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Shorthorn breeders ‘aware of our vulnerability’

Shorthorn breeders ‘aware of our vulnerability’
Young shorthorn milking cow grazing contentedly on the Soffe Farm.

New Zealand Milking Shorthorn Association president Ross Soffe says losing numbers of shorthorn cattle in New Zealand will always be a concern.

“Our numbers aren’t greatly increasing but they’re not decreasing either,” he says. As Ross himself starts thinking toward a succession plan, it’s on his mind that many association members are doing the same.

“Some of our bigger breeders are all getting older and if you lose a breeder who has a couple of hundred shorthorn cows in his herd and that herd gets sold up, that does not necessarily mean that those cows are going to get dispersed and bred on, they may just dissolve into the rest of the cow population in NZ.”

The reality is that by losing large breeders it will take a long time to get those numbers back, Ross adds.

“That’s also one of the concerns with Mycoplasma Bovis. We have a couple of big herds in NZ that are predominantly shorthorn-type cows. If we were to lose one of those herds that would be a devastating blow to the cow numbers in the Milking Shorthorn Association; we are very aware of our vulnerability all the time.”

Ross counts his lucky stars that, so far, they have been unscathed by the outbreak but they’re not completely out of the woods yet. With Fieldays happening all around the country, the threat of infection is always at the back of their minds.

“Part of our publicity is the showing of shorthorns; that’s one place where people gather and can see the progress we’ve made and how good our cows are now.”

His concern is, if a cow showed up that had gone undetected does that then put every other cow that was at the show in that trace?

“We are not like the bigger breeds where we can just go and find another million replacements because we don’t have those numbers but we are mildly confident that MPI are doing a good job.”

There are a couple of shows this year in the North Island, Ross adds, that are most likely going to go ahead that didn’t last year and he says it is going to require a lot of trust in the testing regime to show their animals.

However, in saying all of that, Ross is proud of where the association is at the moment.

“We think we are doing quite well, our semen sales have been increasing over the last five years so we have seen some pretty steady progress in that area. We think we are making some positive steps. The quality of our cattle are improving, production is improving. We think we are heading in the right direction.”

And after a recent trip to Australia, Ross is quietly confident that New Zealand is progressing quite nicely with their genetics and have a clear vision of what they want achieve.

“The general opinion from that trip was that we have to be quite careful with what we are doing. We don’t want our shorthorn breed to become a sudo red friesian by using too much red friesian genetics.”

This has got the association looking at the red cow population around the world that are showcasing the traits they are after such as easy calving, sound feet and legs,  good production and good health traits.

“We are sort of settling towards the European breeds again the Swedish, Danish and Norwegian reds in particular. We have put a limit on the amount of red friesian in our breeding  and we are trying to use more NZ homebred genetics in our program so that we are building on what we have got.”

And for the next generation, the shorthorn breed is still garnering interest and Ross says he is happy to see many young farmers wanting to take a step in their grandparents or even great grandparents shoes and give shorthorns a go.

“The progress that has been made in the past 35 years in our breeding schemes means the cattle that we have now are much better and they’re more likely to stay on farms than they would have maybe even a few years ago. The people that are giving them a try are coming up with better results.”

So chances are, once they give the shorthorn bred a go, they won’t be looking back.

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