'He aimed to produce an animal which would produce twice the amount of flesh on half the amount of food, in the least possible time.'
18th century paintings of fat livestock with spindly legs are beautifully charming. I've always thought that they were the offspring of dodgy observational skills rather than accurate depictions of animals, but it turns out that the breeding of these these vast beasts was once a big trend in Britain.
'His exact methods remain unclear, the disapproval of the church causing him to be discreet'
A Mr Robert Bakewell, a farmer from Leicestershire was the pioneer behind it all. In response to the country's population doubling he decided to experiment (in secret) with selectively breeding cattle for their fatty qualities.
'Bakewell wintered his cattle indoors feeding them on root crops and oil cake.'
Fat was highly valued at the time and people were extreamly proud of their largest animals.
'Competition to breed the fattest and biggest animals was intense. Bakewell made £1,200 a year from his prize breeding ram Two Pounder, so named because he resembled the shape of a canon.'
'(Bakewell's) new methods revolutionised the look of British livestock. In 1710, the average weight of cattle sold at Smithfield market was 370lb; by 1795, when Bakewell died, it was 800lb.
References taken from a great article by Elspeth Moncrieff on the fine art of farmyard Britain.