Monday, March 21, 2022

Growing interest in “Heritage Breeds”


British White, British White Park, Canadian Speckled Park

These are English-origin breeds with distinctive coloring and specialized marketing opportunity. The designation “heritage breed” is bestowed by the American Minor Breeds Conservancy who document the characteristic traits, monitors the size of each breeding population across several livestock species, and helps to connect breeders wishing to be involved in any individual breed.

We get periodic requests for semen from these breeds, and have made some connections with individual breeders. At present we have a small inventory of the famous Speckled Park sire River Hill 26T Walker 60W. Born in 2009 and successfully shown 2009, 2010 and 2011 when he weighed 2075 pounds at 24 months of age, he is considered 100% pure Speckled Park.

The “Speckled Park” is a composite of the Angus, White Park, and Teeswater-type Shorthorn. They were developed in Saskatchewan (western Canada) and were first recognized in 2006 as a distinct new cattle breed. Traits noted are great foraging vigor, good rates of gain whether on grass or grain feed, and easy birth weights (75#-85#). The meat is well-marbled, tender, and has less outer-layer fat. The carcass dressing percentage is higher than most other breeds.

Drawing on the gene pool of the “British White Park”, this is a breed originating in England from the 1800s that is white with black or red points (ear tips, nose, feet) and has dark-tipped horns. More of a “dual purpose” (meat + milk) breed in its development, they are considered good at “conservation (rough land) grazing” and have a good marbling ability that does not require corn to produce a finish grade animal. Cows are from 1000 to 1500 pounds at maturity, Bulls are from 1800 to 2300 pounds maturesimilar to most other English beef breeds. Cows live to 20 years of age (hardy, good fertility, easy calving).

Of earlier origin are the “British White” (likely an ancestor of the British White Park). These are polled cattle, also considered dual purpose, coming from eastern England. They were first noted as resident of Whalley Abbey in Lancashire, described in the 1600s.

Interest in these breeds has grown with the rising market profile of “grass fed beef”. Breeds already developed to match the pastoral English climate and soils were typically selected for a moderate growth rate on grass (seasonal grazing and winter baled hay) and reach a “finished” quality from age-triggered marbling on a faster-maturing, smaller-frame carcass. “Corn fed” as a category of beef really did not exist until after World War I and the developing feedlots along the Mississippi River to which western range steers were herded seasonally. With the advent of “Continental” (European) breeds in the 1970s-80s, mainstream beef breeding in the USA was transformed from grass-based to corn-based.

“Grass Fed” in that sense is having a “renaissance” as the total costs of dry lot rearing and feed lot finishing of cattle have risen. $6.00-$7.00 corn prices today represent a severe shock to the feeding industry after decades of $2.50-$4.00 corn. The time for “heritage” breeds has come.

English Breeds -- a simple comparison --

vs Continental Breeds

Simmental/ Fleckveih/ Pie Rouge Maine Anjou

Gelbveih Chianina

Salers Braunveih Piedmontese Normande

Larger frame size Later physical maturity

Nutrient-dependent fertility bigger calves (long gestation) higher % edible

Angus/ Red Angus Shorthorn (horned/polled) Hereford (horned/polled) Red Poll
Red Devon
Speckled Park
Scotch Highlander
Murray Grey **
British White/White Park Galloway/ Belted Galloway

= =

Belgian Blue

vs vs vs

vs vs

= =

Smaller frame size
Earlier physical maturity
Higher natural fertility
easier calving (lower birth weight) lower % edible

Several of the Continental European breeds have “double muscling” which includes Charolais, Gelbveih, Limousin, Piedmontese, and Belgian Blue (a result of crossing British White Park and Maine Anjou, so a cross-channel collaboration). This adds to calving difficulty.

** Murray Grey actually originate in Australia, the result of an Angus cow being repeatedly bred to a white Shorthorn bull, resulting in their unique color.

There are subvariants within breeds, for example the Loala (“Lowline”) Angus which maintain the pre- World War II “baby beef” growth rate and easy-fleshing metabolism. The Irish Kerry cow (known here as “Dexters”) are a similarly smaller size cow for homesteaders.

Worldwide there are at least 700 local, regional, or nationally identified breeds of cattle, used for draft, meat or milk purposes. These fall into three categories: Bos Taurus (European in origin) Bos Indicus (the Indian subcontinent of Asia) and Bos Africanus (the African continent). Each of these subspecies has unique genotype characteristics that can be found in all breeds originating in their specific geography. Many of these English and Continental breeds from “Bos Taurus” have been crossed with “Bos Indicus” bulls to create heat and insect resistance.

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