The story of the Angus breed in America is a fascinating journey that began with George Grant’s ambitious endeavor in 1873. Transporting four Angus bulls from Scotland to the vast Kansas Prairie, Grant aimed to establish a colony of wealthy British stock-raisers. Although his dream of a prosperous settlement faded, the impact of these four Angus bulls on the U.S. cattle industry was enduring.
Angus Bulls: Pioneers on the Kansas Prairie
George Grant’s Angus bulls, likely sourced from George Brown of Westertown, Scotland, debuted at the Kansas City Livestock Exposition in 1873. At that time, Shorthorns dominated the cattle industry, and the polled heads and solid black color of the Angus bulls were considered “freaks.” Grant’s forward-thinking approach involved crossing these bulls with native Texas longhorn cows, resulting in hornless black calves demonstrating remarkable survival and growth in the winter range. This event initially showcased the breed’s value in their newfound homeland.
Early Importers and the American Angus Association
In the late 19th century, the Angus breed gained traction in America through direct imports from Scotland. Between 1878 and 1883, a surge of 1,200 cattle arrived, primarily in the Midwest. Over the next 25 years, early owners played a pivotal role in building herds, breeding, showcasing, and selling registered stock. The American Aberdeen-Angus Breeders’ Association, later shortened to the American Angus Association, was founded in Chicago on November 21, 1883. With 60 initial members, the association has since recorded over 10 million head, becoming the largest beef breed registry association globally.
Roots in Scotland: Hugh Watson’s Aberdeen-Angus
The Angus breed traces its roots to 12th-century Scotland, where Highland farmers raised black hornless cattle. In the early 1800s, Hugh Watson of Keillor Farm in Angus County embarked on selectively breeding black hornless cattle for high-quality meat and docility. Simultaneously, William McCombie in Aberdeenshire established a large herd based on Watson’s bloodlines, contributing to the refinement of the breed. Watson’s emphasis on entirely jet-black animals, shown at livestock competitions, created a distinctive brand identity for the Aberdeen Angus breed.
The Arrival and Adaptation of the Angus Breed in America
In 1873, the first Angus cattle arrived in the United States with George Grant’s ambitious plan for a British colony in Kansas. Although Grant faced financial hardship and passed away, the Angus cattle thrived in the American West. Adaptable and hardy on the High Plains, Angus cattle became the most prevalent beef cattle breed in the United States. The American Angus Association, initially founded to preserve the breed’s integrity, evolved into the largest beef breed registry association globally.
Red Angus: A Unique Twist
While the iconic Black Angus is widely recognized, the breed also includes Red Angus. The emphasis on black coloration in the early 20th century excluded non-black cattle from registration. In 1954, the name was shortened to the American Angus Association. Still, savvy ranchers recognized the quality of Red Angus cattle and established the Red Angus Association of America. Today, the Red Angus/Black Angus cross represents a commitment to form and function over fashion, highlighting the breed’s versatility.
The Angus breed’s journey from Scotland to the American West is a testament to its adaptability, resilience, and lasting impact on the cattle industry. From the visionary breeding practices of Hugh Watson to the pioneering efforts of George Grant and the subsequent establishment of the American Angus Association, this breed has become synonymous with quality and excellence. Whether Black or Red Angus, these cattle have left an indelible mark on American agriculture, representing a unique blend of heritage and innovation in the world of beef production.