Pedigree cattle breeding in Britain owes a tremendous debt to the pioneering spirit of breeders of Shorthorn cattle, who laid the foundation of what breed improvement and accreditation through registration could achieve.

It’s that dedication to breeding Shorthorns that is to be celebrated this year – the breed’s 200th anniversary – with a series of special events, including the UK hosting the World Shorthorn Conference this summer.

Before the introduction of selective breeding of domestic animals, farmers would just let nature take its course and accept success or failure as a result.

Then along came Robert Bakewell, widely regarded as 'The father of selective animal breeding.' He started selecting stock of similar types and bred them to form breeds of cattle and sheep with similar traits, which could be better bred to produce wool, beef etc.

This meant that breeds developed for individual traits began to have a commercial breeding value as they were seen to be better suited to their market. Animals were bred 'like to like', regardless of their relationship to one another and through selective line breeding breeds of cattle and sheep were further selected for a specific purpose, whether more suited to hill, or lowland, and for wool or abattoir.

Two brothers, Charles and Robert Colling started to improve their cattle using these techniques established so successfully by Bakewell on Longhorn cattle. In 1783, Charles found four particular cows recorded as Duchess, Cherry, Strawberry and Old Favourite among others and at the same time his brother, Robert, had noticed the superiority of calves in the local market bred from a bull known as Hubback, which he subsequently bought for £8.

It was a combination of these bloodlines which led to the birth of the bull, Comet, bred by Charles Colling in 1804, which later sold at the Ketton sale in 1810 for 1000gns. Comet was the first four-figure-priced bull recorded and subsequently justified his price tag by producing outstanding progeny and becoming a legend in cattle breeding. An engraving of Comet is still used as the ghost image on all Shorthorn society pedigree certificates.

By the late 18th century, the Shorthorns had taken form and a few of the 'landed gentry' enthusiasts got together to look at forming a herd book for the breed. The task was given to George Coates, who for most of the rest of his life could be seen riding his horse up and down the valleys of the North of England taking notes of the breeding of individual animals.

He visited farms and fairs and markets in his quest to gather as much information as possible and formed these details into the first herd book of its kind, now recognised as The Coates Herd Book, which documented the foundation of the as a Shorthorn breed in 1822 when it was first printed.

Getting to this stage had taken many years and had been put on hold several times, however some of a growing group of enthusiasts decided to pay for its print and recouped their investment for subscriptions of one guinea and the Shorthorn Society was born.

The first herd book had 710 bulls and around 800 cows registered, many with vague pedigrees, some of which were often 'hand me down stories'.

With information comes accuracy and now 200 years on there are approximately 6500 animals registered annually between the beef and dairy societies.

Until the early 20th century, the Shorthorn was used as a dual-purpose animal but further specialist breeding has developed it into to distinctive sections of dairy and beef animals. Recognised as the 'Great improver', Shorthorn genetics have been used to develop 57 major breeds of cattle around the world.

As one of the oldest registered and most influential breeds in the world, the Shorthorn will this year celebrate its 200th anniversary by hosting the World Shorthorn Conference in the UK. Delegates from all over the world as well as from the UK, will come together in early July to celebrate the occasion and enjoy the camaraderie of like-minded people.

Visiting both beef and dairy herds all over the country will allow delegates to see how other breeders do it and according to the congress committee chairman, James Playfair-Hannay: “You will never make a visit to another farm and learn nothing. We are delighted to be hosting the World Conference and celebrating the foundation of the breed and we are looking forward to seeing our overseas friends once again, particularly after the last two years, when travel was so difficult.”

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While the breed has an extensive history, it also has a great future and is once again making its mark in the sale ring and ultimately in the supermarket, being a naturally grown native breed, which produces excellent milk and beef alike.

The future of this versatile breed, however, relies heavily on the future breeders and their hopes in taking the breed forward. The 2022 World Conference will focus on the youth of the breed and youth delegates from international societies, as well as the UK, have been invited and subsidised to attend as part of the future development and sustainability of the breed.

An extensive youth programme has been set up to compliment the main conference, including host farms taking delegates for two weeks in advance of the conference itself, to see how things are done here and hopefully develop relationships and disseminate knowledge.

“We are very focused on our future breeders – we have no future without them," said James. "We have set up a programme of events, which I have no doubt, will not only be a lasting memory for them but will ensure their enthusiasm for the breed carries on to future generations.”

The World Conference is open to everyone, not only Shorthorn breeders and anyone who would like to attend any or all of the events can visit the World Shorthorn Conference website at

Scottish/North of England visits for the World Conference:

July 17 Visit to James Playfair Hannay’s Tofts herd near Kelso, plus youth show presentation.

July 18 Visit to Paul Coates’ Barwood herd, at Carlisle.

July 19 Visits to John Thomson’s Shawhill herd and James Biggar and Sons' Chapelton herd, near Castle Douglas.

July 20 Visit to Carey Coombs Dunsyre herd in South Lanarkshire.

July 21 Visits to Major Gibb’s Glenisla herd, in Perthshire, and Glenrinnes Estate's herd, in Morayshire.

July 22 Visit to Scott family's Fearn herd in Ross-shire.

All farm visits are open to non delegates, but places must be pre-booked at £10 per head to cover costs.