Management

A love of shorthorns inspires breeder

By Dairy News

STRIKING-UP A conversation in a paddock at Timboon was a step towards kicking a huge business goal for one Dairy Shorthorn breeder.

It was during the International Red Breeds Conference when Dylan Jewell got talking to a breeding company representative from New Zealand.

“He said, ‘You wouldn’t happen to have a bull that’s white?’ ” Dylan said.

“I said ‘Yeah, and he’s polled too.’ He said, ‘He wouldn’t happen to be A2?’ I said I’d find out for him and get him tested. He came back positive for A2.”

That simple conversation enabled Dylan, a self-confessed hobby farmer, to achieve a first of many breeding goals.

It was easily the biggest thing the artificial insemination technician had done with his own breeding.

“I’ve AIed 60 to 70 thousand cows and helped people achieve their breeding goals and then to achieve one of my goals finally, it was a big thing,” he said.

“To think I started off with a couple of calves, things were a bit tough, and then to have that finally happen, it was one of the many goals ticked.”

Dylan grew up in Warrnambool and while he always had an interest in animals, it was showing cows and rearing calves while at school that really sparked his interest.

He then worked on local dairy farms and for the past eight years has been employed as an AI technician, developing his interest in genetics and improving herds.

A Kanangra Dairy Shorthorn heifer on agistment at Woodford.

Eleven years ago, he bought two Dairy Shorthorn calves from Arraluen Dairy Shorthorns at Beeac, six months after, he bought another two from Tuerong Dairy Shorthorns at Stanhope, and Kanangra Dairy Shorthorns was born.

“I was just interested in a different breed,” he said of buying Dairy Shorthorns.

“I didn’t know anyone who had them and I like to do things differently.”

Agistment for the cattle was initially tough to source for Dylan, during the first few years, and it is why he only has six females.

“I had them 40 minutes out of town and whenever I went to do a program on them, the Angus bull had always walked through the fence.

“Eventually I got them at a place in Wangoom and I was able to start with a program, I’ve been here (Woodford) for two years and that’s why numbers are slowly increasing, and everything is pure bred.”

Dairy Shorthorns were once a dominant breed in Australia. The Dairy Shorthorn Association of Australia describes them as a “moderate framed animal”, although bulls don’t have any problem getting to more than 1000 kg.

They come in three colours: red, white and roan.

The association’s marketing material said the cows breed regularly, calve easily and exhibit great longevity. They have a quiet temperament and are adaptable to all climates in Australia and are bloat resistant. They can be either horned or naturally polled.

As the national herd has shrunk, it is becoming harder to source genetics, according to Dylan.

“The gene pool is so small, and they are a breed that’s not dominant like it was in the 1960s,” he said.

“I think the big advantage of me working in the AI industry is the connections I’ve made over the years and being able to find who’s got some semen left over or source bulls that may not be coming in and help them get in.”

Dylan sources a lot of semen from the United Kingdom but is also able to purchase from Australia as the Dairy Shorthorn Society has semen available for sale, if it is required.

Some of the bulls Dylan has used include: Twells Heather King 15, a bull from the 1980s, UK bull Oxton Boundless and Tregear Poynings Trumpeter 6.

Using old semen, there is both “good and bad” points, according to Dylan.

“My theory was I was looking for anything but at the same time, when I found those two doses (of Twells Heather King 15) a lot of that bull was either not in pedigrees anymore or not close, he’s pretty far back,” Dylan said.

“I was able to reintroduce it. The bull was a good bull at the time, he had a lot of sons and daughters back in the day, but as time’s gone on the breed dwindled a little bit and I was able to reintroduce him. He was a long way back in cow Kanangra King Deano’s pedigree so I was able to use him on her and the result was that bull New Zealand is interested in.”

As a hobby farmer, Dylan said Dairy Shorthorns were perfect for “his situation”.

“They are easy to transition over and put them out in the paddock to rear calves,” he said.

“I don’t have to worry about them getting mastitis or anything.”

