Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Shorthorn cattle – 200 years on

Shorthorn, originally known as Durham, were the first recorded cattle to set foot on New Zealand soil on December 22 1814. The bull and two cows came from the New South Wales Crown herd. They were a gift from Governor Lachlan Macquarrie and were said to have originated from a royal herd. The cattle landed at Kororareka in the Bay of Islands accompanied by missionary Samuel Marsden. They were part of a consignment of animals and seeds Marsden brought from Australia on his first visit to NZ to encourage the indigenous people to grow European-type produce and raise stock.

These first animals were quickly followed by further shipments of cattle, primarily to provide milk for missionaries and early settlers and later, as numbers built, to provide meat for the table.

Cattle were also put to work and used to haul logs from the bush and pull drays and wagons.

Milking ability, docile temperament and strong shoulders and body were qualities needed by those early cattle and the Durham fitted the bill.

As a breed, they were strong across the Tasman and so many made the journey to NZ.

By 1880 there were 500,000 cattle in NZ and by far the majority were Durham.

Shorthorn numbers peaked in the 1920s and 30s. The advent of the tractor meant they were no longer needed for farm work and trial shipments of beef showed best returns came from a smaller, more compact animal.

The Shorthorns were, however, used for crossbreeding with Angus and Hereford.

The advent of European breeds along with the import of frozen semen and performance evaluation have all impacted on the breed, both negatively and positively.

Through the later part of last century importations of Australian and North American semen became a necessity as breeders grappled with new ways of evaluating stock.

Today Shorthorn genetics match favourably with other breeds and the breed is renowned for its temperament, fertility, length of body and softness of muscle pattern.

Adapted from 200 Years Shorthorn Cattle – The two hundred year role for the breed in New Zealand, compiled by Timothy Plummer.

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