Little-known cattle breed attracts fans

FOND FANS: Salers breeder John Gerke of Kimbolton and daughter Amanda.
FOND FANS: Salers breeder John Gerke of Kimbolton and daughter Amanda.

Salers cattle are not only a lesser-known beef breed but they also have an undeserved poor reputation, according to breeders John and Maxine Gerke.

John Gerke has been breeding salers on his 344ha Kimbolton farm since 1995 and admits poor genetic stock was imported from France in the early days, but this is no longer the case.

"The breed did have a bad name to start with. People thought they were flighty and a bit wild and unfortunately this perception still exists, but it is wrong. Salers are completely misunderstood and if people could see how quiet they are they would change their opinion of them," Gerke says.

With just seven salers breeders around the country, Gerke also admits changing people's perception is not easy.

Gerke has kept his breeding operation small with just 10 stud cows and five breeding bulls. Annually, he buys in 80 weaner calves from fellow salers breeders Mike and Cushla Murphy of Gisborne. He also buys 40 angus weaner calves for comparison purposes. Both breeds are finished to 630kg liveweight which is around 330kg carcass weight for the salers and 325kg for the angus.

"On the production side, they are ahead of the angus even with the 10 cent premium farmers get for angus pure. On average, we get $12 per head more for the salers which is around 2 per cent more yield on the hooks."

Salers meat is not sold on the domestic market but exported to countries such as Japan.

"It is unfortunate but you won't find it in the supermarkets here. If done right, the meat has a slight marbling effect and is very tender. There is a slight taste difference but the issue for me is when the carcasses are on the hook they all look the same, so there is no reason why the meat shouldn't be sold domestically."

The stock are raised on the Kimbolton property for two years. The first year they are fed hay and grass over winter and in the second year they are wintered on oats and tic beans, before shifting to a fattening block near Feilding.

The oats and tic bean crop is sown from mid to late March and grazed from the beginning of July. "The yield is between 12 and 15 tonnes and it is a very fast- growing crop, which I prefer as it means paddocks are not out for very long," Gerke says.

He says the breed is also good for putting over heifers or tail-end cows because of their easy calving.

"The calves are slightly lighter at birth and while they may be slower growing in the first nine months, they catch up to other breeds."

Gerke says the breed is also hardy and adaptable to varying conditions, which suits his farming practice. "We don't feed any supplements over the summer as salers are fossickers and will look for feed at the top of the hill and in gullies. Even in times of low feed or drought, they will fossick around for food and seem to thrive in all conditions," Gerke says.

Salers are also curious and friendly and as long as they have space, will thrive. "They are easily trained and very intelligent animals. We don't use the dogs on the cows at all, we just stand at the gate and call them. During calving there is no problem if we pick up the calf, weigh and tag it - the mother will just stand there and watch. There is absolutely zero aggression.

"They are very nosy and will try and look through the windows, and if they see a gate open they will be in like a flash. They have the perfect personality and nature for a house cow," Gerke says.

The breed is so quiet and placid, you can even trust the bulls, he says. "They will eye you up but that is all they will do. I have never had a bull charge at me or had any problems with the bulls fighting amongst each other."

Gerke also runs 2700 romney ewes, 820 replacement hoggets and 50 rams.