SHORTHORN LONG SUIT
Holsteins and Shorthorns
live side by side on one Notts unit. Judie Allen discovers
how the breeds compare
IN the world of cattle breeding most people talk of deep pedigrees as being highly desirable. Well they do not come any deeper than those of John Haywards Shorthorns. The ancestry of some of his cows can be traced as far to the first volumes of the Shorthorn Herd Book, published in 1847.
Mr Hayward keeps 100 cows at his Westwood Farm, Tuxford, Notts. He is in the extremely rare position of being able to judge the performance of his Shorthorns against the most prominent breed in the country, the Holstein. About 40 of his herd are pedigree Shorthorn, all classified VG or EX, and 60 are pedigree Holstein.
The two breeds live and feed together but are milk recorded separately. The Holsteins average 8000kg at 4.07% fat and 3.19% protein. The Shorthorns average 7000kg at 4.15% fat and 3.31% protein.
Mr Hayward maintains that the Shorthorns milk is worth about 1p/litre more than that of the Holsteins and there is only £1 difference in the lactation value between the breeds, with the Holstein only just ahead. The herds are not costed in terms of margins. Concentrate a cow is 1900kg and the only other feed is grass or grass silage.
Although Mr Hayward takes the breeding of his Holsteins seriously – he bred the 1993 Dairy Event Holstein Friesian champion, Hootonex Councillor Gwenda, bought from him by Rosemary Shufflebottom – you do not have to spend too much time with him to find where his passion lies.
He has never shown his Holsteins but he has had considerable success in the ring with the Shorthorns. Hooton Lily Fair 85, a completely white cow, has won over 40 classes in her showing history. She appeared at the Royal Show seven years in succession and won the Shorthorn Championship twice. She is still at Westwood Farm and in her 7th lactation.
The Lily Fair family is the strongest cow family in the herd but it comes from modest beginnings. John Haywards father bought the original cow from a sale at Reading in the late 1950s. He paid £50 for her at a time when good pedigree cows were making £400-£500.
Line-breeding within this particular family appears to work but Mr Hayward has also used Red Holstein, Red Friesian and Swedish Red with some success. "It is often easier to improve a hybrid than a purebred."
Inevitably, Red Holstein, while boosting yields, has had a detrimental effect on milk protein. One of the bulls used include Hanoverhill Laird out of the famous Lulu cow. Low protein has been counteracted by the use of Red Friesian but the most widely used imported semen has been from the Swedish Red. When asked why he favours this breed, Mr Hayward produces figures for its native country. The average of almost 67,000 recorded first lactations is 6480kg at 4.43% fat and 3.44% protein with a weight of fat and protein amounting to 510kg.
For the future Mr Hayward will continue to keep two breeds. "I like breeding good dairy cows and I take pleasure and interest in travelling between the two camps. But both breeds have to be economically viable. With regard to the Shorthorns, I enjoy something that is a challenge and I get pleasure from being different and independently-minded. Most of the memorable occasions in my life have involved Shorthorns.
"On the other hand Holsteins are modern cows for modern thinking. They are very good dairy cows and the best ones are very saleable."
The Shorthorn Cattle Society has seen its membership and registrations rise by 11%-30% in the past six years. According to John Hayward, a past President and now Chairman of Red Cow Genetics, the societys commercial concern, most of the new, relatively young members are opting for more traditional bloodlines.
And many new members are existing producers who have chosen Shorthorns in favour of the Holstein Friesian. One possible explanation could be milk protein. NMR figures for Mr Haywards purebred Shorthorns are smattered with protein percentages ranging from 3.5 to 3.8 and occasionally 4%. Hybrid Shorthorns may have slightly lower proteins.
And the trouble-free nature of Shorthorns could be another contributing factor, he says. "They have good feet and legs, and longevity. And they are easy breeders and calvers." He says he never usually worries about a calving Shorthorn heifer, but a calving Holstein heifer could mean several trips out of bed during the night. And he reckons even some of his highest yielding Shorthorns calve almost to the day, year on year. Current conception rate to first service for the Shorthorns is 78% but he declines to offer a figure for the Holsteins.
"Lifetime yields are similar," he says. "It is easy to get 50,000kg and after that you need luck."
Current society membership stands at 1000 and the number of registered cows is 50,000. But these figures have not always been so buoyant. The decline of the Shorthorn started during the 1960s, brought on by the introduction of the more fashionable Canadian Holstein. Mr Hayward also believes that the advent of bull beef had an impact. "Until that time nobody knew what to do with the black-and-white bull calf, and the Shorthorn, to some extent, lost its role as a dual-purpose breed." He also suggests that Shorthorn breeders at that time did not push for yields as hard as breeders of the black-and-white.
In the eyes of some producers, especially those who have chosen to milk them, the Shorthorn has found its niche in 1990s dairying. Newcomers might argue that, in an environment where we are restricted by quotas and butterfat and paid double for protein than fat, the breed has a significant role to play. But this only came about through the foresight of prominent members in the society three decades ago. They made the decision to open up the Herd Book.
Last year the society took on the funding and organisation of its own progeny testing scheme, which had previously been supported by Genus. And a commercial arm, called Red Cow Genetics, has been formed to market Shorthorn young and proven bull semen.
So it seems the Shorthorn is enjoying a re-emergence in UK dairying. The quota and high value milk scenarios suit the breed. But its future success is more likely to depend on modern thinking. *
• Milk worth 1p/litre more than Holstein milk
• Easy calvers with good legs and feet
• Long-living and fertile.
John Hayward with one of his Shorthorn heifers. He can judge Shorthorn performance against that of the most prominent UK breed, the Holstein.
The Haywards are no newcomers to show success. Matthew Hayward (left) leads Hooton Lily Fair 109 and brother (right) leads Hooton Lily Fair 111 before becoming Reserve Championship for last years Burke Trophy at the Royal.