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Favouring the Shorthorn
Donald Biggar OBE (65-69) on BBC R4 talking about the Beef Shorthorn
A Transcription from Farming Today - 29 October 2012 at 5.45am on BBC Radio 4.
Demand for meat from traditional breeds is having an effect on Britain's farms. Over the past year the number of registered beef Shorthorn cattle has risen by 26% to more than 3000. It's something of a reversal after decades of decline in native beef breeds in the UK. It seems they are now becoming commercially viable, partly because of supermarket schemes like the Traditional Breed Beef at Morrisons where farmers are paid a premium for producing Shorthorn sired beef. Caz Graham has been to meet a man who has a long history with the breed.

Donald Biggar's family have been breeding Shorthorn cattle on their Castle Douglas farm since the 1930's. "The colours of the Shorthorn are red, white and roan. That's the traditional colours of the breed- so you see all three in this group."

It's a historic breed almost 200 years old. But over the last 40 or so years it's been out of favour.

"In the 60's there was a lot of advice that we had to cut fat out of our diet and we probably went overboard and got our cattle far too lean. Native breeds were considered to be too small and too fat at that time. They were then under a great deal of competition from the continental cattle which arrived in the 1960's, so we had the Charolais, Limousin, and many others. They grew faster, they were leaner and they fitted what the consumer was being advised to eat at the time. That has all changed in the last few years and now we find that the breeders of the traditional breeds, but in particular the Shorthorn, have got their act together and they have improved the growth rates and they've improved the muscularity and we're also seeing a consumer who is much more selective and who wants some taste and quality in their beef. The native breeds, because they don't grow quite as fast as the Continentals, their muscle muscle fibre is finer and so the eating quality of the beef is much better and so we're seeing the popularity return in spades. [Talks to cows] C'mon Girls! "

Native breed meat has increased in popularity across the board in the recent years and supermarkets are keen to tap into that demand. Demand for the Shorthorn has risen significantly.

"It's been quite staggering. Ten years ago if you spoke to a commercial farmer and suggested he use a Shorthorn bull he would probably smile wryly and walk away. Now it's a different story. Steers are attracting 20p a kilo premium in the market. The heifers and in particular the cross bred heifers make ideal replacement suckler cows so the commercial farmers are turning back to Shorthorn bulls and we are probably selling four times as many bulls now as we were only 3-4 years ago.

This revival of Shorthorn bulls isn't just happening in the UK. Their qualities are being recognised further afield too."

[Donald shows Caz a new building…]

"This is a newer wintering facility for the animals and in here we have calves that were born spring time and just recently weaned. In recent years we've sold all our Angus heifers abroad - they've gone to France and last year to Romania and indeed on Monday we have a German delegation coming to see the rest of them. We have got Shorthorn heifers which may well finish up in Austria- some went last year to Austria, some went to Germany; the interest is developing across Europe."

Donald Biggar on the beef Shorthorn.

There is a short video here, where Donald talks further about raising good quality beef cattle and this is a link to his farm's website.


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