It might surprise you to know that it was in a small monastery in Switzerland that the first ever herd book was actualized. In 1775, the local brownish-coloured mountain cattle (eventually to become known as the Braunvieh) were being bred with particular attention to temperament, structure, and meat value - a habit not practiced by many prior. They became renowned for their quality structure and large stature, and a herd book was kept in order to recall each individual animal’s pedigree. This same practice was being used by Englishman Robert Bakewell, who wanted to improve his sheep, horses and cattle in 1760. Unfortunately, unlike the Einsiedeln Monastery, his records have not survived, and so the title of first herd books remains in the Swiss mountains.
As is the case with most breeds, Bakewell perfected his ideals with inbreeding and careful consideration of pedigree, eventually creating animals that he ensured were not only of sound body and mind, but (and this was rare for the time) were given a good quality of life as well. His herds began to achieve acclaim for their efficient meat production as well as for their pleasantly docile nature.
We’ve come a long way since then, and thanks to both Switzerland and Bakewell, herd books have become a staple for cattle and almost every other form of livestock. In parts of Africa, the herd book is an oral tradition rather than a written one, and scientists are even using DNA to create a database of all animal species on the planet – now that’d be some book!
Picture from the Canadian Angus Herd Book, Vol. 1
Here at Angus Central we have complete sets of Canadian and American Aberdeen Angus herd books. These texts go all the way back to 1908 and 1886 respectively, each containing the pedigrees and breeders that first established themselves in their respective countries. We have two complete sets of the American editions and an equal number of our own, but are endeavoring for two more complete sets of the Canadian editions. We are currently missing two copies of the first volume.
The first page of entries in Volume 1, second edition of the Aberdeen Angus Cattle Society herd book (at the time called ‘The Polled Herd book, containing the Pedigrees of Polled Aberdeen or Angus Cattle’)
We are also fortunate enough to possess a near complete set of the Aberdeen Angus Cattle Society herd books, dating back to 1862 (with our volume one, second edition dating to 1884). However, we are unfortunately missing volumes 6, 25, 27, 103, 113 and 114. In addition to filling out our original set, we are keen to create a second one just as we have done with our southern neighbors.
To do all of this, we need your help. If you have in your possession a copy of the first volume of the Canadian Aberdeen Angus Herd Book or any copies of the Aberdeen Angus Cattle Society that you would like to donate, please contact Canadian Angus Foundation Archival Intern Kiani Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re interested in reading more about the history of herd books, cattle, and the genetics behind it all, check out this link (http://www.mdpi.com/1424-2818/6/4/705/html) to read ‘On the History of Cattle Genetic Resources,’ published in the journal Diversity in 2014.
Written by Kiani Evans