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Q and A with Frank Milnes: Shorthorn breeds 'stronger than ever'

Frank Milnes joined the Beef and Dairy Shorthorn societies as a dairy field officer in 1999, taking over as secretary 11 years later. Preparing to retire, he tells Laura Bowyer how the society has developed.

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Q: What has your role as secretary for the two societies involved?

People often think providing a registration service to members for their pedigree cattle is a breed society’s main role, but in practice it is probably the easiest and most straightforward part of the job.


It also involves providing secretarial and administrative services to the Dairy Shorthorn and Beef Shorthorn societies.


The two societies are completely separate with different boards of directors, registration rules and databases, but by working together, huge savings in overhead costs can be made.


I always wanted to raise the profile of the breeds, and this has been made easy by improvements in the type of cattle members have bred over the last 20 years.


Maintaining good working relationships with all sectors of the cattle industry has probably been the most important part of the job.

Q: Have there been any changes in the societies’ roles over the course of your career?

The major change has been the promotion and introduction of measures designed to help members improve the performance and profitability of their herd, as opposed to merely registering the pedigree of animals.

 

When I started, only 12 herds were performance recording and now there are more than 80. Similarly, there were few herds taking part in a recognised health scheme.


The Beef Shorthorn Society’s promotion of high health status – backed up by the requirement for herds to be in a Cattle Health Certification Standards-approved health scheme to be able to sell at society sales – has certainly increased awareness of the importance of health status in all herds, which had to be monitored and enforced. Last year we introduced a type-classification scheme for females, which again is designed to help members select and breed from their best animals.


Implementing and complying with EU herd book regulations has sometimes been challenging and although we may not have to comply with future EU regulations, I would be surprised if Defra did not adopt current herd book rules.

Q: Over this time, how has the breed changed and progressed?

The Dairy Shorthorn Society has maintained its number of registrations consistently over the last 16 years, despite the number of milk producers falling by about 50 per cent at the same time.


Through the breed improvement scheme, started in the 1960s, the breed has improved its ‘dairyness’ and productivity while retaining the fertility, mobility and longevity which it has always been known for.


The society has now taken the important step to close the herd book to any new imports of blood from other breeds from January 1, 2018. This will maintain and consolidate the type of Dairy Shorthorn animal which offers farmers the means to produce milk profitably.


The Beef Shorthorn has changed even more dramatically over this time. A similar breed improvement programme introduced in the 1970s allowed importation of blood from the French breed, Maine-Anjou, into the Shorthorn breeding. This improved the muscling and stature of the breed, and contained 40 per cent of the same blood.


The Beef Shorthorn Society closed its herd book to any new Maine-Anjou blood in 2001 and again consolidated vital maternal traits essential in the breed.


In 2000, the Beef Shorthorn Society registered 650 pedigree animals, increasing dramatically to almost 4,000 registrations last year. The number of Beef Shorthorn and Beef Shorthorn-cross animals in the UK has increased by 64 per cent over the last eight years, more than twice the percentage increase of any other breed while total UK beef numbers dropped.

Q: What is the main reason for the breed’s recent resurgence?

The increase in the Beef Shorthorn’s popularity is due to several factors. In the past, many suckler cows have come from the dairy herd. But, with the influence of the Holstein breed, calves did not have the beef quality required by commercial beef producers.


The Beef Shorthorn is seen as a suitable animal to breed the next generation of replacement suckler cows from, thanks to its milking ability, easy calving, fertility and longevity.


The breed’s popularity was given a further boost in 2011 when Morrisons introduced its traditional beef scheme, paying a premium for Beef Shorthorn-sired calves.

Q: What must societies do to be competitive while also satisfying breeders and members?

Societies will need to ensure their decisions are designed purely to improve the profitability of animals in commercial units. There is no future in breeding pedigree animals for the sake of it. Without commercial viability, there is no future for any pedigree breeding.


Every industry is also dependent on encouraging the next generation, so societies will need to do everything possible to encourage young members by involving them in dedicated events and calf shows. The next generation is the society’s future.

Q: What are the future plans for Beef Shorthorns?

We plan to keep providing cattle which commercial producers can use in a profitable beef operation.


We will be encouraging and expanding our type-classification scheme launched last year, which is another tool to help breeders identify, select and breed from the best cows in their herd to produce replacement suckler cows.


We will continue to encourage performance recording and high health status in our pedigree Beef Shorthorn herds.


The Morrisons traditional beef scheme is set to be rebranded as Beef Shorthorn, which will be a huge boost to the breed and bring the bonus of being able to obtain a premium for steer calves.


I have seen huge changes in my time as secretary and it has been a privilege. I am positive about the future of both breeds and confident Beef Shorthorn numbers will continue to increase.

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