Blue-coated cow captured on canvass

THIS cow was considered so handsome in England, her portrait was painted, and coveted by numbers … look at her, did you ever see such a lovely blue coat on a cow, you’ll not want to miss this one, who’ll start me off at 40 guineas?”

Although we don’t have an exact transcript on how Belfast-based livestock auctioneer William Rodgers went about selling a particularly handsome ‘blue’ cow on Friday, April 16, 1841, it is very likely that he said something along the lines of the opening paragraph. Although most of our cattle transactions at this time took place between buyers and sellers at various fairs the length and breadth of Ireland, the cattle that Mr Rodgers auctioned were of a different class altogether.

Quite simply, Mr William Rodgers of Belfast, who passed away on May 22, 1863, was among the first, if not the first livestock auctioneer to introduce ‘us’ to pedigreed cattle. When it comes to our Shorthorn history, his name stands supreme and given his stature in all of this, FarmWeek readers will be glad to know they haven’t heard the last of this William Rodgers on this page.

However this week it’s not so much about him but rather that lovely blue English cow the beauty of which an artist captured on canvas. These were the days before professional livestock photographers!

But some FarmWeek readers with a love for a good Shorthorn cow may be a little uneasy about placing a blue coated cow amongst the roans, reds and whites, “Sure what’s that all about?” they may well be thinking. Not a problem esteemed purchaser of ‘The Best of Breed and A Really Good Read’ … the Memories from the Farmyard team have come up with an explanation. But first, a little more about this special sale, the newspaper advertising notice of which has been reproduced alongside.

Given that the birthplace of the Shorthorn breed was in the north of England, the early specimens were sometimes referred to as Durhams, Teeswaters or Short-horns. In his 1841 sales notice our Mr Rodgers referred to the twelve cattle (six in-calf cows, five heifers and one bull) up for auction as ‘Short-horned Durhams’.

Brothers Charles and Robert Colling have frequently been described as the founders of the Shorthorn. The former, born in 1750, farmed at Ketton just north of Darlington in County Durham and the latter, born in 1749, farmed at Brampton just a mile or so away.

During their cattle-breeding careers the Colling brothers founded some great tribes of females including that of Lady Maynard; Princess; Cherry; Duchess; Daisy; Red Rose and Lady. This week we are going to mention the last one, because it was the most controversial. It was founded with ‘foreign’ blood!

Whereas the other tribes were based on ‘true-blood’ cattle from Durham and North Yorkshire the ‘Lady’ tribe was different in that it could be traced back to a cow from Scotland. She wasn’t a Shorthorn but rather a polled, red Galloway. Amongst the purists, this Scottish-import was an alien and by introducing her into his breeding programme, Charles Colling attracted a measure of criticism or, according to one of the early writers, his actions regarding this were ‘hotly assailed’! Despite all of this, when Charles Colling dispersed his herd in 1810 some of the highest prices were paid for animals belonging to the ‘Lady’ tribe.

Whereas the cattle breeders in the North of England may have been a little more reluctant to out-cross with other varieties, a growing number of commercial stock owners in Scotland extolled the progeny of white Shorthorn bulls on black Galloway cows. The off-spring of this cross took hardiness from its dam, with a dash of milk and flesh coming in from the side of their sire. Not only this, but these calves had lovely coats and it is not surprising that in the years that followed these ‘Blue Greys’ gained a great reputation.

Given this background, the MFTF team believe the beast which auctioneer William Rodgers sold in Belfast during 1841 may well have had a dash of Galloway blood about her.

Whilst the ‘roan, red and white’ cattle coming forward on that day may have been a grand lot, this ‘alloy’ cow with her lovely blue coat would have been the plum!

As she came under the hammer in Belfast on that day well over one hundred and seventy years ago we can imagine our esteemed livestock auctioneer Mr William Rodgers calling out… “This cow was considered so handsome in England that her portrait was painted and coveted by numbers … look at her, did you ever see such a lovely blue coat on a beast, you’ll not want to miss this one …who’ll start me off at 40 guineas?”

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