NZ Dairy Autumn 2022

44 | nzdairy Soft spot for the Milking Shorthorns Virginia Wright DAIRY PEOPLE » Ross Soffe Now in his late 60’s Ross Soffe has for many years had a soft spot for the Milking Shorthorns which account for around 25 to 30 percent of the 360 cows milked on “Wee Brae Farm”, north of Stratford, in Central Taranaki. He’s on the board of the Milking Shorthorn Association, so-called because there is a sister breed, the Beef Shorthorn, which has been bred separately with the beef market in mind. Ross’s interest in Milking Shorthorns dates back far enough for him to remember some of the history behind the discussions currently happening in the Association around the future of the breed and which bulls can and can’t be used for breeding purposes. “Back in the 1950’s when AB (Artificial Breeding) was in its infancy, and Ruakura (now AgResearch Ltd.) began their dairy research using AB, which was around herd testing and getting the top bulls from the top cows and using them in AB, they invited the Shorthorn Association to be involved. But in those early days there was a lot of suspicion around the ancestry of some of the bulls and for whatever reason the Shorthorn Association opted not to be part of that research.” The net result was that the Milking Shorthorns didn’t have a national breeding programme until the mid ‘80’s, according to Ross, so the breeding was fragmented throughout the regions. Shorthorn bulls might have been marketed privately but not through the Association. By the mid 80’s herd testing, an important part of the bull selection process given that they select the bull mothers on the basis of their milk production, was quite widespread and the Association was marketing a selection of bulls to its members throughout New Zealand. “One thing I will say about our bull scheme which is still running,” says Ross. “None of the members have ever been paid for the use of their bulls. Any funds generated cover the costs of running the scheme and running the Association itself. We made quite a lot of money out of it back then, a lot of which is still sitting in the bank, and although we don’t make a lot out of it now we still make enough to keep our heads above water.” These days they market their bulls through SEMEX New Zealand who pay royalties for the semen which continues to be selected by the Red Breed Genetics group within the Association. “We have a whole list of requirements to tick off before we accept any bull that’s put forward, especially the quality of the dam: their production, their fat/protein Ross with an outstanding young cow at the Stratford Show. Herd scene (below): Ross and Joanne’s Milking Shorthorns percentages and their indexes (Breeding Worth, or BW’s). The problem with the breeding indexes is that, due to the size of the population and the fact that our breeding programme was instigated 30 years after the research began, they tend to be low,” explains Ross. “Which doesn’t alter the fact that milk production continues to improve.” The Shorthorn Association of New Zealand now has around 2500 registered cows and they believe there are at least as many non- registered, scattered around the country. Compare that to the millions of registered Fresians and you get the idea. Around the 1950’s the number of Shorthorns, Fresians and Jersey cows in New Zealand were about the same. Today Shorthorns are considered a rare breed. “Even when I started with mine 25 years ago there were plenty of herds around but when they’ve been sold they haven’t been sold as a herd so they’ve been dispersed and eventually disappeared,” explains Ross. Ross Soffe has roughly the same number of registered Fresians and Shorthorns, with the rest of his herd being Fresian-Jersey X and Kiwi-X, but the Shorthorns remain his favourites. “They’re medium size with, good health traits, easy calving, good feet, good udders and good production. Their size means you can run slightly more cows per hectare and they do less damage to a lot of New Zealand’s wetter country.” As a Shorthorn breeder and part of the Association he’s doing his best to build up the numbers of this rare breed, selecting for the polled gene which everyone wants these days, and hoping to see the breed gain the recognition he believes it deserves. At NZ Farmers Livestock Ltd we are 100% NZ owned and operated, and have a longstanding and established history in the livestock market. We are proud to have developed NZ Farmers Livestock and Livestock Specialist, Simon Payne are proud to be associated with Ross & Joanne Soffe. They are valued clients, and we are delighted with their efforts and achievements. Billy & team proudly support Ross So e “Ongoing research & development results in superior products & performance advantages including; more yield, faster milking, no slip and no teat end damage.”