a true hardy breed, Welsh Black Cattle do not need to be housed indoors and can be left outside all year long, regardless of the weather conditions.
The Welsh Black is notable in that it has a rumen capable of breaking down relatively coarse fibres. They are one of the few cattle breeds that will browse as well as graze. As such they can survive with little or no maintenance in a wide variety of conditions.
As with all cattle, providing a constant supply of fresh water is essential. An adult cow consumes an estimate of up to 20 gallons of water per day.
Like all ruminants they are susceptible to tansy toxicity and this plant should be removed from their environments. But they are not as susceptible as lowland breeds to kidney troubles due to over-consuming bracken. In their native upland homes they will roam widely and if keeping under lowland management you will need stout fencing (mainly as they use fences as scratching posts).
Written by Dyfed Lloyd Evans
docile welsh, good flavour profile, small dualpurpose breed, excellent quality meat, ideal sucker cow
sub zero temperatures, low input systems, excellent mothering abilities, healthy calves
Welsh Black, a General-purpose Breed
The Welsh Black is the classical Welsh cow breed. Indeed it's been a feature of the hills and mountains of Wales since before Roman times. They are a small dual-purpose breed that is very hardy and very low maintenance. They are unusual in cattle in being very sure-footed (cattle have forelegs shorter than hind legs so they find it very hard to run downhill — something good to know if ever you find yourself running away from an angry bull). But in the Welsh Black the limb lengths are more equal. They are a stocky animal with muscular fore and hind quarters.
I have reared this breed both on my own farm and at a neighbours' (who was a pedigree breeder). This is a breed with great stamina (which is why it could be driven hundreds of miles from Wales to English markets during Tudor and Stuart times). The Welsh Back has been the backbone of the Welsh economy for centuries but fell out of favour with the quest for larger carcass weights.
But it is making a resurgence as the meat is lean but with very good flavour profile. Welsh black cows are good mothers and very protective of their calves. They also produce sufficient milk that they can be milked (on a small scale) whilst suckling and they have been used this way on smallholdings for centuries.
Having been bred for milk as well as meat the cows tend to be quite docile and are easy to manage indoors, whether in a typical byre or small shed. They also harness train readily if you want to show them. They are good cattle to use for conservation management and our neighbours used to raise pedigree Welsh Blacks for just this purpose on the Island of Enlli (Bardsey). And to show just how docile Welsh Black can be, they could load two cows, a calf and a bull onto open boats for the sea voyage onto the island.
There are not many cattle breeds you could do that with.
The breed is surprisingly hardy, not just for cold, but also to heat and there are growing export markets to Canada, Australia, Africa and the Middle East.
If you are looking for hardy cattle for a low-maintenance system then the Welsh Black is the ideal breed. Being medium-sized and a traditional breed they are also a good choice for a smallholding and they have no problems with interactions with sheep and goats..
From DLlE Sep 20 2012 7:14AM