by Robert Gear
This article appeared in the Winter 1986 SFJ, shortly after the formation of the American Lineback Cattle Registry. 30 years later they are still going strong. Please visit their website (http://www.americanlinebacks.net/) and their Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/367724191200/) for the most recent information on Lineback Cattle. – ed.
Cattle with lineback color patterns have occurred throughout the world in many breeds. In some cases this is a matter of random selection. In others, the markings are a distinct characteristic of the breed; while in some it is one of a number of patterns common to a local type.
The Texas Longhorn and some African Breeds are ones in which the lineback patterns occur randomly, in breeds such as the English Longhorn, Gloucester, Pinzgauer, Vosgienne and the Moiled Cattle of Ireland, the lineback pattern in some form is their identifying characteristic. Still other cattle such as the native Welsh breed consistently display several true breeding color phases of which the lineback is one.
Geneticists recognize two variations of the Lineback; the first in which the animal has a dark, usually black or red body with a white dorsal stripe, possibly a star on the face, white tail and belly and perhaps one or more garters or white bands around the legs where they join the body.
The other and more prevalent type has a lot more white on the body and face and much speckling or “brockling” on the face, body and legs. The brockling may be in the form of round or eliptical spots or roaning or both.
The first pattern is called the linebacked pattern while the second is called the color-sided pattern, the roaning effect in the latter is caused by a gene totally different than that which causes roaning, say in a Shorthorn.
The English Longhorn, Irish Moiled, Norwegina Telemark, Swedish Mountain and Dutch Witrik have the color-sided phase as their characteristic marking. The Longhorn and the Moiled are varying shades of red from strawberry to plum with much roaning. Additionally the Moiled is polled and its name comes from the Irish for hornless and is the origin of our American term, “muley” for a polled cow. Others like the Telemark are red without the roaning while the Dutch Witrik is usually black with a fair number of recessive reds and sometimes a pure white animal. In this type, the ears and muzzle will be black or red in bold relief to a predominantly white face. This pattern is closely related to the white with dark points phase of the White Park and British White cattle in England; in fact they are two extremes of the same pattern cattle of this type exhibiting varying degrees of white from pure white to largely solid.
The lineback pattern in which brockling does not occur is exemplified by the English Old Gloucester and the Austrian Pinzgauer. In both breeds the pattern is quite fixed; the Gloucester is a unique mahogany color with a small dorsal stripe starting at mid-back while the Pinzgauer is bright red with a large stripe and the gartered legs. Normally the Gloucester does not have the garters. A somewhat opposite effect is occasionally found in Jerseys where a very dark, almost black, coat is accompanied by a gold stripe down the back. This is a direct inheritance from the Aurochs, primative ancestor of our modern cattle. Perhaps the white dorsal line on our modern breeds has the same origin, accompanied by a genetic predisposition for white. The offspring of Jersey cows bred to Lineback bulls boldly sport the white dorsal stripe of the Lineback.
A different example occurs when closely related cattle in an area have been selected on the basis of color to form different breeds with a common ancestry. This is true in both Holland and Wales. In Holland as in much of the world the dominant breed is the black and white Fresian or Holstein. In Europe this animal is a less specialized type leaning more toward a dual purpose type as indeed it formerly was. Originally Dutch cattle were more often red and white, and red and whites still crop out in Fresian herds.
Dutch breeders have created other breeds from their basic gene pool and one of these is called the Witrik or Witrug, which in Dutch means Lineback. The prevailing color pattern of this breed is the color sided one and this is usually black, although red, blues and pure whites with black points are acceptable and not uncommon.
Wales has many hardy native mountain cattle. When, at the close of the nineteenth century a breed society was organized, they arbitrarily decided that black would be the accepted color. This disregarded the existence of native Welsh cattle of a variety of colors. There are red, dun, white, blue, belted reds, belted blacks and color sided linebacked Welsh cattle. Recently a society has been formed to register and encourage these animals.
A conclusion can begin to be drawn from the above discussion and that is that cattle of both the lineback and color sided patterns occur throughout the world in many places and are imposed on a variety of dairy types and breeds. Many, but not all, linebacked breeds resemble other regional cattle; the Pinzgauer is similar to the Brown Swiss, the Witrik, the Fresian and the Scandinavian and Welsh linebacked cattle are quite the same as other breeds in their respective areas. Some, like the old Gloucester, are unique, or perhaps close relatives have become extinct. The Gloucester is directly descended from the Glamorgan, a Welsh breed that may have had Norman antecedents and whom some American linebacks resemble.
