Monday, November 21, 2011

Boomer Creek Miniature Herefords

Australia and New Zealand are separated by the Tasman Sea, affectionately known as "The Ditch" or "The Pond" although the countries are just over 1400 kms apart at the closest points.   Tasmania, a large island off the south-east corner of Australia is where Boomer Creek Farm is found.   It takes its name from the common reference to a male kangaroo as a "boomer" owing to a booming noise heard as it bounds across land at speeds of up to 70 kmph.   Joy and Colin Walters felt this to be an appropriate name for their farm which comprises 400 hectares on the East Coast of Tasmania with beautiful views over Great Oyster Bay leading out into the Tasman Sea.

Since the early 1970s the Walters have had standard sized polled Herefords then around 1994 their neighbour purchased some Lowline cattle of Angus derivation.   Colin and Joy loved the idea of having smaller sized cattle but being "red and white" breeders did some research and discovered Miniature Herefords.   Their first purchase was a recipient cow which produced Boomer Creek Atom and shortly afterwards they purchased a heifer, KT Real Roberta (imported from the USA).   This was the start of their Miniature Hereford herd.

Having always had polled Herefords it wasn't long before the Walters realised this would be a much better option than horned minis but it was a case of "do-it-yourself" as there were no polled minis outside of the States.   Starting in 1999 they followed the American system of using small standard polled Hereford females with a miniature bull.   After considerable searching they eventually found some with frame scores between 4 and 5 and later another one with a frame score of 2 - actually of Classic size.   So began the "breeding down" programme to produce polled Miniature Herefords.

For the first five years it was a very slow process with having to keep the size down as well as eliminating horns and also keeping the breed line different.   It meant using a horned mini bull across standard polls then using a different horned mini bull to establish another line then back across a standard poll to lose the horns.   This could have taken many more years except that in 2004 another Australian breeder imported polled Miniature Hereford embryos from Straitside Ranch in the States from which two heifers and one bull - all homozygous polled - were born.   Sired by SSR Micah (a small mini bull of the LS Mt Nugget 28 line) and out of SSR Miss Misty (an estimated "large" Frame Score 2 as the cows used by the Johnsons to start their breeding programme were in the frame score 1 to 2 range) the bull, Boomer Creek Felix, with a Frame Score of 1, really sped up the polled breeding programme.   With now over 40 progeny, all polled and of Frame Score 1 or less he has become the "foundation sire" of polled minis "Down Under".

                                    SSR Miss Misty - dam of Boomer Creek Felix, a polled
                                    Hereford thought to be at the top end of Frame Score 2

                                       which is not considered Miniature in the States.

                             SSR Micah - a polled Miniature bull, sire of Boomer Creek Felix
                              with a Frame Score at the bottom end of 1.   Micah's sire was a

                                               very small Largent bull, LS Mt Nugget 28.

                                    Boomer Creek Felix, aged six and winner of the Sire's
                                    Progeny Class in 2010.   He has a Frame Score  of 1
                                    and qualifies as a true Miniature as in the States, where
                                    he originated, miniature means size not background.

Normally the Walters run around 50 breeding cows of which 95% would now be Miniature Herefords, mostly polled.   At least twenty of these are homozygous polled and most of them now have three, four and even five generations of Miniature Herefords on both sides of their parentage.   The demand for polled minis in Australia has really taken off as prospective owners/breeders see the big advantage in having no horns to deal with.   Half of the Boomer Creek herd was sold in the last financial year (including horned) with some animals going across Bass Strait to New South Wales and Victoria.   They could have sold more but ran out of available stock!

A big part of promoting Boomer Creek cattle is through showing and the Walters have been very successful even against standard Herefords and other breeds.   The animals are presented immaculately and well trained.

Joy Walters with Boomer Creek Mack - Junior Champion, Grand Champion
and Interbreed Champion bull in 2010.   A grandson of Boomer Creek Felix.

                                     Seven of these polled Miniature Hereford heifers are
                                                          by Boomer Creek Felix.

                                         Good breeding and presentation deserves to win.
                                                Some of Boomer Creek Felix' progeny.