Describing them as “hardy and durable” he said they were a “great dual-purpose breed”.

“They are just an easy-going breed,” he said.

“I’m a hobby guy, but if I was to go big scale, I’d have no worries just having them as my animal as a big commercial breeder.

“Fertility is awesome with them. I calve them down middle of winter and they survive, and the vet bill is basically non-existent.”

An early photograph of Australian Dairy Shorthorns.

Dylan said Dairy Shorthorns converted feed well, and were cost effective animals.

“I love coming out here, putting some grain on the ground and talking to them,” he said.

“It makes my day, when people want to hear about them; you can never shut me up, I just keep talking about them and they are different colours. You never know what you are going to get.”

Looking ahead, Dylan wants to build numbers and sell bulls into AI, to dairy or beef farmers.

He said the Dairy Shorthorns made great vealer mothers but were also productive in the dairy with good butterfat and protein.

Having spoken to several dairy farmers about using the Dairy Shorthorns as a cross in dairy herds or as mop-up bulls, he knows there’s a market. He believes affordable semen would stimulate interest among dairy farmers.

For now, though, he will be hitting the ring at the Royal Melbourne Show next month with a string of four.

It will be his first time back in the showring since 2011 and will coincide with the World Shorthorn Conference, which will be in Australia during that time.

The conference includes a tour through South Australia, Victoria and NSW with delegates stopping-in to watch the Dairy Shorthorn judging at the Royal Melbourne Show. The breed gets judged as part of the beef show because it’s a dual-purpose animal.

Malcolm Douglas is the Australian Dairy Shorthorn Society president.

His family had commercial Dairy Shorthorns at Harcourt back in the early 1900s and in 1977 he and his brother started a stud called Tuerong. In 1989 the stud moved to Stanhope.

“Some people have hobbies like collecting stamps or beer cans, our hobby was to start a Dairy Shorthorn stud!” Malcolm said.

The herd has since been dispersed; the first sale was four years ago and the second in 2016.

Malcolm said the Dairy Shorthorn Association of Australia now has 40 members and these were mostly in Victoria, Tasmania and NSW, with one in Queensland.

He said there were commercial herds in Western Australia. Most association members classify as “full-time farmers”. In Australia most Dairy Shorthorns are used as vealer mothers.

The decline of the breed is due to many factors, according to Malcolm.

“First there’s specialisation, the Dairy Shorthorn is suited to mixed farming operations,” he said.

“For example, in our family situation we had an orchard, sheep, pigs and milked cows. Back in the ‘70s specialisation came in, you either focused on breeding beef or purely dairy, attributes which didn’t fall in the Dairy Shorthorn basket.”

Malcolm said the breed didn’t embrace artificial insemination like other cattle breeds and this meant it lost “impetus”.

“The breed was so reliant on England for its genetics,” he said.

“When England had foot and mouth and mad cow problems the door virtually slammed in our face.

“To this day, the Dairy Shorthorn in Australia tried to maintain itself as the original dual-purpose breed that came from England.”

Malcolm said this steadfast dedication to English genetics could have been to the breed’s detriment.

He said Shorthorn cattle could be traced back to the 16th century in Great Britain; it is the oldest recorded breed existing in world today.

As Shorthorn breeders from across the globe prepare to converge on Australia, Malcolm explained how international conferences helped open the genetic pool for Australian breeders.

“I found that when I went to my first conference in England in 2010, I was able to make contacts with people. It was quite advantageous, that one-on-one contact.”

White Dairy Shorthorn bulls are sought after by Holstein herds trying to breed Blue Roans or “front paddock cattle” according to Malcolm. Some beef herds also chase the white bulls to join with Hereford or Angus.

When asked if Dairy Shorthorns would become popular again, Malcolm said, “I’ve got to be honest, no, it just doesn’t suit specialisation.”

The World Shorthorn Conference will be held at Wagga Wagga on October 3 and 4.

For more information, contact Malcolm Douglas on 0429 956 906.