19 October 1999
Island cattle evolve into new breed

A HERD of cattle left on an uninhabited Scottish island for more than 25 years has genetically changed to become a new breed.

The animals of the Orkney island of Swona have been breeding by natural selection for five generations.

They have now been officially recognised as “Swona cattle”.

The breed is described as wary of humans and aggressive. It has also evolved a social system that banishes old, weak and surplus bulls to one corner of the 270-acre island.

The cows breed once a year and not perpetually in milk like a dairy herd.

Over the years, the herd numbers have fluctuated from 14 to 33 animals. There are 20 now – seven bulls, eight cows and five calves.

  • The Independent 19/10/99 page 9