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The World’s Last Herd of Wild Cattle

by Marine1 on 05/11/09 at 1:48 pm

The story of the Wild Cattle of Chillingham in Northumberland.


Northumberland has an incomparable tourist attraction. The Wild Cattle of Chillingham is unique in being the only herd in the world that is completely pure with no outside blood ever having been introduced. Some exerts believe that these longhorns are directly descended from the extinct aurochs, the European Wild Ox..

It is thought that these white cattle roamed the Northumbrian wastes during the Celtic Era. They may have been regarded as sacred animals and possibly used as sacrificial offerings to the gods.

The Tankervilles, a long-established Northumbrian family which only recently moved out of Chillingham Castle originally enclosed the park during the late 13th Century to keep the animals available to provide both food and hunting.

Due to the enclosure, these cattle are the only survivors of the once vast herds that ranged the forests of Britain. These animals are completely wild and have the potential to be dangerous. They should be approached with extreme caution and only when accompanied by the resident warden.

They live completely on their own, foraging for herbage throughout the park. The only human involvement or management is the occasional supply of fodder and hay during the more severe winters. Any beast that has contact with humans is immediately driven away from the herd.

Only the king bull mates within the herd. The cow gives birth and nurses the calves in the undergrowth. Later she brings it back to the herd for inspection and acceptance. If they reject it, the calf is driven away.

Younger bulls will challenge the king for leadership of the herd. If the king is defeated, he will leave the herd for a few months before returning in a subordinate position.

Although the herd appears to be immune to Foot and Mouth Disease, a reserve was taken to a secret location in Scotland, following the Northumbrian epidemic during the 1960s, as a precaution against the Chillingham herd being wiped out or destroyed. Even when Foot and Mouth Disease ravaged the neighbourhood in the 1960s and 2001, once getting within one mile of Chillingham, it did not effect the herd.

The only thing that agitates this herd is when the local fox hunt passes by. Perhaps it is a memory of the packs of wolves, which once inhabited these hills.

The Chilling Wild Cattle association take care of the herd, while the 365 acre estate is owned by the College Valley Estates.. They bought the park from the Tankerville estate to ensure that the her’s ancestral home would be preserved.

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