Calf rarer than a Giant Panda born at Bicton College in Devon
Strawberry, the Dairy Shorthorn, has given birth to a heifer at Bicton College in East Devon – helping continue a breed that is now rarer than the Giant Panda.
She went into labour shortly after being inspected by 50 farmers from the Rare Breeds’ Survival Trust, because Dairy Shorthorns, once the nation’s most prolific cattle breed, are now on the endangered list.
The little heifer’s arrival has given a boost to the Dairy Shorthorn gene pool, a breed that now has only 80 breeding females in the country.
That makes the Dairy Shorthorn rarer than the Giant Panda, a far cry from the days when two-thirds of our cattle were either pure or crossbred Dairy Shorthorns.
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The coming of supermarket trading with its consequent change in consumer demand, and the polarisation of cattle into more defined dairy and beef breeds, saw the rapid decline of the Dairy Shorthorn, exacerbated by the increased popularity of the black-and-white breeds from the continent, first the Friesians and then the Holsteins.
Proud mum Strawberry 128th came to Bicton College from Wales, as part of its partnership with the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, which will see a whole range of animals on the endangered list bred at the college under a special survival programme, which will partly utilise the £3 million Animal Husbandry School currently under construction on the campus.
Her daughter, who is doing well, has been named Strawberry “Survival” 129th, the next in line to save the breed from extinction. The college has 10% of the country’s Dairy Shorthorn population.
Bicton farm manager Paul Redmore said the college was delighted with the new arrival.
“The calf’s mother will now be used by us to flush embryos and transfer them into other Dairy Shorthorn heifers to keep the breed from becoming extinct,” he explained. “We shall super-ovulate her so she produces more than one embryo, meaning that six or seven viable embryos could be collected from the cow to be implanted into other Dairy Shorthorn cattle.
This is similar to IVF treatment in humans, the difference being that the eggs are fertilised inside the cow and not in a test tube.
“The calf’s mother, Strawberry, is the last of her family line, and if anything should happen to her – such as having to be slaughtered because of bovine TB – then we have the embryos to keep her family genetics going.”
All of which is, of course, lost on nine-year-old Strawberry 128th, who is just happy to suckle her seventh calf under the watchful eye of the Bicton staff.