THE United Kingdom has provided some of the world’s most popular beef cattle breeds including Angus (they still call them Aberdeen Angus), Hereford and Shorthorn, plus a range of less popular breeds.
So which breeds are most popular in the UK’s beef industry today? Are they still the British breeds, or have other breeds taken over?
Most would say Angus or Hereford, but that’s wrong.
In the country where the breed originated, its interesting to note that Angus cattle do not dominate the UK beef industry as they now do in the US, Canada, Argentina and temperate regions of Australia.
The French Limousin breed is by far the most popular breed in the UK, and has held that position for the past 20 years. And ‘continental’ breeds fill four of the top five positions, based on percentage of annual commercial joinings.
In each of the past 20 years, Limousins have registered more calves as seedstock animals than any other breed. The British Limousin Cattle Society (BLCS) says the breed also dominates the UK’s commercial herd, claiming up to 30pc of the UK’s beef cattle are Limousin-influenced.
In 2016, the BLCS registered 19,000 pedigreed calves, the sixth consecutive year it topped the 19,000 mark.
Data published by the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) endorses the breed’s claims. The BCMS was set up to maintain a database of all cattle in the UK following the BSE crisis in the 1990s. All cattle in the UK are now carefully identified and all movements closely monitored.
In Australia last year, 6298 Limousin cattle were registered, putting the breed in ninth place in the breed hierarchy. In Britain they are registering three times that number annually.
Angus dominate Australian registrations with 70,076 in 2016, followed by Herefords with 25,257. Then come the tropical breed power-houses Brahman with 24,449, Santa Gertrudis with 17,423 and Droughtmaster with 11,386.
As Genetics Central has pointed out before, however, breed registrations can give a very distorted view of breed popularity. Unregistered herd bulls play a very big part in Northern Australia’s commercial bull battery. And as this spring’s northern Bos Indicus bull sales circuit has shown, a very popular option among larger-scale northern cattlemen is to go into the market to buy one or two absolute elite sires, to take home to use in their own herd bull multiplier herds, using selected females. None of those cattle are captured in registration records.
Also in 2016, the fast-expanding Wagyu breed claimed sixth spot on Australia’s registration list with 10,261 head.
The British Limousins, with 19,000 registrations a year, would sit in fourth place in Australia behind Angus, Hereford and Brahman.
Why is the Limousin breed so popular in the UK?
But why is the Limousin breed so popular in Britain?
At face value, much of it appears to be due to the nature of the UK beef industry, and domestic beef consumer preference:
- Almost all beef production in the UK is off grass
- As a general rule, marbling is not a highly sought-after trait in the UK beef market
- Price signals reward higher carcase weight and muscling, at a young age
- Demand for fat cover is moderate
- Paddock and herd sizes are small, making growth rate an important commercial trait.
Added to that, breed-based commercial brand programs are less developed in the UK than they are either in the US or Australia.
All this adds up to a package that appears well-suited to Limousin cattle and their crosses, especially over British dams.
There also appears to be well-balanced attitude towards performance recording and showing.
The British Limousin Cattle Society claims to be a breed leader in the introduction of genomic driven estimated breeding values (known as GEBVs in the UK, the equivalent of our EBVs) for carcase traits, female fertility and calf survival. The breed is also at the forefront of feed efficiency testing.
At the more ‘traditional end’ of the ‘breed performance spectrum’, it proudly claims to have won 22 interbreed titles at the four major UK stud cattle shows in summer 2017 which exposes the breed to a wide audience.
BLCS chairman John Phillips said the breed had experienced increased demand for bulls accompanied by good clearance rates; it had consolidated market share and was a leader in breed improvement initiatives.
Sales of pedigreed Limousin in the past 12 months grossed $9.45 million (Australian dollars) with a top of 100,000 guineas, or $180,000 Australian (the highest price paid for a Euro bull in Australia this year was $160,000 for Simmental, Woonallee Los Angeles). The society gains a commission from each bull sold.
He said a survey of bull buyers in the UK indicated a 94pc approval rate for Limousin bulls.
Mr Phillips said the society placed emphasis on the needs of commercial beef producers especially for carcase and efficiency traits.
The British Cattle Movement Service’s 2016 joining data indicates that more than one in four beef herd joinings in the UK are to Limousin bulls or semen: