9 July 1999

Improvement is sought by less popular breeds

By Emma Penny

CATTLE producers representing some of less common breeds but keen to improve their stock were out in force at the Royal show.

Both Dexter and Red Poll cattle societies have recently embarked on a breed improvement scheme.

Speaking on the Dexter stand, breeder Robert Kirk said that the breed had never previously had an improvement scheme. "Weve always just been able to judge cattle by their looks, and havent been able to show what they can achieve."

Dexter cattle from 10 breeders are now part of a three year scheme to measure performance, and are regularly scanned and weighed.

"Were trying to gauge performance and then to improve it. As a breeder, I find people want to buy cattle with figures."

Thats what has driven the Red Poll society to start an improvement scheme, according to breed chairman Tony Fletcher.

"Weve been running a milk recording scheme for five or six years, but weve just started a beef recording programme with Signet. Were trying to improve the Red Poll, but we need figures to do that – and with figures we can show buyers what the breed can do."

Other breeds have successfully run improvement schemes, including the Charolais and Limousin, said MLC beef scientist Duncan Pullar.

"Breed improvement schemes are about identifying superior animals and disseminating their influence within a structure that works.

"The classic strategy depends on five or six family lines which are kept intact but used for crossing. Its a trade off between inbreeding and progress; working that combination well will lead to most improvement."

He added that schemes often worked best with less common breeds. "Bigger breeds have more members and its difficult to agree on objectives for improvement.

"To work, all breeders need to agree on their objectives; schemes are a good idea, but can be difficult in practice," he warned. &#42