Saturday, December 2, 2023

When a Speckle Park is not a Speckle Park 

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Having a speckled coat is no guarantee that the cattlebeast is a fast-growing, well-marbled, sweet-tempered Speckle Park.
Speckle Park stud bulls and their offspring can be a variety of colour patterns from white with black points to leopard-coloured or black with speckled hips and back. Photo: Maungahina Stud
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When is a Speckle Park not a Speckle Park? 

When it is a Speckle Park-cross.

All too often at saleyards around the country they are referred to simply as Speckle Park, but that is like calling a Hereford-Friesian a Hereford, or an Angus-Friesian an Angus, which we all know are very different animals despite some breed similarities. 

The Speckle Park breed originates in Canada and is a cross of Shorthorn, White Park and Angus. Unlike many purebred breeds, one Speckle Park can look very different to another and they tend to stamp their offspring that way. They vary from a white Speckle Park which is mostly white with black points to others that look like black cattle that have weathered a snowstorm. 

Some can even have red through them, if the sire bull carries the red factor gene. Most of the Speckle Park-cross are farmed for their growth ability, marbling and good temperament, but it does depend what they are crossed with, as purebred Speckle Parks are not often seen at the yards. 

And therein lies the confusion for many – what is actually coming into the saleyards? One person who is well-placed to answer that question is Mark McKenzie from Maungahina Stud in Masterton, the original birthplace of New Zealand’s Speckle Park cattle and one of the largest Speckle Park studs in the country. 

Maungahina Stud was established in 1907 by Donald McKenzie, and four generations later the stud now breeds Hereford and Speckle Park. The Speckle Park breeding programme started in 2008 with 120 imported embryos and semen from Canada and at present 120 cows are calved to purebred Speckle Park bulls. 

Last year, well over 50,000 straws of Speckle Park semen went into the dairy industry and Mark McKenzie says that is where most of the offspring are coming from that are filtering into the saleyards.

“It is very rare to get purebred Speckle Park cattle at the saleyards, unless they are ex-sire bulls. It is frustrating – they’re calling the crosses Speckle Park, when in fact they are a first or second cross and they are very different to a purebred Speckle Park. 

“When 50% of the genetics are coming from a dairy cow you are obviously not going to get the muscle pattern of a straight Speckle Park, which are known for high marbling and yield.”

McKenzie has been on the Speckle Park International Board for 10 years and says it is time to put people straight on what is being offered, especially as the breed has grown in popularity.

“It’s time we got the point across that what is coming into the yards are mostly first or second cross dairy and it’s up to the vendors to state what they are for sellers. White Speckle Parks will colour mark over any breed, so for example if they are crossed with a Jersey, they can have the colouring of a Speckle Park but the growth rates and frame of a Jersey. The Speckles get the blame because they haven’t grown out, but it is because they are out of a Jersey.”

A Speckle Park-cross does stand on its own merits and will often carry through the traits of the bulls, but buyers do need to take into consideration what they are crossed with and how that breed grows out, just as they would for any beef-dairy crosses. 

“Speckle Park-Friesian are a fantastic cross that marble very well and are sought after by various butchers and restaurants,” McKenzie says. 

Differentiating between a dairy and a beef-cross Speckle Park is another layer of the onion to peel back, and really comes down to muscle definition and characteristics, much like the difference between a straight Hereford and a Hereford-Dairy. 

This article was written by AgriHQ analyst Suz Bremner. Suz leads the AgriHQ LivestockEye team, including data collectors who are tasked with being on the ground at sale yards throughout the country. Subscribe to AgriHQ reports here.

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