Spot­light on rare cat­tle breed

North East & Goulburn Murray Farmer - - NEWS -

DEB­BIE Holmes was first in­tro­duced to Bri­tish White cat­tle through her par­ents.

Mov­ing to a river­side prop­erty out of Swan­pool al­most 20 years ago, Mrs Holmes’ par­ents were ini­tially at­tracted to Bri­tish Whites be­cause of their small pop­u­la­tion.

Long in­ter­ested in rare breeds, they in­vested in a BW bull, and be­gan their breed­ing pro­gram by putting it over a herd of Here­fords.

Ten years later, Mrs Holmes and her hus­band Ian took over the run­ning of Ravenswood Bri­tish White stud.

Now, the cou­ple have al­most a decade of ex­pe­ri­ence them­selves with the breed – and are used to deal­ing with both the good, and bad, of the ge­net­i­cally lim­ited pool.

Im­port­ing se­men, trav­el­ling in­ter­state for breed­ing stock and try­ing dif­fer­ent out­crop com­bi­na­tions are just some of the chal­lenges pre­sented to BW breed­ers.

“They are a lovely cow,” Mrs Holmes said.

“But they have al­ways been classed as a rare breed in Aus­tralia be­cause of the pop­u­la­tion num­bers.

“Even at mar­ket, they can be the same size as an An­gus but, be­cause they aren’t black or as pop­u­lar, they don’t fetch that same pre­mium.”

Bri­tish White cat­tle are one of the old­est breeds in Bri­tain, dat­ing back to the late 1600s, though they did not land in Aus­tralia un­til the 1950s.

Orig­i­nally a work­ing man’s an­i­mal, BWs are tra­di­tion­ally a meat breed but are also known for their gen­er­ous milk quan­ti­ties and docile at­ti­tude – more like a dairy breed in na­ture than that of a beef an­i­mal.

Sim­i­lar in size to an An­gus, Bri­tish White cat­tle have black skin, white fur and are black pointed – nose, tongues, eyes, hooves and other body points all a lus­trous dark sheen against their milky coats.

Al­though she ad­mits to be­ing bi­ased, Mrs Holmes is none­the­less sur­prised that the breed does not en­joy a more wide spread fol­low­ing given their ideal Aus­tralian at­tributes.

“They are ideal for Aus­tralian con­di­tions – the black points mean they don’t tend to get as sun­burnt as other breeds do,” she said.

“They have a fan­tas­tic na­ture, are good moth­ers and are not fussy graz­ers – they will eat any­thing.

“There are a lot of hobby farm­ers who want them be­cause they look good as you drive down a drive­way,” she said. “They are very pretty.” The Ravenswood Bri­tish White herd is run seam­lessly, with graz­ing based on a loose ro­ta­tional sys­tem.

Cows are bred to be medium in size, with a long back – flat across the shoul­ders – no white eye sclera and black points.

They are calved down at around two years - al­ways in the au­tumn - and then turned off at around 12 months.

Typ­i­cally slightly slower to ma­ture, Mrs Holmes has had suc­cess out­crop­ping her first time calvers with a Wagyu bull – the hy­brid vigour re­sult­ing in calves that are slightly quicker to fin­ish.

Mrs Holmes has worked tire­lessly for the breed’s con­tin­ued im­prove­ment, is a vi­brant mem­ber of the Bri­tish White Cat­tle So­ci­ety and has been on in­ter­na­tional trips to look at breed ex­am­ples from the United Kingdom.

One of the traits she has spent count­less hours – and dol­lars - on is im­prov­ing an is­sue that oc­ca­sion­ally crops up in BW herds.

“The Bri­tish Whites have an un­usual trait where some an­i­mals don’t have a full set of chro­mo­somes,” Mrs Holmes said.

“This can cause a calf to be born with symp­toms sim­i­lar to Down syn­drome.

“It can hap­pen in any breed, but was oc­cur­ring at a higher in­ci­dence rate in Bri­tish Whites.”

Both Mrs Holmes and Ian are vets – and with her sci­en­tific back­ground, she set about do­ing her part to help erad­i­cate the chro­mo­so­mal prob­lem.

“We man­aged to find an en­thu­si­as­tic ge­neti­cist, who tested all our cows,” she said.

“He tested the bloods, grew the rel­e­vant cells and would come back to us with a re­port.

“He must have tested around 1500 Bri­tish White cows.”

Through her work, and with the sup­port of the Aus­tralian Bri­tish White So­ci­ety, Mrs Holmes has helped to all but breed out the prob­lem in Aus­tralia.

In the fu­ture, Mrs Holmes wants to see the breed con­tinue to grow and to gain the same re­spect as that en­joyed by other clev­erly mar­keted breeds.

“We want to be taken se­ri­ously as meat cat­tle,” she said.

“Bri­tish Whites do the job as well as any other breed; they just do it with colour.”

ADORABLE AND PRAC­TI­CAL: Bri­tish White’s are clas­si­fied in Aus­tralia as a rare breed of cat­tle, but for­mer vet Deb­bie Holmes is do­ing her best to in­crease their pop­u­lar­ity.

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