Although black has always been the most prominent colour of Welsh cattle other colour varieties have always existed throughout the ages. References to white cattle with red ears are found in early Irish literature as well in the Welsh laws of the 10th century Welsh king Hywel Dda.
Descriptions of Welsh cattle, bulls in particular, are found in the cywyddau of medieval Welsh poets. As well as the obligatory black bulls they also mention black bulls with white tails, the red bulls of Glamorgan and a tri-coloured bull from Llanbryn-mair. Radnorshire cattle coloured like ‘beer and milk’ are also mentioned; and Glamorgan cattle, both reds and reds with white faces. Indeed, records from North Pembrokeshire fairs of around 1600 mention 15 different colour varieties of the local cattle sold there.
Cattle colours varieties were often distinctively localised. Whilst black cattle were prominent in both Angelsey and Pembrokeshire, smoky coloured cattle were popular on the Lleyn peninsular. Grey-faced reds are often mentioned in Montgomeryshire and the borders and dun cattle seemed prevalent in the Banwy Valley. Grey cattle were a feature of the Llanfair Caereinion area; and it is a widely held Welsh belief that keeping a grey (blue) cow among the milking herd enriches the milk and keeps the fairies away!
Red Glamorgan cattle, often considered a separate breed, were often line-backed with white bellies. In Meirionethshire, possibly as a result of Robert Vaughan Esq of the Nannau estate introducing a Lakenvelder bull from Germany in the 19th century, a strain of Welsh belted cattle were developed. The literature also refers quite commonly to speckled, spotted and roan cattle.
With establishment of the Welsh Black Cattle Society in 1905 Welsh cattle were standardised as being characteristically black and other colour varieties were discouraged. The tendency increased with the introduction of the bull licensing laws of 1914 and 1933 and the colour varieties of Welsh cattle gradually dwindled throughout the 20th century. Nevertheless, some coloured stock remained on remote farmsteads throughout the century – in particular, unregistered white and belted bulls. Coloured genes recessive to black also remained within the Welsh herd in general. Dun cattle and the Glamorgan breed are probably lost to us today but six colour varieties remain:
white, belted, red, line-backed, grey/blue smoky-mouse.
These are the standard colours that the Society endeavours to conserve and promote as the Ancient Cattle of Wales. Why not join us?