By Michelle Slater
A TRARALGON Hyland cattle breeder is making sure that some of the world’s most at-risk bovine breeds are in safe hands.
Erica Smith has just become the Rare Breeds Trust of Australia cattle coordinator, highlighting the need to preserve certain breeds of cattle from disappearing altogether.
The Rare Breeds Trust was established to support the maintenance of diversity in domestic livestock breeds, including sheep, cattle, horses, donkeys, pigs and poultry.
The trust keeps a watch list with the numbers of registered females to alert if a breed is listed as critical, endangered, vulnerable, at risk, recovering or lost.
Ms Smith said she joined the trust after finding out that Hyland cattle were listed as a recovering breed, with more than 750 breeding females registered in Australia.
“But this population could change if people stop breeding or registering them, and suddenly we won’t have the numbers and we will be back on the vulnerable list,” Ms Smith said.
“This is why it’s important to buy and breed registered stock to produce top quality animals.”
Ms Smith began breeding Hyland cattle 10 years ago to help keep the grass down on her Latrobe Valley acreage and “put one in the freezer”.
She said there had been a recent wave of interest in Hyland cattle, mainly from hobby farmers looking for an interesting-looking animal with a quiet temperament.
Ms Smith said there were even some breeders looking to invest in Hylands to process for beef.
“There are a lot of smaller breeders, but people had been buying unregistered cattle. The Hyland society allows registration after inspection, which allowed more females into the herd book,” Ms Smith said.
“The demand for Hylands is super crazy, we are seeing a surge of new breeders wanting to participate in shows.”
Ms Smith said one of the important aspects of preserving rare breeds was to maintain traits and genetic diversity lost in the focus on producing cattle for large-scale commercial agriculture.
She pointed to the particular traits in Hyland cattle that offered longevity and the ability to calve to the age of 19.
The world has lost 12 cattle breeds, and there was 35 breeds listed as critical in Australia, with fewer than 150 registered breeding females.
In Australia, 80 per cent of the nation’s dairy herd is made up of Holstein Friesians, and 70 per cent of the beef herd is made of Angus.
“Rare breeds offer traits that could be lost to efficient hybrid varieties. We need to promote these breeds and keep them going so genetic diversity is not lost,” she said.
“We want to encourage breeders what they can do to build numbers and for consumers to support local farmers if they are working with rare breeds.”