Good bloodlines critical for old breed

Good bloodlines critical for old breed
Sunrise and the cows in for milking at Chris and Margaret Bailey’s Elmgrove property at Flaxton. Their 240- cow herd is around half shorthorn and half friesian.

North Canterbury farmer Chris Bailey, of Elmgrove Milking Shorthorns, has been breeding shorthorn cattle for 40 years but is uncertain about their future in New Zealand in the face of long-term dwindling numbers.
The shorthorn breed is the oldest in New Zealand with the first cows being brought here in 1814 from New South Wales by Samuel Marsden.
The Elmgrove herd was first registered in 1946. A past president of the New Zealand Milking Shorthorn Association, Chris has been involved with the organisation for 30 years.
“I would like to think they’d keep going but the way things are at the moment I’m just not sure how they’ll go.”
Because shorthorn are slightly slower maturing than other cattle common in New Zealand, their breeding worth is “downgraded” which does not help with the demand for them, he says.
“If we can source good breeding bulls then, yes the breed will keep going, but if we can’t get good bloodlines and a good supply of bulls for semen sales they might disappear.
“The New Zealand genetic pool has gotten so small now we’ve got to be careful how we breed the cows. That’s why we’re sourcing bloodlines from overseas. That’s something we’ve been working on for a few years now.” New Zealand shorthorn breeders have been sourcing semen from Denmark, Australia and Canada.
Despite the status of the breed in recent decades, there was still good demand for surplus shorthorn bull calves.
Chris and his wife Margaret farm 110 hectares at Flaxton, north of Christchurch. They marked 100 years of family ownership of the property last year. Their 240 cow herd comprises about half shorthorn and half friesian.
The Bailey’s are hoping for a favourable season after low production of 80,000kgMS for the past season on the back of a dismal spring, followed almost immediately by drought. Normal production is around 90,000kgMS.
Despite the fully irrigated farm being in Canterbury it has heavy clay soil and the wet spring resulted in pugged pastures which did not have time to recover before the drought. “The ground just went like concrete.”
“If we get a wet spring it affects our production right through. Last year was exceptionally wet until the end of September/beginning of October. The cows never really peaked last year.”
Another prolonged wet period would probably be the catalyst to build a feed pad.
“That’s something we talked about last year at the time, if it ever happened again it’s something we might look at.” Cows are wintered on grass and baleage on a nearby run-off which has much lighter soil.
Despite his concerns for the longevity of shorthorn in New Zealand, Chris believes it still has much going for it as an easy-to-handle cattle with good maternal qualities and easy calving, as well as having good marbling and good meat flavour for beef producers.
The Bailey’s have three children, two sons and a daughter; one son works on the farm and a farm succession plan is currently on the agenda.
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