2 June 1995


To compete in the marketplace for modern, high performance dairy cattle, the Ayrshire needs to undergo a genetic "re-jig". It may be proving a controversial step, but the Whiteford family in Cumbria is tackling the issue head-on. Jeremy Hunt reports

CATTLE from the Whiteford familys highly respected Middle Ayrshire herd have been among the breeds greatest ambassadors for decades. But now a bold step has been taken.

The launch of "Whitefords Red-and-Whites" is a commitment to top red-and-white genetics as part of a breeding programme that could set the seal on a new and lucrative future for the modern Ayrshire.

The 220-plus milkers at Middle Farm, Ruleholme, Carlisle, are already showing improved performance following the first infusion of red-and-white Holstein breeding four years ago.

A switch to complete diet feeding and improved management has complemented the Holstein input. The herd average has increased by 2000 litres a cow to 7400 litres since 1991 and the margin over concentrates is up to just over £1200. But this breeding programme has more fundamental aims in the short term.

"We know that higher yields and improved profits are readily achievable using these genetics," says William Whiteford. "What we seek to do in the immediate future is to breed a type and style of red-and-white cow that combines the best of both worlds in terms of functional Ayrshire traits embodied into a sharper more dairylike animal that will appeal to the modern dairy farmer."

Along with brother John – who is the newly-elected president of the Ayrshire Cattle Society – plus brother Thomas, who runs the familys separate beef and sheep unit, the Whitefords want to produce "a more upstanding type of red-and-white dairy cow, about 58 inches at the shoulder, based on the Ayrshire but with mass appeal to the commercial milk producer".

William Whiteford says the breed must have the "world market" as its target and to breed a top ranking red-and-white bull has to be the ultimate objective.

Future breeding policy

A two-page advert in the latest edition of the Ayrshire Cattle Societys journal boldly announces the future breeding policy of the Whiteford stable, one of the bastions of the traditional Ayrshire. And at the breeds main autumn sale at Ayr later this year a selection of the first "Whiteford Red-and-White" young bulls will be on offer.

"We are not undermining the positive traits of the Ayrshire to the point of wastage. We are adding red-and-white Holstein breeding to our existing pedigrees, but I believe this infusion is enhancing and not diluting our Ayrshire foundation bloodlines," says William Whiteford.

The family says it will undoubtedly have to "dive into the museums of Ayrshire semen" when future generations of red-and-white cattle need an injection of traditional bloodlines.

"That will not be a retrograde step. It is something we expect will happen. This is not about turning our back on the Ayrshire but securing a future for red-and-white dairy cattle; a future that does not look very rosy if the Ayrshire per se refuses to change to face commercial competition from the Holstein-Friesian."

The brothers are emphatic that their improvement programme is not driven simply by colour.

"If someone drew up in the yard with a wagon-load of red-and-white Holstein heifers we would not be interested. We are out to breed a red-and-white animal with traits for economical production, wearability, longevity and high milk quality. That can only be achieved via the Ayrshire route."

Glenafton Enhancer, Meado-lake Jubilant, Picland Blaze and Hanoverhill Triple-Threat Red – all carrying the red factor – have been used in the herd. The first 50:50 Holstein:Ayrshire heifers are now milking. While an improvement in yield has been noted, it is the "sharpness on the shoulder, the stature and the dairy character" that the Whiteford family knows has immediate appeal to the modern dairy farmer.

"My vision of the future is to broaden our bloodlines and to substantially increase the appeal of these cattle to dairy farmers. I believe colour is no longer a handicap. If the cattle show true potential to produce quality milk and wear well we will have a highly competitive product to bring to the marketplace."

Inspection overseas

Fresh from a trip to inspect red-and-white Holsteins in Germany, John Whiteford already has some valuable Holstein lines. The top show cow Foxhole Oranje Red – which also boasts 10,000kg production – has bred a red bull calf by Hanoverhill Inspiration while the tall, black-and-white Hunday Star Mitzi also has a red bull calf by the same sire. Mitzi has a two-lactation average of 9099kg at 4.67% fat and 3.38% protein.

"Udder quality and teat placement remains a top priority. It will not be sacrificed. That is why we opted to buy Oranje Red. Shes 13 years old now but her udder and teat placement are outstanding. Her black-and-white heifer daughter now milking is testament to this," says John Whiteford.

His Jessie family has been one of the most consistent producers of top show cows in the breed. The herd is the only one to have shown a mother and daughter – Jessie 71 and Jessie 88 – to win the supreme interbreed title at the Royal Show.

These two great females are an integral part of the red-and-white flushing programme. Embryos by a red-and-white Starbuck son have been produced from both.