Committed to milking shorthorn cattle

SUE O'DOWD
Last updated 11:54 18/07/2013
 Ross and Joanne Soffe
ROBERT CHARLES/Fairfax NZ

PASSION FOR SHORTHORNS: Ross Soffe, with his wife Joanne, estimates New Zealand has only about 5000 milking shorthorn cows.

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Taranaki milking shorthorn breeders Ross and Joanne Soffe are keen to protect the species for the future. 

Shorthorn cattle have been in New Zealand for almost two centuries, having been shipped here by missionary Samuel Marsden from New South Wales in 1814. 

By 1840 the breed was well-established and predominated in New Zealand's dairy industry until the 1920s, when the jersey superseded it.  

In 1913, breeders formed the New Zealand Milking Shorthorn Association (NZMSA) in Palmerston North. One hundred years later, the ease of calving, hardiness and good production of milking shorthorns are still acknowledged, even though their numbers are small.

Ross Soffe, who is NZMSA vice-president and Taranaki branch chairman, estimates New Zealand has only about 5000 milking shorthorn cows. 

With 100 in their 360-cow herd, the Tariki couple have the most milking shorthorns in Taranaki after adding them to their herd in the 1994-95 dairy season. While they also milk pedigree friesians, jerseys and cross-breds, they describe their herd as predominantly friesian.

One of the reasons Ross Soffe likes milking shorthorns is their high protein to fat ratio.

"I believe this high ratio means the percentage of fat in the milk tends to be lower. Like lots of people, I breed for protein."

He said the milking shorthorn was a robust cow which fitted well into a friesian herd.

"She's about the same size as a friesian and she does about the same production. She calves easily and she has really good feet.

"Milking shorthorns are high-producing, easy-care, easy calving and they have good health traits."

Breeding milking shorthorns was a challenge because the genetic pool was so small, but protecting the breed for the future was important. 

There was anecdotal evidence that lactose-intolerant children could tolerate milk produced by milking shorthorns.

"We need to keep these breeds going because there could be something in their make-up that could lead to medical breakthroughs in future."

The Soffes moved to their 160ha Tariki farm (130ha effective) only last season after selling their Tikorangi farm which had been in the Soffe family for six generations.

Their Oliver Woods stud is named after Mr Soffe's great-great-grandfather, William Oliver, who settled in Tikorangi after the Taranaki Land Wars of the 1860s. 

In their first season at Tariki they produced 118,000kg milksolids (MS). This season they have a 125,000kg MS target, with a vision of increasing production to 140,000kg MS over time. 

Last season they imported about 20 per cent of their feed, buying 180 tonnes of palm kernel and 100 tonnes of maize. They plan to grow some maize this year.

Although the winters at Tariki are tougher than what the couple now refer to as the tropics at Tikorangi, they believe the Croydon Rd farm is well-located on the north side of Stratford and far enough from Mt Taranaki for snow to be a rarity.

Mr Soffe said the organisation worked hard to actively promote the breed and operated a stand at the fieldays in Feilding. 

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In Taranaki the association has about 20 members, of whom about 10 are active. As well, there are farmers in the province with milking shorthorns who do not belong to the association. 

At last Sunday's Taranaki branch prize-giving and dinner, the couple's prize-winning cow, Oliver Woods Talent Cara, was named Taranaki Milking Shorthorn Cow of the Year, with a production of  547kg MS, made up of 304kg fat and 243kg protein.

She was the supreme champion milking shorthorn at both the 2011 and 2012  New Zealand Dairy Events and the North Island champion milking shorthorn at the 2012 Stratford A and P Show.

- Taranaki Daily News

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