It is thanks to the outlook and perseverance of such Miniature Hereford Studs in the States as Straitside Ranch (Betty and the late John Johnson) and Long Creek (Susan and Ron Himmelberg) plus Boomer Creek (Colin and Joy Walters in Australia) that polled Miniature Herefords have become available for Hereford breed enthusiasts looking for smaller cattle without horns.   For those of us following in their footsteps we can only build on the foundation they have laid - the hard work has already been done.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Against All Odds

In the five years we have been on our new farm the winters of 2007 and 2008 have been the worst we've experienced so far. A wet autumn led into an even wetter winter and conditions for both man and beast were horrendous. At one stage the other half sat up in bed and cried out, "@#%&* all I can see is a sea of mud." He was still asleep!

After a particularly difficult day out on the farm he exclaimed, "Every one of those big hoofprints must hold a litre of water and there is probably now three million litres of water all over the farm."   This led to my 'tongue-in-cheek' remark, "Perhaps we should look at running some Miniature Herefords and see how they and the farm cope."   A long silence greeted this audacious uttering followed by, "That's not such a silly idea."   Thus began my investigation into what Miniature Herefords really were.

Miniature Hereford hoofprint                                             Regular Hereford hoofprint

We have since found that the minis have less impact with their hooves on soft or muddy ground thus causing less pasture damage.   During the wettest times we have fenced off particularly susceptible areas then once conditions improve the minis go into these paddocks first to eat the pasture down.   By the time the ground has dried somewhat and the grass has freshened the bigger cattle can go into these areas without sinking to their bellies as they used to do.

During the 2008 winter we had several sets of twins born on the farm, among them heifer/bull combinations which usually means the female is a sterile "freemartin".   On August 19th we discovered a cow with a very small calf beside her and wondered whether there was another calf somewhere.   We were on top of a steep, slippery hill leading down to a swamp area and it was sheer chance that we noticed movement in the mud below.   Slithering down we discovered another even smaller calf which was so young and deeply buried in the quagmire it could not extricate itself.   A long, hard pull up the hill and we had one hypothermic little bull snuggled into hay on the trailer.   The mother was not interested in him and we then realised the calf with her was a heifer so thought, here's another passenger!

The little heifer grew up with mum while we hand reared her twin bull brother.   Even though we knew the odds were against her being fertile we always give our freemartin heifers a chance to get in calf by running them with a bull alongside their peer group.   Apparently if the placental membranes of the twins are not co-joined in utero within the first month from conception it is likely the heifer will be fertile.   If they are then the blood travelling to both twins carries male hormones which affects the sexual development of the female twin.   A theory is also posed that if the heifer is heavier than the bull then she could be fertile.   It is about a 10 percent chance either way.   In this case the heifer was 26 kgs while her brother was 24 kgs so fingers were crossed.   The following photo was taken of how a bovine chromosomal freemartin is produced in utero where both bull and heifer calves are sharing the placental membranes connecting them with their mother.

Photo reprinted with permission from Dr Robert A. Foster, Department of Pathobiology, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Canada.

The following year the heifer fell victim to a particularly bad attack of facial eczema.   She had been out the back of the farm with the rest of the yearling heifers and we had not been able to get near them for weeks owing to the atrocious conditions which had washed out some crossings.   When they were accessible it was only because this heifer failed to come out of the trees that we realised something was amiss.   Unfortunately it was several more days before we could get her up to our yards and by then she was a mess.   A zinc bolus and a balling gun for administering it was obtained from the local vet and the heifer treated.   It took a long time for her to recover and she ended up with a bald nose which wasn't the best situation for our summers.   Then she started to grow hair over the patches and eventually developed a moustache which covered part of her nose.   We had no idea what internal damage the eczema might have done but kept an eye on her over the following months.   She was always on the small side but already came from a small line of Herefords so we were a bit dubious about running her with a bull at two years of age although we doubted she would either cycle or get in calf.

                                                Riverlands Princess with moustache.

At the beginning of winter, 2011 to our amazement we noticed "Freebie", as we called her, was looking quite rotund and developing a noticeable udder.   On September 15th she calved with no trouble producing a 34 kg bull.   A reprieve for her and relief for us as we don't really like sending young heifers to the Works.   The little guy is doing well as mum has quite a good udder for a heifer and she certainly loves her little boy.

                                                          Princess' little prince.
She will now join the little herd of conventional but small polled Herefords which will be mated to a Miniature Hereford bull as one of the foundation 'matrons' for a polled Miniature Hereford stud.   Hats off to you Riverlands Princess 979 for your courage and determination to make it against all odds.