SRB in retrospect – a historic view beyond the last 75 years

At midnight on January 1st 1928 the SRB breed was formally established after five years of negotiations between the Ayrshire society and the RSB association, which had decided on the the fusion of the two societies one year earlier.  The place of the event was the farm Snesta in the county of Sörmland, where the RSB inspector Jack Löndahl immediately before midnight included the last cows in the RSB herdbook and the first ones in the SRB herdbook immediately after midnight.

The extended negotiations reflect the difficulties to reach a decision. The two breeds were closely related and both of them had Ayrshire and Shorthorn bulls in their pedigrees and also to some extent the native breeds and the so called manorial breeds. The decisive difference was that the RSB-breed had a higher proportion of Shorthorn blood (about 50 %) despite the fact that the Ayrshire bull 28 Hero (with number 261 in the Ayrshire Herd Book) could be found in the pedigrees of almost all of them. It should also be remembered that the Ayrshire and the Shorthorn breeds were related inter se.

Despite the fact that the two breeds were related and had developed in a similar way it was not self evident that the breed associations should fuse. There was a dispute about the name of the new breed, which threatened to prevent it. The RSB society wanted the name to be Red and White Swedish cattle, which was almost the same as the former name Red Spotted Swedish cattle (the final B stands for boskap, which means cattle). The final solution was Swedish Red and White cattle, SRB, which the Ayrshire association at the end could accept.

The ancient roots

This part of the historical review will be superficial. The space does not allow anything else. Domesticated cattle appeared on the Scandinavian peninsula during the younger stone age about 6000 years ago with immigrating people from England. At the end of the younger stone age, about 4000 years ago, a new kind of people arrived in the country, the so called boat-ax-people and the theory is that even these brought with them domestic cattle. From now on we had the foundation of a Swedish “landrace”.

It is believed that no new cattle was brought in during the bronze- and the iron age. During the bronze age the climate was warm and continental but during the iron age, 2500 years ago, the climate turned colder and the animals were hardened through selection.

The Vikings and the mediaval period

The Vikings may have brought cattle back to Sweden on the way home from their predatory incursions and trade voyages, but it is more probable that they brought cattle on their way out. A result of this is the Icelandic cow, which has survived there since during 1000 years without any blood renewal. The present cows on Iceland are thus living examples on how the cattle looked like on the Scandinavian peninsula (except Skåne) at that time. The cows were horned or culled, and with all possible colours (pale red with a white face, tigrine or sided coloured like the polled cows in northern Sweden.

During the medieval period (AD 1060 – 1520) there is no evidence of any significant imports. However, an extensive export of breeding animals occurred as during the Viking age, which is supported by the writings by Adam of Bremen saying that cattle were superfluous in the Nordic countries. In view of the commercial connection between Visby and northern Germany (Hansan) the island of Gotland may have imported more cattle than other parts of Sweden.

Within the country an increased trade with cattle may have contributed to a mixing of existing groups of landrace cattle (besides the immigration from the south some researchers mean that we have had an immigration route from the east over northern Finland).

The 16th century

During the regency of Gustav Wasa cattle breeding flourished. Cattle production was lifted to a higher level by “King Gösta”.  During this time cattle from Jutland, Holstein and Holland were imported to some of the royal farms and it is reasonable to believe that the landraces were affected by these imports. The cows at this time were small (150 kg) and produced normally 500-600 kg milk per year but could in certain cases yield 1300 kg a year on the best royal farms according to well preserved annotations – a respectable amount in view of the low body size. Some of the royal farms had remarkably large herds. At Gripsholm 396 cows were kept one year and at Ekolsund 300 (replacements not included).

The period 1600 – 1830

During these centuries cattle production regressed from time to time for varying reasons. One cause was the so called “boskapspenningen”, which was a tax introduced 1620 on all animals above a certain age. During the period of liberty (1718 – 1772) the situation became even worse while it meant a political guardianship with negative consequences for the farmers. During this time sheep production was favoured at the expense of the cattle production. The many wars in these years also had a negative impact. The cattle business had a low status when the noblemen preferred more honourable tasks on the battle field of Europe to peaceful agricultural activities.

