Wild Cattle in Britain


Wild Cattle in Britain
The Chillingham Herd

Chillingham cattle
(picture from Whitepark.org.uk)

What are cattle?

Cattle are domesticated ungulates (hoofed animals). The family ungulates belong to is called Bovidae, and this family also includes goats, sheep, bison and antelope.

Cattle are used by humans for meat, dairy products, and leather, as well as draught animals (pulling carts and plows).

The word cattle comes from the Latin caput (head) and means one head.

There are 3.8 million dairy and beef cattle in the UK (figures from 2005). If you include younger calves and heifers (a young female cow who has not had any baby calves), the figure is about 10.4 million.

Aurochs were the original cattle. In Britain aurochs became extinct (disappeared completely from Britain) during the Bronze Age (2200-700 BC).

The closest living completely wild relatives of the European domestic cattle are bantengs, Bos Javanicus, and gaur, Bos gaurus, in South East Asia.

Bantengs have almost disappeared and the world population is between 5,000 and 8,000 animals. Gaurs are also vulnerable, and there are between 13,000 and 30,000 left in the world.


(© WWF-Canon / Helena Telkanranta)


(© WWF Cambodia / SWAP)

How do cattle behave?

Bantengs and gaurs form small herds of 10-30 individuals. Cattle in the UK that are used for dairy live with 70 to 150 other cows. That is a big family and it is difficult to get to know everyone and get along!

Calves often form lifelong relationships when only a few days old, and might live with the same cattle all their life. A new member or separation of a herd is very stressful to them.

Cattle can't see very far and that's why they don't like dark or shadowy areas and they also react to shadows. They have good hearing, which is much better than humans' hearing.

Cattle are also very sensitive to loud, sudden noises.

Did you know there are wild cattle in Britain?

Today, there are six "wild" cattle herds in Britain; the Chillingham, Vaynol, Dyneros, Woburn, Whipsnade and Cadzow herds.

Not all of them are wild or pure-breed anymore since most of them are domesticated by humans.

The Chillingham herd is truly wild as they have been isolated in the Chillingham park for 750 years with little human contact.

The Chillingham cattle

The Chillingham cattle are white cattle.

There are now 62 individuals in a 365-acre (148 ha) park, the Chillingham Park.

This park was fenced off in 1270 AD and the cattle have been isolated from other cattle and from most human interference since then (there is as little contact with humans as possible).

The park is open to the public, but visitors must be accompanied by a warden.

Other species that can be seen in the Chillingham park are roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), fallow deer (Cervus dama) and several bird species, as well as tree species such as alders (Alnus sp.), beeches (Fagus sp.) and oaks (Quercus sp.).

There are also 300 breeding sheep in the park.

An adult Chillingham cow weighs 280 kg on average. Compare this to: an American bison, Bison bison, weighs 1360kg, and a domestic adult cow weighs 300-400kg

The Chillingham herd is one of a few cattle herds in the world that has a natural or nearly natural range of old and young cattle. Most other cattle in the world are farmed animals who are slaughtered at an early age to be consumed by humans.

In modern day farming the calves of dairy cows will be taken from their mothers immediately after birth or sometimes after 1 or 2 days. A dairy cow will be forced to have a calf every year so that she will produce milk, which means she will be pregnant 9 out of 12 to 13 months. The cow will be milked twice or three times a day instead of having the calf suckle 4-6 times a day.


Dairy cattle
(picture from www.vet.ed.ac.uk)

Links, sources and further reading

The Chillingham Wild Cattle Association was formed in 1939 to take care of the herd. Another charity, the Sir James Knott Charitable Trust, owns the land and has leased the grazing rights to the Chillingham Wild Cattle Association for 999 years.

Opening times are 1 April until 31 October: Monday-Saturday (excluding Tuesday) 10am-12 noon, Monday-Sunday (excluding Tuesday) 2pm-5pm. See their website for up-to-date opening times. admission prices and a map.


Sir James Knott Charitable Trust
Brigadier J.F.F. Sharland
Sir James Knott 1990 Trust
16-18 Hood Street

Chillingham Wild Cattle Association
The Secretary
Chillingham Wild Cattle
The Warden's Cottage
NE66 5NP


White Park Cattle

Chillingham Wild Cattle

Conservation status of wild cattle

A table showing increasing or declining trends in the different species, available from here, accessed 19 September 2006


Viva, 2005, The dark side of dairy, available from here, accessed 19 September 2006

UFAW, 1999. Management and Welfare of Farm Animals, Halstan & Co, Amersham

Fraser, A.F. & Broom, D.M.,1990. Farm Animal Behaviour and Welfare. Balliere Tindall, London

Farm Sanctuary, 2005. The welfare of cattle in dairy farming, available from here, accessed 19 September 2006

Guars and Bantengs

WWF, undated, Introducing the Gaur and Banteng, available from here, accessed 19 September 2006

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