New book details Speckle Park breed’s beginnings

A Saskatchewan producer has drawn on extensive documents and photos to tell the story of the breed’s founding

Christine Pike, a Saskatchewan farm owner and cattlewoman, has published a book about the Speckle Park breed’s beginnings and the contributions of the late Mary Lindsay, who created the Lindsay Lineback. The Speckle Park is one of very few cattle breeds developed in Canada.

“My sister Eileen bought a Lindsay Lineback cow from Mary Lindsay, then she and her husband Bill Lamont bred that cow to their excellent Black Angus bull of the 1960s and were surprised to get colourful calves with exceptionally outstanding beef. These cattle were the start of the Speckle Park breed,” Pike says.

Tracing the origins

Mary Lindsay.
photo: Courtesy Christine Pike

The Speckle Park has been making a name for itself, with its many outstanding features. But the breed’s origins were ignored or unknown by some and the stories confused. Pike says it got to the point that Lindsay wasn’t given credit, even though she had developed the female side of the original breed.

Pike also wanted to make sure that the Lamonts were remembered for their efforts, as she thinks their contributions were swept under the rug as well. “I wrote the book about this breed because I had to. Because I am passionate about these cattle and because I was the only person who could do it because I am Eileen Lamont’s sister. I have been associated with the Speckle Park ever since the family started creating the breed.”

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She feels now is the right time to publish, as the breed is becoming well known. Fortunately Pike kept a lot of notes, and wrote a diary all those years. She also had all of Bill and Eileen’s papers, letters and letters exchanged.

“I also have Mary’s own words about how she got that first cow, because Bill Lamont sat at her kitchen table and wrote as she spoke.”

Mary Lindsay loved animals and was an astute cattle breeder. In 1929 she imported some Highland cattle from her native Scotland — six heifers and a bull — making her one of Canada’s early importers of the breed.

In 1937, she rode with her father to the Gus Formo farm, northeast of Lloydminster, to get a little herd of cattle that her father purchased from that farm. A strawberry roan cow with a broad white stripe down her back caught Lindsay’s eye. That cow had a three-year-old daughter that was a darker roan, marked the same, plus a year-old heifer.

“As Mary described the cow, rather than being roan like a Shorthorn, she had a few more distinct spots. That cow then dropped a white heifer calf with black ears and black nose.”

This was a surprise. Where did that pattern come from?

“It was very interesting, but no one thought to phone Gus Formo to ask him what bull bred those cows.” In those days, many people were still using unregistered scrub bulls, Pike adds.

“There were a few registered Shorthorn herds, since that was the main breed at the time, but that calf would never have come from a Shorthorn bull. There were no Angus yet, just a few Herefords and some dairy animals. So that’s the mystery,” says Pike.

Lindsay bred the white heifer to her Highland bull. “In the meantime her sister Emma bought some registered Jersey cows.”

Eileen and Bill Lamont.
photo: Courtesy Christine Pike

In those days the cream and egg cheques were vital to family farms, so it was important to have cows that produced milk with high butterfat, Pike explains. The Lindsay sisters milked 20 cows by hand and Emma brought in a Jersey bull. That bull was used on some of the cows, then later they were bred to Angus.

“There was also a little Galloway blood added, from their brother David’s herd. So the start of the Speckle Park was a cow that likely had Shorthorn blood, bred to an unknown bull, with the offspring bred to Highland, Jersey, Angus and Galloway.”

This made an interesting composite. “If you look at all the attributes of those breeds, it made a good mix and they complemented one another. All of them had excellent feet, easy calving and other desirable traits — and that’s what created the Lindsay Lineback,” Pike says.

By then, the Lamonts were raising Angus north of Maidstone, in northwestern Sask­atchewan.

“Bill went with a friend one day who wanted to buy one of David’s Galloway bulls and saw the spotted animals that Mary had created. He was like Mary in that they both liked animals that were a little different and eye-catching, but it was actually my sister Eileen in 1962 who bought the first Lindsay Lineback,” says Pike.

The Lamonts then bred the Lindsay Linebacks with the Black Angus. The Angus of that day were still small-boned — the original Angus from Scotland. This made an excellent mix, creating the Speckle Park breed.

