PURE GRASS BEEF
I will preface this by admitting that when I began researching prime scots, I was under the impression that they were a regional type, refined by breeding. I now understand that they were a regional type, defined by a careful and deliberate system of feeding.
"The superiority of the Scotch cattle that are sent on to the London market is due to the character of the animals themselves in part; and in part also to the great care bestowed upon the rearing and fattening of them. As already mentioned, the business of rearing stock for the English market commenced in the southern counties of Scotland. It gradually penetrated further northward ; first to the Lothians and Fife, and from thence, toward the close of last century, to Aberdeenshire and the surrounding north-eastern counties. The introduction of the turnip had taken place some time before; but it was not until the commencement of the present century that that plant was cultivated to any great extent. The soil and climate were found to suit it remarkably well; and this fact has had a most important bearing on the development of the business of cattlegrowing, inasmuch as, in the turnip, the stock-grower was supplied with a very excellent food for his cattle during the long and severe winters. While, in richer soils and a more genial climate, the plant frequently "ran to seed," with the northern farmer especially, after the practice of using ground bones—which are still imported largely from Continental ports—as a manure, came into use, the turnip, in autumn, remained fresh and juicy, so that his cattle had ample provision of nutritive food during the six or seven months they were "tied up " for stall-feeding. The Aberdeenshire farmer did not fail to improve his opportunity, and the rearing and fattening of cattle came, by-and-by, to be a business of great extent and importance.
The Sittyton and Tillyfour herds may be taken as representative of the two great sections of pure bred cattle in the north-eastern parts of Scotland. But it would be a mistake to suppose that the northern farmers and graziers give their attention to these exclusively. On the contrary-, they put faith largely in "crosses." The tenant farmer, who is the principal breeder of ordinary marketing-stock, makes sure of having the bull that is the sire of his stock pure bred; and, curiously enough, over Aberdeenshire and the adjoining cattle-breeding counties, it is not the native blackpolled breed that most prevails, but the short horns of English extraction. At one or other of the annual sales by the great short-horn breeders in the district—such as Cruickshank, of Sittyton, Campbell, of Kinnellar, or Longmore, of Banff—the ordinary tenant farmer buys a young bull, whose pedigree is duly set forth from the Herd Book. The price for an animal six months old may be any sum from fifteen to ninety guineas. But the importance of good "blood" in the successful rearing of stock is universally understood; and thus we find that men who, as seen at their daily vocations, are scarcely to be distinguished from their own labourers by their dress, and who live almost as sparely as they in the matter of food, do not hesitate about giving sums that appear, to the uninitiated, altogether out of proportion to the value of the animals purchased for calves which commend themselves to their critical judgment. About their cows they are less exact as to breed; they may be short-horns, black-polled, longhorned high landers, or crosses between a short-homed sire and a dam of any of the other breeds. It is only demanded that the cow be not ugly in shape nor "hide-bound" in quality.
The result of this care in the matter of breeding is that the calves, as a rule, have in them "the makings of a good beast," that will grow rapidly, and fatten readily. From the earliest period of their existence they are carefully fostered; the object being to fatten, right on, from calfhood to the shambles; and by this means the meat produced is juicy, and evenly "marbled" throughout; whereas the animal that is kept on short allowance during part of its existence, and then suddenly fattened, takes on its fat in layers or patches. At two years old a considerable proportion of the cattle, and especially the heifers, which develop more rapidly than the bullocks, or "stots," as they are called, are about "ripe" enough to go into the market for home use. The larger farmers, however, who fatten directly for the London market, generally retain their cattle till they are three years old, and some of the finest bullocks are kept till they are four or five years old. The fattening of the best class of cattle is "finished " by the addition of oil-cake, bruised oats, or other nutritive compounds, to their usual food, during their last season. At tivo years old, cattle thus reared weigh from six to seven hundredweight to the butcher, and, at average market prices, are worth from ,£20 to £2$; at three years old the weight, is about a couple of hundredweight more; and in the case of the picked cattle, which,asChristmas approaches, may be seen, with ponderous step and shaking sides, emerging from many a quiet valley, on their way to join the long cattle train that will convey them to their ultimate destination in the great centre of civilisation, ten to thirteen hundredweight is quite a common weight. Such cattle as these latter will fetch from ,£35 to ,£45 each."
precedeing text from: Prime Scots, in The Broadway, A London Magazine, Volume I, Sept. 1868-Feb 1869. pp. 393-400.
