A Short History Of Aberdeens

The Aberdeen breed was founded in Australia from descendants of Angus cattle, a breed formed several centuries ago from black hornless cattle found in the counties of Aberdeen and Angus in Scotland. These cattle spread worldwide in the 1800s and black Angus grew to dominate the American beef industry.

The Aberdeen story began in 1974 with a 19-year Australian research program that used a closed herd of 85 Aberdeen cows at the Trangie research center. The intent of the study was to establish whether large or small animals were more efficient at converting grass into meat. Three herds were defined High Line and Low Line, separated by high or low yearling growth rates, and Control Line, a randomly selected herd. To determine protein conversion performance, they evaluated weight gain, feed intake, reproductive performance, milk production, carcass yield and quality, and structural soundness. Research results showed that the efficiency of conversion from grass to protein was about the same for the High and Low Line herds.

A new, smaller breed, carrying all of the desirable characteristics of Angus cattle had been unintentionally created. The experiment was headed for termination and the animals were soon to be slaughtered, but auction sales hinted at the value of these smaller animals. The animals were saved and a new breed formally established. After 15 years of selective breeding, the Low Line herd had stabilized in size at about 30 percent smaller than the High Line cattle. They proved adaptable to Australian conditions and were exceptionally docile. They are one of the smallest beef cattle breeds in the world.

Advantages for first-timers or those with small farms

Low size and weight, natural lack of horns, docility, and ease of birthing are hallmarks of the Aberdeen breed. Small size means less stress on fences and less damage to pastures. Aberdeens docility allows some owners to give vaccinations without using a chute or restraint. The same traits that make them ideal for those with no prior cattle experience makes them perfect for 4-H projects. Children can more easily manage smaller, lighter Aberdeens.

Typical Aberdeen weight and size:
Calf at birth: 30 to 45lb
Mature cow: 700 to 1100 lbs, 38" to 46" tall.
Mature bull: 900 to 1500lbs, 40" to 48" tall.

Efficiency: Aberdeen cattle consume about 1/3 the amount of feed as a full-sized animal, gaining weight and finishing earlier with very little cost. They do not need grain to reach full maturity. Where you would normally stock 6 Angus cows you can run 10 Aberdeens, and you can expect more pounds of meat per acre than with standard size breeds.

Commercial advantages of Aberdeens

Market perception and value: Health-conscious people who like red meat are drawn to the smaller cuts of well-marbled Aberdeen beef, which, as the breeds reputation grows, has begun being served as a gourmet food by some of the worlds leading chefs. Aberdeen beef offers a high proportion of meat to bone and fat. This is most evident in the amount of chuck that the carcasses produce. Known health benefits: more omega-3 fatty acids, more conjugated linoleic acid (a potent cancer-fighter), less total fat and calories, less omega-6 (linked to several disorders and diseases), and less risk of bacterial contamination due to the higher pH of the cows digestive tract if grass-fed.

Crossbreeding benefits: Aberdeen-cross dairy calves typically have low birth weights, allowing easy, typically unassisted calving. Aberdeen-bred dairy heifers hit full milk production rapidly after calving, and shorter gestation means it is possible to produce a quality calf every year from a Aberdeen bull. Aberdeen bulls are very fertile and have proven ability to reach heifers, yet their low weight reduces the risk of injury to heifers. Aberdeen Bulls do not require the same amount of feeding as larger bulls, making them inexpensive to maintain, and they are easy to handle, whether separated or among the herd.