During the 17th and the 18th century Sweden was repeatedly hit by severe crop-failure and severe cattle diseases. A severe crop-failure was recorded in 1695 – 96 and a severe cattle-plague (rinderpest) in 1745 – 46. At this occasion at least 200 000 cattle died only in Skåne and this part of the country was the one most severely affected, mainly because of frequent importations from Holland at this time.

The “Scanian manorial breed”

The emptied barns in Skåne had to be refilled with cattle from counties north of Skåne. The remains of the local landrace and the imported animals were mainly combined with landrace cattle from Småland and the result was the “Scanian manorial breed”. This landrace was somewhat larger than the cattle north of the Halland ridge. It was also darker red, which indicates relations with the type of landrace cow in Denmark and northern Germany, which eventually ended up in the RDM-  and the Angler breeds. The Scanian manorial breed could be found at Scanian estates until the 1860ies  and had in the meantime affected a number of manorial breeds in middle Sweden.

From 1830 – Inspiration from Britain

In the 1830ies it became evident that something had to be done. Scholars like Alexis Noring and Johan T. Nathorst had been inspired by the success of the creation of improved breeds in England and forwarded their ideas in different ways. The creation of new breeds and systematic selection within these populations was something, not practised before – not until Robert Bakewell at the second half of the 18th century conducted his pioneering improvement of the British Longhorn breed.

The brothers Charles and Robert Colling were inspired by the ideas of Bakewell at the end of the 18th century and started the improvement of the Shorthorn breed from the unselected Teeswater cattle. The work by the Colling brothers was pursued by the breeders Booth and Bates respectively, which continued the improvement in two directions. Booth created the Beef Shorthorns (named Durhams in Sweden at that time) and Thomas Bates followed a line that ended up in the Dairy Shorthorn breed (named Yorkshire in Sweden). As a curiosity, it may be mentioned that the bull Hubback from the Colling herd became the founder bull of both the branches of the Shorthorn breed.

The Walaholm breed – one of many manorial breeds

The engagement by Noring and Nathorst inspired many estate owners and already at the end of the 1830ies importations had started both of Durhams and Yorkshires. Somewhat later the first Ayrshires appeared in Sweden. These breeds had been imported to Walaholm in the parish of Hova in Västergötland where the so called Walaholm breed was created, which was widely spread in Västergötland and surrounding counties. A curiosity is that Walaholm bought cattle from Katrineberg in Värmland, which in turn came from Degeberg in Västergötland and originally from Stjärnsund outside Askersund i Närke in the 1760ies. 100 years later the pioneering selection of red cows started at Stjernsund with cattle, mainly originating from Walaholm.

Besides the mentioned breeds from Walaholm and Katrineberg a number of local manorial breeds were created and it was in these times that the words breed and race (or “slag”) were used for the firs time. Basically it was successful herds that affected the surrounding areas. Kobergsslaget and Strömsholms racen were examples of this. Many of these local breeds were influenced by the Scanian manorial breed.


Not only private breeders were inspired by Noring and Nathorst. After a resolution in the Swedish parliament in 1844, 8 “Stamholländerier” were established in different places with governmental support. Every  “Stamholländeri” received without any payment 2 bulls and 20 females of a purebred imported breed (not domestic cows as the original intention had been). The service in return was to supply the surrounding area with good breeding animals. Half of the establishments received Ayrshire cattle, which eventually outperformed the other actual breeds (Allgauer, Voightländer and Pembrokeshire) when new “Stamholländerier” were formed. 

The Stamholländeri-organisation  was abandoned in 1871 with the exception of the establishment at Alnarp, which remained until 1901. Many of the farms that had been engaged in this activity continued their Ayrshire breeding later on and many of the well-known herds like Bjärka Säby, Klagstorp (later on Viken) and Aranäs were more or less influenced by the subsidised importations. The herd at Ultuna/Kungsängen in Uppsala was founded by the imports of 1847. The importance of “Stamholländerierna” has thus been of far greater importance than many authors over the years have implied.

