The History Of Red Angus

Publisher: Red Angus Association of America

Seven innovative breeders chose to use Red Angus in 1954 to establish the industry’s first performance registry. Throughout its history, the Red Angus Association of America has maintained this objective focus and has earned a well-deserved reputation for leadership and innovation. Because it has made the right choices over time, ignoring the short-term pressure of industry fads, the Red Angus breed has attained a high level of popularity in the commercial beef industry.

The Origin of “Angus”
Little is known of the exact early origin of the cattle that would become the Aberdeen Angus breed. Although some historians feel that polled cattle existed in Scotland before recorded history, most authorities feel that the early ancestors for the breed resulted from the inter­ breeding of small, dun-colored hornless cattle introduced in the eighth-century by raiding Norseman with the indigenous horned cattle of Northeastern Scotland. Although the cattle tended to be black, in his book, Modern Breeds of Livestock, H.M. Briggs states, “the cattle found in Northern Scotland were not of uniform color, and many of the cattle of the early day had varied color markings or broken color patterns.
Many of the cattle were polled but some few had horns.”

Englishmen Robert Bakewell is rightly known as the “Father of Animal Breeding” for his work starting in 1760 breeding English Longhorn cattle as well as sheep and horses. By setting a definite ideal and then breeding the best to the best regardless of relationship, he proved desirable characteristics could be fixed and true breeding strains could be established. The implementation of these principles resulted in the formation of modern breeds, as we know them. In 1784, breeders of Shorthorn cattle became the first to implement Bakewell’s methods; while in Scotland, Hugh Watson in 1808 and William McCombie in 1829 are credited with the earliest use of Bakewell’s principles in the breeding of Aberdeen Angus.

Eric L.C. Pentecost, a noted English breeder of Red Angus cattle, hypothesized that one source of red color was introduced into Aberdeen Angus cattle in the eighteenth century when the larger English Longhorns, predominantly red in color, were crossed with the smaller native polled cattle in order to provide for animals sufficiently large to be used for draft purposes.

Shortly after the turn of the nineteenth century many Scottish breeders looked very favorably on the use of the improved Shorthorn breed as a method to upgrade native stock. This crossing was so widely practiced that unimproved Aberdeen Angus cattle of the region were threatened with extinction. Since the first Angus Herd book was not published until 1862, it can be presumed that the introduction of improved Shorthorn blood in the early part of the nineteenth century had a positive impact on what was to become the modern Aberdeen Angus breed.

Angus- Red or Black?
Hugh Watson of Keillor, Scotland is universally recognized as the father of the modern Aberdeen Angus breed. When he started his farming activities in 1808, he received six of the “best and blackest cows, as well as a bull” from his father’s herd. That same summer, he also visited the leading Scottish cattle markets acquiring ten heifers and a bull that showed the Angus characteristics he was striving to breed. According to Briggs, “the (purchased) females were of various colors, but the bull was black; Watson decided the color of his herd should be black and he started to select in that direction.” Although black became the most desired color for the breed, because red is a recessive gene, it would remain the gene pool.

Early Angus Herdbooks
The first Aberdeen Angus herdbook, published in 1862 in Scotland, entered both reds and blacks without distinction. The practice of registering red and black cattle in the same herdbook is still practiced today in Britain and every other major beef producing country in the world, except the United States.

Aberdeen Angus were introduced into America in the 1870s and soon attained high popularity. The first American herdbooks, published in 1886 and 1888 respectively, made no record as to the color of individual animals. In 1890, twenty-two reds were registered in the American Aberdeen Angus Herdbook of some 2,700 individuals entered that year. In 1917, the American Aberdeen Angus Association barred the registration of the reds and other colors altogether. This severe discrimination against the red color in an effort to assure a pure black strain brought a marked decline in the number of red calves born in American herds.

That the red cattle were an untapped genetic resource was summed up well by Leon J. Cole and Sara V. H. Jones of the University of Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station in their 1920 publication on “The Occurrence of Red Calves in Black Breeds of Cattle:”

“One more points should be emphasized, namely that the red individuals appearing in such stock (Aberdeen Angus)…are just as truly ‘purebred’ as their black relatives, and there is no reason why, in all respects save color, they should not be fully as valuable. The fact that they are discarded while the blacks are retained is simply due to the turn of fortune that black rather than red became established fashion for the Aberdeen Angus breed. Had red been the chosen color, there would never have been any trouble with the appearance of blacks as off-color individuals, since red-to-red breeds true.”

It Was Performance From The Beginning
In 1945, various cattlemen throughout the United States started selecting and breeding reds cropped from the best black Aberdeen Angus herds in America. In 1954, seven visionary breeders gathered to establish a unique breeder’s organization known as the Red Angus Association of America (RAAA). Rejecting the norms of the times, the RAAA was designed around the new scientific principles of performance testing. Founding member George Chiga explained, “The establishment of Red Angus (Association) was more than an accumulation of numbers. It was dreaming of a new approach.” In August of 1954, the Association’s first president, Waldo Forbes, Sr., summed-up the vision of the founding members:

“The policy of the (Red Angus) Association is to discourage the more artificial practices in purebred cattle production and to place its faith instead in objective tests, consisting for the most part of comparisons within herds of factors of known economic importance and known heritability… By making this an integral part of the registration system, Red Angus breeders feel that even faster progress can be made toward the ultimate goal of more efficient beef production.”

According to RAAA’s first executive secretary, Sally Forbes, “Waldo was above all interested in developing a breed performance program rather than building a new breed for its own sake and the charter members of the Association were…much of the same mind.” So, from the beginning, performance data was required for registration of all cattle. The ultimate goal was to initiate a system to objectively evaluate and select cattle based on traits of economic importance, and to build an Association that would adopt and embrace scientific innovation.

The Red Color of Red Angus Has Three Distinct Advantages:

  1. Red is the most populous color of cattle breeds’ worldwide. Red Angus provides a continuity and uniformity of color to any crossbreeding system.
  2. Red is more heat tolerant than black and the bronze pigmentation gives great resistance to cancer eye and sun burned The majority of the world’s cattle are in areas that need heat tolerance, so the red color is a definite advantage.
  3. Being crossed red always breeds true. Red Angus carries no diluter genes and thus avoids the grays that result when crossbreeding with blacks.

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