for a consumer
The Shorthorn breed was
first registered in Coatess
Herd Book, the oldest herd
book in the world, which has
just celebrated its 175th
anniversary. Jeremy Hunt
found that breed support
is as strong as ever
THE size and conformation of the impressive Beef Shorthorn bull demanded a second look. He was as British as any breed of cattle could be and was certainly on home-ground grazing the Yorkshire pasture in front of Upsall Castle, near Thirsk.
This is real Shorthorn country, the county from which the Shorthorn breed emerged over 200 years ago to begin its influence on cattle breeding on a global scale.
Native breeds have been hit hard by competition from the fast growing Continentals, but those breeders who have remained loyal may soon reap the benefits of a consumer led demand for beef with a "traditional" image.
The Shorthorn breed, which includes both dairy and beef types, is renowned internationally as "the great improver". Its bloodlines have been infused into 46 different breeds worldwide. It is ironic that the Maine Anjou – the French equivalent of the British Beef Shorthorn – was influential in the UK breed societys breed improvement programme.
But the Shorthorn is determined to move with the times. It is a widely held view among many leading cattlemen, that of all the native breeds, the Beef Shorthorn has shown the most dramatic improvement over the last decade.
But 10 years gives but a glimpse into this breeds history. Coatess Herd Book, the bible of the breed and the oldest herd book in the world, has just celebrated its 175th anniversary. It was instigated in the 1800s by George Coates, an elderly man with a passion for cattle who travelled huge distances around northern England riding his familiar white cob.
His saddlebag bulged with calf records and pedigrees and he would often be seen riding near his home in Yorkshires Wharfedale during his visits to breeders who shared his enthusiasm for the Shorthorn.
In the first historic volume of Coatess Herd Book there were 721 bulls listed along with nearly 1000 cows and their progeny. The breed was highly prized and even as early as 1810 a bull named Comet was sold to four breeders for 1000gns.
Brothers Charles and Robert Colling, two noted north country breeders of the early 1800s, pursued a very close system of in-breeding with their Shorthorn cattle. It succeeded by fixing breed type and their achievements were matched by another leading enthusiast Thomas Bates. Many of his cattle were sold to the USA but in 1873 British breeders, determined to retrieve top bloodlines from America, attended a sale in New York.
There they paid a remarkable 6000gns, 7000gns and 8000gns for three animals. In fact 15 Shorthorns from the famous Duchess and Duke families – names that still feature prominently in todays pedigrees – averaged £3679.
Coatess Herd Book registrations reached an all-time high in 1949 when 25,781 cattle were registered. To date 1.8m bulls and females have been registered in Coatess Herd Book.
Gerald Turton now runs Englands largest herd of Beef Shorthorn cattle at Upsall Castle, near Thirsk, North Yorkshire. His 64 pedigree cows represent almost a century of the Turton familys support for the breed.
Concern over the dairy influence in the breeding make-up of modern suckler cows and the demand for native beef reared under a traditional system bodes well for the Beef Shorthorn.
Numbers are low – only around 500 females remain in the UK – but Mr Turton has undertaken a successful flushing programme and he is encouraged by the renewed interest being shown in the breed by commercial beef producers.
"There are nine Beef Shorthorn herds with a 15-mile radius of here accounting for 132 cows and its the younger men who are recognising the breeds potential," says Mr Turton.
Upsall cattle have been exported to many countries, but it is the home market that holds the key to the breeds future. The use of BLUP recording is already paying off; a young bull of nine months old has recently achieved a exceptional Frame Score of 8.75, measuring 136cm (53.5in) at the rump and weighing 400kg.
Upsall cattle been exported world-wide and these famed British bloodlines have successfully incorporated the polling gene following the careful use of Canadian Beef Shorthorn sires.
Great lasters, docile, and good milkers, and with bull weight gains recorded with MLC of 1.5kg/day, are qualities that breeders believe will guarantee the Beef Shorthorns future for another 175 years.
Dairy Shorthorn stalwarts are adamant that they are producing milk as economically as any other dairy breed in the UK. And from the gentle pastures of the West Country to the colder climes of Cumbria, the Dairy Shorthorn continues to thrive.
George and David Dent, well known for their Winton herd at Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria have land running to 600m (2000ft) and achieve a herd average of just over 6000kg at 3.90% fat and 3.30% protein.
Midlands breeder David Spalton continues to impress the doubters as he consistently produces high yields from his Maxton herd in Derbyshire. He has stood reserve supreme champion at the European Dairy Event with an individual cow that gave 9700kg at 3.93% fat and 3.28% protein.
And the Orchardholme herd of Andrew Orsler, Wing, Bucks has won the societys Gold Cup for production on four occasions with home-bred cows. He also owned the cow bred in the Eathorpe herd of G Robson which achieved the breeds lifetime yield record of 97,635kg.
In 1958 the Shorthorn Herd Book was divided into two registers to accommodate beef and dairy cattle. Both breed societies are now run from Stoneleigh under the secretaryship of John Wood-Roberts.
"The Shorthorn Societys 100,000lb cow list now has 1800 individuals on its register and approximately 100 in the 150,000lb class," says Mr Wood-Roberts.
Encouragement has always been given to those who wish to grade-up cattle to purebred through the herd book. So the breed societys stance on breed improvement came as no surprise. In the typical style that has fashioned the breed for nearly 200 years, the breed society has permitted Red Friesian, Red Holstein and Danish Red breeding to be used.
Red Holstein breeding is certainly producing a taller, sharper and more modern dairy animal that would certainly surprise the likes of George Coates. But the future of the breed will be assured through the continued responsible approach to improvement that continues to keep the Shorthorn at the pinnacle of the worlds cattle industry.
Gerald Turton runs Englands largest herd of beef Shorthorn cattle at Upsall Castle, Thirsk, N Yorks.
A cow and calf in Gerald Turtons Upsall Beef Shorthorn herd. His 64 pedigree cows represent a century of Turton support for the Shorthorn.
Above:Cows in Gerald Turtons Upsall Beef Shorthorn herd. Left: Orchard-holme Maude 6th, a Dairy Shorthorn.
The breed is claimed to produce milk
as economically as any other dairy breed
in the UK.
Its the youmger men who are recognising the Shorthorns potential, claims Gerald Turton. There are nine Shorthorn herds within a mile radius.
Upsall Cattle bloodlines have successfully incorporated the polling gene following the careful use of Canadian Beef Shorthorn sires.