“In 1974, Bill brought me one. That was the year Bill and Eileen became so interested in creating a new breed that they sold their Black Angus, taking a huge leap of faith.”

Some Speckle Park steers were solid black, some white and some red and white. The black steers brought a lot more money than the spotted ones, which were shunned at the stockyard, Pike says. But the local butcher was an early fan of the new breed.

“Most of us back then had a pasture-to-plate business, selling meat directly to customers, so it didn’t matter what color they were. Doug Staniforth told Bill this was the best beef he’d ever butchered in terms of bone-to-meat ratio, along with excellent flavour, and asked Bill if he’d thought to make a breed. He and Eileen had been thinking about it, so this gave them more incentive to do it.”

This also gave Bill the idea for the official slogan for the new breed: the balanced beef breed with a colour bonus.

“He and Eileen were not raising them for the colour; they were raising them for their excellent meat. Their customers would not have bought the meat if it wasn’t desirable. The meat is very tender. Customers often say they can cut it with the side of their fork, and the flavour is exceptional,” Pike says.

Promoting a new breed

In 1986 the newly formed Speckle Park Association was invited to have a display at Canadian Western Agribition. “I was grateful to the Agribition people, because we didn’t have to pay anything. Our display was very simple at first — just one bull. Eileen made a sign, and a new breed was born. Eileen and Bill had just retired to Salmon Arm, British Columbia, after starting the breed association,” Pike says.

In 1989 Pike’s sister Maureen brought up the idea at an association meeting of sending some of the cattle to the Camrose Bull Congress’s Steak Challenge. The association followed through on the idea in 1992.

“Maureen and I masterminded that whole thing, and our Speckle Park cattle swept every category including taste. The manager came up to us afterward and said we helped put Camrose on the map. I said, ‘No, you helped put Speckle Park on the map!’ Maureen and I had done presentations in the past with horse shows and 4-H, and we also had talented people in our small group. The steaks were supplied by several people.”

Eileen wanted Pike to ask the association to support breeders going into carcass classes.

“They never did it, so some of us tried it individually at Regina and did fairly well. Regina didn’t continue the carcass classes, but these classes kept going at the Calgary Stampede. In 2001, Wayne and Arlene Gould (Islay, Alta.) took Grand Champion in the carcass class,” says Pike.

Speckle Park cattle kept winning and placing in the top 10 at the carcass class at the Calgary Stampede for several years after that initial win. “This is what it’s all about — the meat! I end my book with a recipe section,” she says.

This is an intriguing breed, with a great disposition, Pike adds. “Probably 99 per cent of them are very easy to work with. These cattle also do well in feedlot tests with excellent rate of daily gain. The cattle are very smart, adaptable and friendly. When you walk along the pens in a feedlot, the Speckle Park cattle come right up to the fence to see you — very curious animals,” Pike says.

Mary Lindsay was honored by the Canadian Highland Cattle Society and her photo was hung on the Agriculture Wall of Fame in the Lloydminster Exhibition building. Bill and Eileen Lamont were given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association, and this year posthumously inducted into the Saskatchewan Agricultural Hall of Fame in Saskatoon.

The breed they created has gained world recognition. Today there are more Speckle Park cattle in Australia than in Canada.

“What sold the people in Australia and New Zealand on this breed was seeing these cattle win the carcass classes in Calgary,” Pike says.

Pike’s book about the creation of this breed has over 300 photos. The title, derived from the Mother Goose rhyme, is The Cow that Jumped Over the World — referring to how this breed swept around the world to Australia. Like the Speckle Park breed, the book is also proving popular in Australia, with 157 copies sold and shipped there as of mid-November.

Pike quotes one breeder from British Columbia, who was speaking of the late Mary Lindsay and Bill and Eileen Lamont, saying “What a wonderful legacy they left us!”

For more information or to order The Cow That Jumped Over the World, please contact Christine Pike at 306-893-2974.

Heather Smith Thomas raises beef cattle with her husband on their ranch in Idaho. She also writes articles for ag publications as well as books on horse care and cattle management.

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