The late Rev Westley Cole on an Albion cow at his home in Dorset, approx. 1933.
Blue Albion History
History of The Albion Breed Society
The breed first began when it was noted that a ‘blue’ cow always had a good reputation and was desirable, a fact that still holds today. Its origins are believed to be from the Welsh Black, a dual purpose breed, crossed with a White Dairy Shorthorn.
Blue Albions were originally called the ‘Bakewell Blues’, originating in Derbyshire. Later on, Friesian/Shorthorn crosses of blue colouring were also accepted as foundation cows for the herd book but only on inspection.
Mr William J Clark began the first breed society of blue cattle on October 11th, 1916, called ‘Clark’s United Breeders’. This was later bought by the Blue Albion Cattle Society on 1st January 1921.
The society wanted the pure blue roan colour to be the breed type but did not understand the genetics and that blue roan is not a colour that breeds ‘true’. True bred ones can be blue-roan, white or mainly black with little white. This is because the breed has a dominant white gene, not often found in cattle breeds, which is definitely ‘true breeding’.
From 1921, bulls that were all white or all black were rejected and not registered in the herd book. White or black heifers were only allowed to be entered into a ‘special register’ from 1924; if their progeny was blue then these could be fully registered.
Exclusion of white and black Albion cattle slowed growth in numbers of the breed, and had a knock on effect for years, even after the society changed the eligibility criteria of a Blue Albion.
In 1922 there were 117 bulls and 162 cows registered. In addition, 3237 cows were accepted as foundation cows, with an inspection costing the relatively expensive price of £1. Considering these numbers, the Blue Albion was set to become a major cattle breed of the UK, until disaster struck.
In 1923/4 there was a serious Foot & Mouth outbreak which wiped out many Albion herds. This coincided with a national agricultural depression, which dramatically lowered cattle prices. Dairy breeds like the Friesian and Ayrshire were becoming popular at the expense of the dual purpose breeds like the Shorthorn and the Blue Albion.
In the last herd book at this time, 1934-1937, Volume XI, there were just 50 bulls and 120 cows registered. The last AGM of the Blue Albion Cattle Society was in 1940 and it was officially wound up in 1966.
However, a very few breeders continued to keep Albions and swapped bulls amongst themselves, breeding true even though they no longer could be registered and this has led to the descendants that we have today.
Interest in forming a new society gathered momentum in the late eighties. The current society was re-formed in 1994 with Sheila Clarke of Dorset Rare Breeds as Chairman and Tanya Fox as Secretary. Herd books were published in 1994/5/6 but breeders were slow to register their calves. Although no more herd books have been published, births of Albion calves were recorded on a computer database. There are records of some Albion registrations from 1989 through to 2018. From 2013 onwards, registrations have been recorded using Grassroots Pedeweb, a programme which sets out the pedigree lines, helping to prevent inbreeding and enabling the breed to be professionally assessed.
The word 'Blue' has been dropped from the Albion name to reflect the acceptance of the varied colourings, now being known as 'The Albion Cattle Society'.
Most of the current breeders have descendants from the original ‘Ryleys’ or ‘Barnacre’ Albion herds, resulting in quite a few small-holders supporting the Albion breed throughout the UK. However, there are a few in large herds, with most now in beef suckler herds, despite their ability to milk well.
Albions as a Cross Breed.
Above RHS: An Albion cross Holstein Friesian dairy cow.
It is noted that an Albion x Holstein Friesian or Albion x Dairy Shorthorn makes a very nice dairy cow which surely has the grazing ability to rival the modern New Zealand cross cow- but with much higher value calves.
Beef x Albion cows make excellent sucklers, hardy cows with excellent legs and feet, with fabulous temperaments.