The Albion had its heyday in the 1920s but over the years numbers were decimated by Foot and Mouth Disease and changing farming practices. By the 1970s/1980s there was some debate as to whether any true Albions existed but eventually it was found that just three or four farms had cattle descending from the original members of the Blue Albion Cattle Society. All of the pure Albions today descend from these few.

When the breed was added to the Watchlist its registered population stood at 170 pure-bred cattle. Based on the methodology then in place, the breed’s status was calculated using an average of the three previous years’ data for new female registrations with the application of a species-specific multiplier. This put the Albion into the Critical category. Although the methodology of determining breeds’ positions on the Watchlist changed in 2021, the data used has remained the same, so by simply looking at the breed data, it is possible to see that significant progress is being made.

The new methodology used to determine a breed’s conservation status takes into account two key aspects. Firstly, prioritisation is based on the internationally-recognised concept of effective population size, taking into account both males and females. Secondly, the degree of inbreeding is also acknowledged.

Senior Conservation Adviser Tom Blunt explains: “An effective population size of 50 is seen as the threshold, with breeds below this figure being a cause for concern. With a low Effective Population figure there is a greater likelihood of inbreeding and a higher risk of loss of genetic diversity. While the Albion remains one of our rarest cattle breeds and features as a Priority breed in the Watchlist, there is progress being made compared to where the effective population figure stood as recently as 2012/2014.

Albion Breed Data

“Looking at the breed data for the years 2000 to 2020, it is significant that the number of herds registering progeny in the three of those years from 2018 were by far the highest. The key aim now is to see that figure continue to rise whilst ensuring that the number of different sires used increases, which we can do by making more bulls are available for AI via Gene Banking. Equally important, particularly as we still have a relatively small number of breeders, is to ensure a wider geographic spread to minimize the threat posed by disease. Significant progress has been made in both of these areas and we can say with some confidence that the breed is moving in a positive direction.”

Taking up the challenge

Albion Cattle Society Secretary, Susannah Mannerings, inherited the challenge of gaining breed recognition for the Albion when she took over her late mother’s herd in 2010.

Susannah explains: “It was my mother, Dinah Whittingham, who sparked the interest in Albions. When she retired to a smallholding, she wanted to help a rare breed. Her research informed her that the Albions were not yet officially recognised and so she chose to help achieve this. Over the years, my husband Keith and I became involved and took some Albions to our County Council dairy farm to milk record them. When Dinah died, we took on all of her Spreckles herd and I took on the challenge to gain breed recognition.”

The challenge that Susannah took on was immense and involved gathering an enormous amount of evidence – herd books, photographs and other records - amassed over decades but her hard work resulted in the Albion being recognised as a rare breed by RBST in 2018.

Having moved to near Dover and sold their commercial dairy herd, the Mannerings are increasing their Albion numbers, making use of their chalk downland. Susannah says: “We either single or double suckle the cows, some are fostered properly and some come in twice a day to feed calves, which are constantly reared, weaned and then a new lot of young calves are put on again.”

Describing the breed’s temperament, Susannah says: “They are generally very docile animals with a placid temperament – sweet to handle. Albions take quite freely to halter training, which makes life a lot easier when it comes to handling, tying up or even leading on the road from one field to another. And once they learn, they never forget.”

About the breed

The Albion originates from Derbyshire where the breed was originally known as ‘Bakewell Blues’ or ‘Blue Albion’. It was established as a dual-purpose breed – to provide both milk and meat – by breeders who wanted to produce a blue, or more accurately blue roan, cow. Not all Albions carry the distinct blue roan colouring and those that do tend to fetch a premium in the sale ring, for no other reason than the colour is popular. Not all Albions are Blue – there are also black and all-white Albions.

The Albion is a breed that has not been modernised, so remains true to its dual-purpose heritage. Smaller than most Shorthorns, one breeder describes it as ‘a proper cow – but not enormous’.

The Albion was originally bred to live in the Peak District and it is not a breed that needs cossetting. It is capable of living out all year round and can thrive on poorer grass types or a herby mixed sward. They are good converters of forage, so in winter, if there is a need to supplement or replace their grazing, they are happy with hay or silage providing they have access to water and mineral licks.

For those wanting a breed for meat as well as dairy, the Albion fits the bill. Steers mature slowly on herbs and grasses to produce good ‘meat conformation’, with delicious, well-marbled meat. Smaller than modern commercial cattle, they produce a realistic amount of meat to supply friends and family or for sale to local butchers. However, they have also been proven to fatten and grade well in commercial yards. Breeding cows enjoy a good lifespan, typically living into their late teens.

Breeder Profile: Engine room of the breed 

Breeder profile: New entrant to the breed