The last two hundred years have witnessed enormous
changes to the cattle commonly found on farms.
From an indistinct number of varieties, specific breeds were identified
and then improved. Specialist milking and beef producing strains have
been developed and both the type and quantity of their produce manipulated
through the breeding process. In the early nineteenth century, for example,
hugely fat beasts were bred because fatty joints of meat were what people
wanted to eat whereas, by contrast, breeds that produce much leaner cuts
are popular today. Before the days of mass photography, and during a period
when, for the first time, there was much public interest in breed improvement,
it became very popular for farmers to commission portraits of their prize
beasts from one of a small band of itinerant artists. The Museum of English Rural Life has an important collection of these works.