Here we give a very brief overview of the importations in the history of the British Friesian breed. It is taken from the work of Gordon Mingay in his book, commissioned by The British Friesian Cattle Society, "British Friesians - An Epic of Progress" published in 1982. The book was commissioned to celebrate the seventy third anniversary of the establishment of The British Friesian Cattle Society. Copies of the book can be found for sale online. We imagine the order form enclosed with the November 1983 British Friesian Journal is probably no longer valid...
The book is written to reflect the predominance of the British Friesian in British dairy industry at the time. In 1909 the society sought to speed up the achievement of correctness of type more quickly than breeding only from the best stock available at home.
So in 1914, the first Dutch importation took place, just before the outbreak of the First World War.
But geopolitics was only one of the hurdles to overcome. There were frequent outbreaks of foot and mouth disease in Holland in the early part of the 20th century and these necessarily delayed shopping sprees.
After a number of years, the society was working to import high yielding Holsteins from Canada, but not enough animals could be found of the required standard. A visit by the society's Mr Williams to South Africa and his subsequent report prompted a change of tack. In 1922 the society went ahead with an importation from South Africa with clear standards set out here:
The animals were selected in South Africa not by members of the British society but by the South African society based on the above standard. However things did not go smoothly and a member of the purchasing committee had reservations, but wrote later that there was one very positive result from the South African importation: beefiness. He believed it was this importation which showed breeders the potential of developing a dual purpose breed. The animals arrived to Slough, all 103 of them, for sale by auction to members and non-members. Although it was clear in 1922 that a depression was imminent, prices were strong for the sale with a heifer Llanfair Diliana fetching top price on the day of 4300gns.
A later importation towards the end of the '20s caused friction within the British Friesian Cattle Society, in relations between the British and South African breeders and generated big arguments about the herd book and the registration of imported animals. Some heated meetings took place, and in 1928 it was decided that a Supplementary Register would be home to the registrations of the later South African importation.
In 1936 a second importation of Dutch cattle took place. This importation is deemed to have had a positive influence on the breed's butterfat capability, but arguably at the expense of size. The three most remarkable bulls from that importation are Royal Hiltkees, Lavenham Janrol and Mayford Marius.
A Canadian importation took place in 1946 and received mixed reviews at the time. One buyer, Mr J.D. Alston, commented that the sight of his new bull Cliffordchambers Ragapple Master made the hangover he was suffering worse! The consensus seems to be that while they didn't look much, their progeny performed well and their impact on the breed was positive. For example, the hangover-worsening Ragapple Master,
"proved outstanding for milk, butterfat and looks and the first seven lactations of his full sister averaged over 1,700 gallons at 4.1 percent butterfat" (pg 184)
A third Dutch importation in 1950, resulted in an exciting sale choregraphed to perfection by the society's purchasing commission. Indeed, the book details the work they undertook to select animals in Holland for this 1950 importation and it is clear the sense of responsibility they felt to their members and the breed. The 1950 importation's sale was describes the greatest Friesian sale ever in Great Britain, and the image here gives further details of the prices and animals involved.
This 1950 Dutch importation resulted in stars such as Hunday Adema 88, a bull proven to improve udder quality, teat placement and overall topline and looks.
The thought and work put in to these importations is clearly detailed in the book, giving the different traits the society wished to accentuate and improve over the decades, always with a view to the commercial viability of the British Friesian breeder as a farmer selling milk and beef in to markets hit by wars, floods and economic depressions. That's quite a set of challenges to navigate while building your herd.
It's good to have the support of a club or society when the going gets tough!
This article is a summary of chapter eight of British Friesians: An Epic of Progress, Mingay, Prof. Gordon. The British Friesian Cattle Society, Scotsbridge House, Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire,1982. Thanks to Mr Francis Fitzgerald, Club Secretary and Mr John Long for images.