Mating heifers to angus lowline bulls delivers dual benefits - easy births and calves that can be raised for beef, says a Hawera dairy farmer.
Eric and Diane Werder, who have 310 pedigree friesian cows on their 137ha dairy farm, have been mating their 60 or so heifers to angus lowline bulls since 2005.
They established their Otoia friesian stud in 1974, naming it after Eric's parents' farm beside the Otoia Gorge near Kakaramea in South Taranaki where they had been sharemilkers.
Like other dairy farmers with friesian herds, they found that mating heifers to friesian bulls was fraught with difficulty. The calves were so large the heifers could die giving birth or become paralysed.
For a few years the couple mated the heifers to jersey bulls and culled the crossbred calves. "All they were good for was the bobby calf truck.
In 2005 they decided to mate their friesian heifers to lowline angus bulls.
Angus lowline cattle were developed by the New South Wales Department of Agriculture during a 20-year breeding research project that began in the early 1970s. The small, black animals are 60 per cent of the size of the normal angus breed.
A dispersal sale conducted in 1993 established the basis of the lowline angus herd and the first lowlines arrived in New Zealand two years later. Within five years 12 New Zealand breeders had about 200 breeding females.
Bulls average about 105cm in height and weigh about 450-500kg, while cows are 100cm tall and weigh 350kg on average. As yearlings, heifers weigh about 190kg and bulls 230kg.
Eric Werder said mating his friesian heifers to the little lowlines produced little calves that "popped out like peanuts".
In the seven years since he started using pedigree lowline angus bulls, he hasn't had to assist his heifers at calving.
"I've never had to calve any - not one. They're just 20 to 24kg. They're sucking on their mothers and running around really quickly and they double their weight in two weeks."
Sometimes the newborn crossbred calves can be hard to find because they are so small that if the paddock has long grass, they're hidden.
Because he doesn't have room on his dairy farm to raise beef animals - even small ones like the lowlines - he sells the calves to be reared as beef animals.
Werder said initially he'd hoped to grow the calves himself for a niche market like the Taranaki restaurant trade.
But dairy farming provided better returns and was more profitable at the moment.
He knows of only one other Taranaki farm with lowline angus cattle. "I'd like to see a few more people using them. They save the heifers and I'm sure there'd be a market for lowline angus beef."
The couple now own 18 pedigree lowline angus animals - six bulls, six cows, three yearling heifers and three calves bred from their own pedigree bull called Esprit Geordie, now aged 10, from semen they purchased or from transplanted embryos.
Lowline angus cattle are solid, bulky and hardy and winter better than other cattle.
Werder said they were docile and easy to raise.
One cow he hand-reared still enjoys carrots at the age of four.
The small size of the lowline angus made them ideal for lifestyle blocks because high, sturdy fences and handling facilities were not necessary
Lowlines also ate less than larger beef breeds. So a block that could feed, say, six hereford or angus cattle, could carry 10 lowlines.
Werder said he could fatten three lowlines on an area that would feed only one animal of normal size.
Lowline angus meat is lean and noted for its flavour, tenderness and excellent marbling. The meat yield from the carcass of purebred animals can be as high as 76 per cent.
The Werders have just had a 3-year-old lowline angus/friesian/hereford crossbred steer killed for meat. The animal recorded a liveweight of 480kg, the carcass weighed 317kg and produced 170kg meat - for a 54 per cent yield.
A purebred animal he killed recently produced 112kg meat from a 150kg side of beef for a 75 per cent yield.
"There's hardly any wastage," he said.
"I'd like to keep the pedigree line going and raise more," he said. "I'd rear 50 or 60 if I had a separate block of land for them."
- Taranaki Daily News
Was the weekend's rain welcome relief for your garden/farm?Related story: Yesterday's drizzle no drought breaker for Wellington, Hawke's Bay
Get Taranaki's frequent news and sport updates
Choose an iconic Taranaki photo as wallpaper for your computer
Astronomer Tom Whelan explains what is in the Taranaki heavens for each month.