A short story about the Aberdeen Angus Cow “Old Grannie” written in 1904 by Charles S. Plumb, B. Sc., Professor of Animal Husbandry, Ohio State University.
All references to early Aberdeen-Angus history pay deference to the cow Old Grannie, bred by Hugh Watson of Keillor, Scotland. And well they may. So far as the writer is aware, she stands without an equal in years and usefulness. In the Scotch Polled Cattle Herdbook, in the first volume issued, which combines both Aberdeen-Angus and Galloway, is Old Grannie (1), or the Prima cow.
Calved in 1824, she died on July 1, 1859, at the age of 35 years and 6 months. Scotland has produced in the past a number of celebrated breeders of Aberdeen-Angus cattle, and in their time none gave greater service to promoting high-class breeding than Hugh Watson of
Keillor, Forfarshire, William Mc-Combie of Tillyfour and Sir George Macpherson Grant of Ballindalloch. The first two long since passed away, but the latter is- yet an active breeder. Old Grannie was one of the most notable of many noted animals bred by Watson. It is said that he desired to keep her as long as possible, to demonstrate the longevity of a vigorous animal of the breed kept in a natural condition.
And so during the many years of the triumphs of Watson, Old Grannie stood at the head of the herd as an example of what an Angus matron might do and be.
In her long career she produced twenty-five calves, of which eleven are registered in the herdbook.
The following list gives their names and sires:
Strathmore (5) Calved 1851
Old Windsor (115) Sire, Black Jock (3)
First Menius (129) Sire Black Jock (3)
Hugo (130) Sire, Old Jock (1)
The Baron (134) Sire, Black Jock (3)
Hope (3) Sire Grey-Breasted Jock (2)
Lady Clara (4) Sire
Beauty of Bnchan (5).. Sire
Young Favorite (61)… Sire
Fdintmrgh (64) Sire
Grey-Breasted Jock (2)
Grey-Breasted Jock (2)
Grey-Brea’sted Jock (2)
Grey-Breasted Jock (2)
Keillor (231) Sire, Old Jock (1)
If it is true that the real history of the Aberdeen-Angus breed began in 1808, with the improvements of Watson, then this work had been sixteen years in 21 progress when Old Grannie entered in on the scene. During the first twenty nine years of her life she produced the twenty-five calves, after which she ceased breeding. In fact, after her twenty-eighth year she produced no milk for the calf to suckle.
This cow had more merit than simply age and fecundity. Mr. Watson valued her offspring, and they became important factors in his herd. Some of her daughters were purchased by the best Scotch breeders. Mr. Ferguson of Kinnochtry bought in 1839 Young Favorite (61) and Edinburgh (64), and Mr. Mc-Combie of Tillyfour bought Lady Clara (4). In 1882 Macdonald and Sinclair wrote: “The blood of Old Grannie (1) circulates in the male line in many existing tribes of cattle, and she has also several living female descendants.” Through the work of Mr. Ferguson, resulting from his 1839 purchase of Young Favorite (61), came the Princess and Baroness families, while Edinburgh (64) became the foundress of the Emily family. There is little difficulty in tracing back Angus pedigrees of today into the direct blood of Old Grannie.
Some of the unregistered offspring of this old matron were also highly esteemed. A son of hers, that later came into service as an ox, Hugh Watson considered the most perfect specimen of the polled breed he ever raised. This ox won first prize in class in 1843 at the Highland show at Dundee, and he walked the thirteen miles from Keillor to the grounds to be exhibited. At Belfast, Ireland, Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, purchased him, and, as his property, showed him at Smithfield in 1844.
This ox met with such favor in the royal family as to be made a life pensioner. A painting was made of him for Mr. Watson, and colored engravings were also published and widely distributed, one of which is in the possession of the writer. A portrait was also made of him by the celebrated animal painter, Gourlay Steell. This ox served as a valued laborer on the farm and lived to be 17 years of age.
In searching for specific information concerning Old Grannie, the writer has been unable to find any statement as to her type and personal character. No mention of these things is made in considerable Angus literature at my disposal, including articles by Hugh Watson himself, William Watson, his son, and an extended sketch by a daughter, as well as the writings of McCombie, Macdonald and Sinclair and R. C. Auld. That she was an animal of very superior form and quality in her prime is undoubted.
Miss Watson writes of Old Grannie:
“She, herself, when she was 34, was shown at Aberdeen as extra stock in 1858, and created quite a sensation in the show yard.” The sensation, however, was no doubt due to the remarkable age of the cow herself. As she was the dam of over two dozen prize-takers, she no doubt had the essentials of a shapely cow of quality.
Aside from the breeding value of Old Grannie two things occurred during her life that add much interest to her career. In 1859, two days before her death, at the special request of Prince Albert, a photograph of her was taken, and in October, that year, was placed in the collection of cattle photographs in Balmoral castle, the Scotch home of the queen.
Another happy incident was the presenting to James Thompson, the herdsman who had attended Old Grannie all her life, who had been in Mr. Watson’s employ for forty-two years, of a medal and premium of 100 francs by the French Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. This was in recognition of the kindness which must have characterized the care of the old matron during the many years of her life at Keillor.
There must have been many a tug at the heart strings when Old Grannie passed away on that July 1, 1859. And, as many an old granny leaves a vacancy hard to fill in this world, so must this old dame have left at Keillor a place none but she could occupy. Nor was there another like her at least in that bonnie Scotland.