The future's bright for British whites

BRITISH whites are an ancient breed, and there is only a small number of them in Australia.

But members of the 55-strong British White Cattle Society say the many virtues of the breed mean there is huge potential for the breed to become a real commercial proposition in the marketplace.

Seventeen of the country's society members - predominantly Victorians, but also from Queensland, Tasmania, South and Western Australia - gathered at Lindsay Murray's farm in Myocum at the weekend.

On the agenda was the usual society business, financial reports, strategic questions, the herd book, an update on regulations, the welcoming of new members and so on, as well as more technical matters such as genetics and chromosomal issues - all with the aim of maintaining the integrity of the society and the breed.

"There's also the social aspect,” says Lindsay, the society's co vice president.

Because there are only about 1000 British whites registered, the society is a bit like a family, he says.

Another aspect of the bi-annual gatherings is a farm tour - this time, because of the sodden ground, undertaken on foot.

It was Debbie Holmes' third visit to the farm since Lindsay joined the society in 2007.

Debbie, a vet and owner of the Ravenswood stud in Benalla, Vic, noted the calmness of the herd - some of which allowed themselves to be scratched and patted.

Indeed, docility is a characteristic of British whites - as is their ability to thrive in a variety of Australian environments, no matter how harsh.They are known for a high degree of heat tolerance and will sit or lie in the sun while other breeds seek a shady position.

Their ability to withstand above average heat means they are ideally suited to Australian climatic conditions, particularly over northern cattle breeding regions.

Lindsay, a doctor, says it was what initially drew his attention.

"I first became interested in them because of their colour pattern. The white colour with the black skin, the black around the muzzle, eyes and ears, are good for a place with so much sunshine. It protects them against cancer,” he says.

It is also visually attractive, with Australian breeders favouring a "blue” look, as the black skin gleams through the white coat. Ideally, the udder and tongue are also black, with dollar points elsewhere, such as the fetlocks.

A rare recessive gene makes some cattle appear with red points - the same as black and red angus, Lindsay says, and the society makes no distinction on colour.

Their strong black hooves hold their shape and are able to cope with the wet North Coast conditions and they demonstrate a good level of resistance to disease.

Lindsay, whose breeding herd is made up of 64 registered females and two purebred bulls, with a number of steers of various grades, says he has been able to keep spraying to a minimum.

The breed is one of the oldest breeds in Britain, dating back to 1697, though they were not introduced into Australia until 1958.

The society members are enthusiastic about their cattle, pointing to the fact they are naturally polled. Being a dominant gene, this feature is an advantage in mixed breeding programs.

Further, being a dual-purpose breed, they produce good milk, with fast-growing calves (which are often twins), as well as meat that has an excellent texture and flavour.

Lindsay has recently sold two bulls to a commercial brahman producer near Townsville who wants to cross them to improve meat quality.

"Generally British whites are known for their good eating,” he says, "and the market is wanting cattle that do well on a pure grass diet.

"Consumers are turning away from agricultural systems that grow grain to be fed to animals.”

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