Answer not always black and white

Answer not always black and white
NZ Milking Shorthorn Association president Ross Soffe with some of his show cows

As president of the New Zealand Milking Shorthorn Association, Ross Soffe is adamant that the answer is not always black and white.
Thought to be the oldest breed in New Zealand, the red, white and roan coloured cows, originally known as Durhams, were brought to New Zealand as a dual-purpose cow in 1814 by the missionary Samuel Marsden – providing the infant country with meat and milk.
Just prior to the First World War, societies for the various breeds were formed at about the same time.
For Shorthorns this was significant because it was the first time an organization had been developed solely for Milking Shorthorns by a group of breeders who had for some while been selecting purely on production.
Ross says that up until the 1920’s the Milking Shorthorn was the dominant breed, but once the dairy companies started paying on butterfat that situation changed, initially favouring Jerseys and then Friesians.
He says that by the 1950’s there would have been an even split between Jersey, Friesian and Milking Shorthorn cows but through circumstances a lot of the milking Shorthorn herds faded away. “We reckon that we’ve about 5000 registered cows. It is a bit of an estimate,” says Ross.
“We do have registrations but you’re never sure about how many of those cows are still on the ground. And we would like to think there might be another 5000 unregistered cows throughout NZ.”
While promoting the breed is part of the Associations constitution, Ross explains that there is a greater responsibility to New Zealand’s dairy industry. “Shorthorns provide genetic diversity. As farmers we have to maintain our minor breeds.
We don’t know if the Shorthorn breed has got something that other breeds don’t which might be discovered in the future – there might be some medical remedy or disease resistance.
Shorthorn’s have been in New Zealand so long that they’re very tuned to our conditions.” Ross refers to Shorthorn’s resistance to facial Eczema, qualifying that there is only anecdotal evidence of that.
He says that one of the problems facing the Association is the BW index rating system, which Milking Shorthorns have never rated highly on, because of the limited size of the gene pool.
“It’s a lot more difficult for us to get genetic improvement compared to the Friesians, which have millions of cows to select from. It easier for them to find those elite sires.” Ross feels the BW index is a big issue particularly for sharemilkers and the bankers who don’t encourage lending money for low index cows.
He says they don’t understand that a low index cow can be just as good as a cow with a high index.
Ross lists easily the virtues of the Milking Shorthorn; a strong cow, very easy calving – the easiest calving breed in the country he says – and strong developments have been made over the last 25 years in respect to udders, fat and protein production.
Good legs, feet and good health traits round off the breed’s attributes. With herds throughout the country and some large ones in the South Island, Ross says the top herds are producing just as much as most other breeds in New Zealand.
“My advice is to have a look – don’t think that just because a cows isn’t black and white that it’s not going to be a good producing cow.”
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