When the Shorthorn began to supercede the English Longhorn, many breeders used gradeup programs based on Longhorn cows. Today we occasionally see a Shorthorn with the Longhorns’ characteristic pattern.
Not only do cattle of the color sided pattern occasionally throw pure white calves with dark points but the White Park and British White breeds are known to produce lineback offspring as well.
Considering that livestock of all classes have been imported to the United States, it is not surprising that we have our own Lineback breed. Both types are found with the color sided variety predominating. The sources from which our indigenous stock derive and the periods when their ancestors entered our agricultural history are conjectural and will likely not be resolved fully. Undoubtedly, they owe their existence to all of the above mentioned antecedents. Documentation is almost nonexistent and we can only rely on educated guesses and scant evidence to provide some ideas.
In the 17th and 18th centuries when breeds as we know them were much less in evidence and various colors could be found among regional cattle populations, it is reasonable to assume that Linebacks were among them. The Dutch imported many cattle into what is now New York at a time when the Witrik was more plentiful and the Holstein-Fresian as we know it was still to be developed. Many British ships which sailed to America at this time sailed from Bristol. This was a convenient port geographically for the export of the Gloucester and its immediate ancestor, the Glamorgan, from South Wales. During this period Welsh cattle were commonly driven to the English counties and the Bristol area would have been a logical place for them to accumulate.
During the 19th century, progressive American farmers coinciding with the development of breed societies began to look again to Europe for improved stock to grade up our native stock. Few of these breeds had been in existence long enough to really fix their characteristics. Ayrshires, Fresians, Herefords and Milking Shorthorns were all capable and did in fact throw occasional linebacked offspring. When used as most of them were to grade up native American stock the incidence could easily have been higher. English Longhorns found their way to both New England and to Kentucky as well.
Probably all of these sources contributed to the presence of Lineback cattle in the United States. Before the Second World War all sorts of unique regional cattle existed throughout the United States. After the War, an important part of the “technology fix” that offered a double-edged tool to American farmers was the widespread introduction and subsequent use of artificial insemination.
In the stampede for bigger yields at all cost, dairy farmers increasingly began to avail themselves of registered bulls, which more often than not came to mean Holstein bulls, to “upgrade” their herds. Many of these herds which now include better than 90% of the American dairy cow population were graded up on regional types. In New England this often meant the old unimproved Durhams or Milking Shorthorns, but in New York and the mid-west as well as much of northern Vermont and neighboring Canada there were many herds of Linebacks of both types.
Because the Lineback and color sided patterns are genetically very strong and the Holstein pattern is a weak one, the Lineback will often persist through many generations of outcrossing. Today there are several thousand Lineback dairy cows in the United States, some of them essentially Holsteins, some from Milking Shorthorn or other backgrounds and some quite unique.
One of the early English regional types to contribute to the development of the Shorthorn was the Holderness, so-called because it originated in the Holderness district of Yorkshire. In the book, American Cattle, written by Lewis F. Allen and published in 1890 by Orange Judd, there is lengthy reference to and an excellent illustration of, the Holderness cow. [see below – ed.] This animal is depicted as having the Lineback pattern and is identified as a type of unimproved Shorthorn, and was descended from cattle imported to the Boston area around 1840.
On June 1, 1985 the first meeting of the American Lineback Cattle Registry was held in Manchester, Vermont. The choice of location was an auspicious one because a year previous to the meeting what is probably the only “purebred” Lineback herd was located in nearby Arlington, Vermont.
The late Everett Randal had been breeding his own strain of authentic old time Linebacks from stock inherited from his father. The herd had been maintained on the same native. pastures in the foothills of the Green Mountains, for over seventy years with no known outcrossing of any kind under very rigorous conditions.
These cattle are of the color sided brockled type, mostly black with a few blues and a history of an occasional recessive red although no reds presently exist. The herd consists of two different “families” and some cattle with characteristics of both. One group is larger and somewhat resemble Milking Shorthorns or Ayrshires with quite long, black tipped, white horns; the other type is a little smaller with shorter curled horns. Many individuals exhibit characteristics of both while the blue animals seem to be of the first type.
