Over 100 years of pedigree breeding

The Club was formed in 1990 to promote and encourage the best of British Friesians within what was then the ‘Holstein Friesian Society’. The British Friesian, a long established breed, has thrived in the climatic and financial conditions prevalent in the UK. 2009 was the year that marked 100 years since the establishment of a Society to record the black and white cattle, imported from Holland and which became the foundation of the British Friesian breed.

Since then, our breeders have continued to supply British Friesian bulls to the AI industry, not only for use in the UK, but also exporting to many other countries. The breed’s reputation as the most fertile dairy breed in the world and its adaptability, resilience and longevity have doubtless contributed to this demand.

During the 1800s, black and white cattle were imported into the east coast ports of England and Scotland from the Low Countries, until live cattle importations were stopped in 1892 as a precaution against endemic Foot and Mouth disease on the continent. So few in number were they, that they were not included in the 1908 census. However, in 1909, a decision was made by a small group of enthusiastic breeders to form a Society for the registration of these cattle; the British Holstein Cattle Society.

The Livestock Journal of 1900 referred to both the ‘exceptionally good’ and ‘remarkable inferior’ Dutch cattle. Some were ‘handsome in form and good milkers’; others ‘so ugly and so poor in appearance that they almost shamed their owners’. The Dutch cow was also considered a ‘great eater’ and ‘needs more help’ than some English cattle that could easily be out-wintered.

It is interesting to note that, in an era of agricultural depression, Breed Societies had flourished as a valuable export trade developed for traditional British breeds of cattle. 1910 saw the first formal enrolment of fifty-six members into the Society and the first A.G.M. was held on the 24th February 1911. Shortly after, George Hobson joined the Society as Secretary and remained in the post for the next thirty-five years. It was resolved to commence a new Herd Book on inspection only (as an earlier volume had been called in and cancelled). Entry from then on, until 1921 when grading-up was introduced, was by pedigree only.

As a result of the boom in exports, the Netherlands Cattle Herd Book (N.R.S.) had been created in 1875. However, in 1879, the Friesland Cattle Herd Book (F.R.S.) had been formed for the registration of the more definitive Friesian type. The peoples of East and West Friesland had a long and exemplary record of dedication to cattle breeding. They were to have a defining influence on the first official Society importations in 1914, following annual forays across the Channel by Society members led by George Hobson as they sought to fix Type.

In 1914 the Society changed its name to Holstein-Friesian, and in 1918 to the British Friesian Cattle Society. It remained so for the next seventy years.

This importation included several near descendents of the renowned dairy bull Ceres 4497 FRS. These cattle were successful in establishing the Friesian as an eminent long-living dairy breed in this country. This role was continued in the 1922 importation from South Africa by Terling Marthus and Terling Collona, who were also near descendents of Ceres 4497. The 1936 importation from Holland introduced a more dual purpose type of animal; the Dutch having moved away from the Ceres line in the meantime. The 1950 importation has had a lesser influence on the breed today than the previous importations, although various Adema bulls were used successfully.

The Friesian enjoyed a dramatic expansion in the 1950s through to the 1980s until the North Americanisation of the national herd in the 1990s. This trend is now being questioned by commercial farmers in the harsh dairying climate that prevails today, with the need to exploit grazing potential to the full. Since the modern British Friesian is pre-eminently a grazing animal, bred from a background of proven longevity and with inherent natural fecundity and high fat and protein levels, it is hardly surprising that there is a resurgence in sales of semen, both domestically and abroad.

Although first and foremost a dairy breed, giving high lifetime yields from home-produced feed, by a happy coincidence, surplus male animals are highly regarded, as producers of high quality lean meat, whether crossed with a beef breed or not. Beef cross heifers have long been sought after as the ideal suckler dam replacement.

Although understanding the need to change the Society’s name to include the word ‘Holstein’, British Friesian enthusiasts are less than happy now that the word Friesian has been omitted from the Society’s name, upon amalgamation of the two Herd Books following the merger with the British Holstein Society. Percentages of either breed are included in the Ancestry on the percentages of either breed are included in the Ancestry on the pedigree certificates with a minimum of 87.5% British Friesian being the qualification for Breed Code 20.