text from: Origin of the Aberdeen-Angus and its development in Great Britain and America, By American Angus Association, 1922
"Perhaps the most notable illustration of the value of the blood for practical feeding purposes, developed by the history of the breed in Britain, is afforded by the evolution of the so-called "prime Scots" of the English market. This particular brand of high-priced beef represents the commingling of the blood of the Short-horn with that of the black-polled races of Scotland. The north-of-Scotland farmers were free buyers of Short-horn bulls from such herds as those of Ury, Eden, Shethin, and Sittyton. Indeed, the surprising statement is made that not less than 1000 bulls of their own breeding were sold by the Messrs. Cruickshank during a period of forty-seven years for crossing purposes! This necessarily wrought a wonderful improvement in the character of the farm cattle of Aberdeenshire and adjacent counties, and Robert Bruce has favored us with the following interesting statement as to how the cattle-growers of those districts proceeded with the work of producing the " prime Scot" :
"Before the Short-horns found their way to the northern counties of Scotland the cattle there were nearly all black, a large proportion of them being polled. Between 1830 and 1840 Short-horns began to be freely used by the ordinary farmers, with the result that there was improvement in the size over the native stock. Along with increased size the cross-bred animals had the valuable quality of maturing early in comparison with others. The results of using a Short-horn bull with the native cows were so satisfactory that for a considerable time this system of crossing was considered the only safe and proper one. I can remember well the effects of this belief all over the north of Scotland, where the farmers had gone on using Short-horn bulls on three, four and five generations of cows, grades from the original native polled cows, till the large proportion of the stock in farmers' hands were fairly passable Short-horns. At the time I refer to., from 1850 to 1860, I do not believe you could have found two Aberdeen-Angus bulls serving in herds other than those that were pure-bred, and so few pure-bred herds were there that it became impossible for the ordinary farmers to get polled heifers to follow out what they called the right system of crossing.
"It was about this time that the Aberdeen-Angus cattle improved so much, and there can be no doubt that many a dash of Short-horn blood was introduced with much advantage to the black-skins. This, however, is away from the point. The great scarcity of Aberdeen-Angus heifers drove the farmers to use the Aberdeen-Angus bulls on their cross-bred Short-horn grade cows. I can distinctly remember the subject of the doings of a farmer, an owner of a herd of highgrade (Short-horn) cows, being discussed widely with much head-shaking,seeing he had ventured to use a polled bull in his herd. His experiment was carefully watched, and before five years there was-a demand for Aberdeen-Angus bulls for use in farmers' herds of cross-bred (in fact, Short-horn) grade cows.
"For the past thiry years the following may be said to be the common practice in the north of Scotland. As I have said, the cows in the hands of farmers were more or less Short-horns. These were put to the Aberdeen-Angus bulls, and the heifers kept as cows practically first crosses. There and their daughters were again put to Aberdeen-Angus bulls, when Short-horn bulls were again brought in for several generations, and so on, alternating between Short-horns and Aberdeen-Angus sires (always pure-bred herd-book animals), the farmers possessing herds of cows the direct female descendants of cows owned by their grandfathers.
"I do not know as I need say anything more on this subject. The blend of the two breeds is a mixture which produces a class of cattle having no equal as a rent-paying stock in this country; and speaking from my own observation, I believe it matters little how the mixture is concocted so long as it is Short-horn and Aberdeen-Angus, the judgment of the breeder being brought into play in determining the amount of either of the two factors. It must, however, be borne in mind that even this valuable mixture could not produce the prime Scots which the London west-end butchers sell at such high prices, and which the "upper ten" are pleased to pay for, if the north country farmers ever allowed their young stock to lose their calf flesh. To produce the high-selling article, an ox ought to be fit to kill any time during his life, and the question of the proper age for slaughter entirely depends upon markets and such-like circumstances. Many people unacquainted with the northern cattle say the first cross is the only right one, but you may go from farm to farm in the north of Scotland, where, as I have said, nothing but cross-bred cows have been bred in the family for generations, and yet the farmers pride themselves on their herds of cows— cows that produce steers to top the London market."
Crosses of light-colored Short-horns and the shaggy, black Galloways have long been popular feeding steers in Britain, producing a blue-gray beast that feeds out into a thick-cutting carcass of richly marbled beef. Needless to add, the "prime Scots" sell at fancy prices at Smithfield and other leading English markets, and are frequent winners at the British national fat-cattle shows."