Mr. Randal had not milked the herd commercially since his retirement from dairying fifteen years earlier but the herd still retains good dairy type with well made udders. The disposition of these animals is friendly. They are easy to manage yet they display an almost feral intelligence. The bulls are noticeably well-mannered.
The herd had been maintained on the poorest of feed and kept out most of the year, the entire herd running together.
When Mr. Randal died in January 1985, his wife, realizing the value and unique quality of these cattle, cooperated with members of the American Minor Breeds Conservancy in an effort to place the cattle with people who would properly use and appreciate them.
Within a few months, five individuals in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts had purchased ten animals. These ranged from a pair of steers for pulling, to a yeung bull, a bull calf, two cows and four heifers. However, this still left the bulk of the herd, a bull, eleven cows and a few calves to be dealt with. Finally, a chance tip resulted in a buyer from Massachusetts who was willing to buy the entire herd and keep them together.
Unfortunately, that person has now decided to sell the herd and the future is uncertain. These animals represent one of America’s rarest gene pools. They are a vital piece of living American agricultural history, animals whose like cannot and will never again be found in our agricultural landscape.
A comparison can easily be drawn between these animals and that rarest of rare species, the small diversified farmer, who like the Randal cattle has been forced by circumstances foisted on rural society by an unrelenting and unsympathetic momentum of social disruption to divorce him from his rightful environment.
It has been observed that to remove the species from its environment or to destroy that environment will ensure that species’ extinction. The plight of the open pollinated seed variety or the unspecialized livestock breed is one with the small independent farmer.
The American Holderness
(Reprinted from American Cattle by Lewis F. Allen, New York: Orange Judd, 1890)
This is an old breed, during the earlier years of the present century existing in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England. Some of them were imported fifty years ago into the vicinity of Boston, Mass., and probably since into the State of New York, but of the exact dates of their later importation we have no account. In anatomical formation they had the appearance of the unimproved short-horns of some centuries back. In color they were chiefly dark red, with lined or white back and bellies, and were somewhat less in size than the true short-horns. The cows were excellent milkers and useful for the dairy. Although we were acquainted with a few of them in the year 1835, we had lost sight of them until recently, when they were brought to our notice by the owner of a herd of about thirty in number, Mr. Truman A. Cole, at Solsville, Madison Co., N.Y.
In the year 1855 Mr. Cole brought a cow from a Mr. Knox, living in Oneida Co., N.Y., who either imported her ancestors, or bred her from descendants of the original importation. This cow was then in calf by a bull of the same breed. The succeeding spring, in 1856, she produced a bull calf, which Mr. Cole reared. She was then bred to a common bull and the succeeding calf was made into veal. The cow was next served by her Holderness bull calf, then a yearling of vigorous growth, and that produce was a heifer. When a year old she was bred to the same bull, her own sire, who was again bred to his mother. To cut the matter short, the increasing herd was so continuously bred, through the succeeding twentyfive years until now, 1882, to bulls of the same family descent – no outside cross intervening – some hundreds in number, many of which have been sold and dispersed in different counties of New York and other States, among dairymen. The result of this incestuous and close interbreeding has been altogether successful in keeping up the quality of the animals, both in flesh, perfect health, vigor of constitution, and milking quality of the cows to the character of the original dam, and, as Mr. Cole says, improved upon her.
A remarkable change in the color of these cattle has taken place since in Mr. Cole’s possession. The original cow was deep red on her sides, with white line on her back and under the belly. Her first calves were so at their births, but gradually, as age increased, the red sides turned into a chocolate brown, and finally black within a year or two after birth. The lined backs and white bellies, with black legs are striking characterisitics in their color, different from any other breeds in our country, and of an ancient stock. They are fine in bone, and full medium in size. The cows have capacious udders, sizeable teats, large milk viens, and exhibit strong development as milkers.
Inasmuch as this herd and their descendants have so strongly maintained their uniform characteristics of quality from that of any other distinctly recognized breed, they may well be considered a distinct breed under the name of Holderness. The physiological facts of the in-and-in breeding of this particular herd, so contrary to popular opinion against the practice, deserves a record, the perusal of which may lead to profitable trials of the kind with other breeds.
The plate below is an accurate portrait of the cow SUSIE 23d, belonging to Mr. Cole.