Skarhult and Scanian Ayrshires

In 1847, the initial year for “Stamholländerierna” , an even more important importation was made to Hjuleberg in Halland and Skarhult outside Eslöv in Skåne. From these farms the Ayrshire breed was very rapidly disseminated to a number of prominent herds in Skåne and Halland at the end of the 19th century. After 1899, when the Ayrshire society had been formed, the Skarhult breeding was moved north via Aranäs outside Gränna and dominated the Swedish Ayrshire breeding until the fusion with the RSB-breed in 1928.

Comprehensive Ayrshire imports in the 1880ies and the 1890ies

The Ayrshire breeding in Skåne and Halland was highly influenced by the private importations to Skarhult in the same way as the interest for this breed in middle Sweden was influenced by “Stamholländerierna” and by some private Ayrshire centers like Ålberga, Tynnelsö and Väderbrunn in Södermanland. In the 1880ies and the 1890ies many Ayrshire importations were made with the main purpose to upgrade the unselected farm animals. The type of the Ayrshire cow had been changed in Britain between 1840 and 1880. The importations at the end of the 19th century were of the modern Scottish type and it was this type that later on affected the Ayrshires in Finland and North America. The new Ayrshires differed significantly in type from the earlier importations, and above all from the type of the Ayrshires in Skåne.

The system of awarding and the bull associations

A contributing factor to the increasing interest for the Ayrshire breeding was the system of awarding that was introduced in most of the counties at the end of the 1880ies. In each county the rural-economy associations appointed an awarding committee with a secondary duty to administrate a county-herd book over the breeds eligible for awarding. On countless awarding meetings bulls and cows appointed for awarding were accepted or rejected. In almost all counties up to and including the county of Gävleborg Ayrshires were awarded. Other breeds that were awarded were Shorthorns, East Friesian cattle, Polled cattle in northern Sweden and cows belonging to the Gotland breed. However, the Ayrshires outnumbered all the others added together. At the end of the 19th century the number of bull associations increased considerably, which contributed to the growth of the Ayrshire breed.

RSB – for those who had used Ayrshires and Shorthorns

The increased interest for breeding with pure breeds caused troubles for advanced manorial herds, which had been improved by means of both Ayrshires and Shorthorns. The selling of breeding animals was rapidly reduced. At the agricultural fair in Göteborg 1891 such a mixed group was exhibited and aroused common admiration and approval. On the initiativ by among others estate owner Ivar Lindström a proclamation was issued saying that these and similar animals should be taken care of. The proclamation was well received and the year efter, 1892, the breed association for Red Spotted Swedish (RSB) cattle was founded. Initially the  number of cooperating herds were few and limited to the counties of Närke and Södermanland. The number of awardings were not grater than the number of Ayrshire awardinngs in the Malmöhus county during the period 1890 – 1900. In the new century the number of cooperating herds increased every year – at the same time as the base for the Ayrshire breeding gradually decreased.

Stjernsund – the most important of them all

The group of animals, that had impressed so many people at the Göteborg agricultural fair in 1891 came from Stjernsund, outside Askersund in the county of Närke, the most important individual herd in the history of the SRB-breed. From the start of the RSB-association up to 1920 Stjernsund completely dominated and headed the development of the breed. In the last RSB herd book of 1927 all bulls had the Ayrshire bull 28 Hero (alias Star of the West AHB 261) in their pedigree. 28 Hero had been imported as a one year old young bull in 1881.

The selling of breeding animals from Stjernsund was exceptional. On an average 35 males and 35 females were sold from the herd of 175 cows in the period 1887 – 1927.

The breeding work at Stjernsund started in 1860 by Knut Cassel and was continued by his son Albert Cassel. The herd of 1860 of unspecified manorial breed was bought together from Laxå bruk of the so called Walaholms breed. This breed had roughly the same components as the SRB-cows of today.

After that two Shorthorn bulls, 20 Winsor and 48 Osborne, were bought and, in addition, the abovementioned Ayrshire bull 28 Hero, who strongly influenced not only the Sjernsund herd but later on the RSB-breed and after that the SRB-breed. But not only the males have had an impact. In our present day barns many cows trace back to the many important cow families of Stjerensund (not always recognised by the owners). And who knows, some of these cow families may trace back thousands of years in the Swedish history.

Per E. Falk.  


© 2010 Per E. Falk, Uppsala, Sweden..
Last updated 27 Mars 2010.