Undoubtedly one of the most famous Aberdeen-Angus breeders was the prodigious Hugh Watson of County Angus. Just as breeder William McCombie was responsible for putting the title Aberdeen into the name of the breed, Hugh Watson was responsible for Angus. Watson came from a long line of cattle breeders and had essential experience in breeding for ideal traits. In 1808 he became the tenant of Keillor Farm, and began selecting cattle of a very particular nature. Namely, they were black.
Unlike many breeders of the time, Watson was doing something that would continue on into our generation and has become an essential component of promoting Aberdeen-Angus cattle: he was branding, and not in the ‘hot-iron-rod’ sense. He chose to breed for a particular appearance in his cattle and aggressively showed them across the United Kingdom. The polled, jet black animals stood out in a time when multi-coloured beasts were the norm. The addition of him being an excellent breeder saw the animals’ popularity grow exponentially.
One of Watson’s most famous animals was a cow by the name of ‘Old Grannie,’ born in 1824, who obtained celebrity-like status after having a record 25 calves and living to the ripe old age of 36, only dying because she was struck by lightning during a storm. Initially she was kept as an experiment to see how long a healthy cow to produce offspring, but she quickly became a much-loved emblem ofthe breed and Keillor Farm. Many of her offspring were well-regarded specimens, with Strathmore 5 being purchased by Napoleon III and another sold to Windsor Castle. But the bull of most prominent note has to be Old Jock, calved in 1842, nicknamed “the invincible Jock” for his indomitable presence in the show ring. But that’s a story for another day.
To honour this pioneer of the breed, the Aberdeen-Angus Cattle Society commissioned a memorial to Hugh Watson at Glamis Castle, home of the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and her continuing herd of Aberdeen-Angus cattle. In July 2017, the finished work was unveiled during the World Angus Forum in the breed’s homeland of Scotland.
Post by Kiani Evans