Two Northern Irishmen are excited about the potential of Lowline cattle after they became the first people to import them in to the country.
Smallholder David Haslett, from Crossgar, purchased a bull and two heifers in February 2014. Unbeknownst to him, six miles away, Downpatrick cattle farmer Jim Morrison has also discovered the breed and, after seeing David’s cattle, has now imported his own bull to cross with his Angus beef herd.
“I was originally looking at Dexters because there was a premium on their meat,” David said. “But I wanted a beefier animal, and I wanted something with a good temperament which didn’t require large handling facilities. I visited Wessex Lowlines in Dorset and saw that the cattle fitted the bill perfectly.”
Lowlines are the original Aberdeen Angus but got their name after being used in an Australian breeding trial in the 1970s to establish how feed conversion impacted on the animal’s size.
“The larger animals were called the ‘high line’ herd while the smaller animals were called the ‘low line’.
To this day they retain their beefy, Angus heritage, but stand at about two-thirds of the size – a quality that both David and Jim liked.
David has just ten acres of grazing and an international medical equipment company – Operating Room Systems, based next to Belfast City Airport – to run, so relies on the Lowlines to be hassle-free.
“They can stay out all year if the weather isn’t too bad, and they can finish on grass alone. They don’t smash the fences up or have problems with their feet, they’re easy calving and when I’m away the kids are able to help feed them.”
To help build up herd numbers quickly, David and Jim are now working together.
Jim spent his farming career specialising in cattle genetics and pioneered the use of embryo flushing. He is now using the technique on David’s heifers and is placing fertilised eggs into dairy cows to surrogate a Lowline calf.
“I’m also using my bull, Wessex Apollo, on my 14 head of Angus cattle with the aim of getting lots of special black calves out in the field,” Jim said.
David says his plans for Lowlines in Northern Ireland are evolving all the time.
“Hopefully I’ll be able to get an animal to a show next year so we can tell people more about them,” David said. “Then we need to get numbers up so that we actually have stock to satisfy the demand that they create.”
Both men agree that Lowlines have a role to play in the Irish farming market.
Jim said: “Beef farmers can use Lowlines to reduce wintering costs and veterinary bills, while dairy units can use the bulls on their maiden heifers to calve them down at around 24 months.
“Smallholders can have the pleasure of a docile animal which provides quality meat for them and their friends.”
David added: “There is a big opportunity for a small beef breed in Northern Ireland. We are great at growing grass and beef farmers and smallholders need an animal that doesn’t have huge input costs or require investment in handling equipment or winter housing.”
David Maughan from Wessex Lowlines said: “Awareness of the breed is growing quickly with lots of interest from Great Britain, Northern Ireland and Europe so we have been growing the size of our herd to match demand.”
For more information about Lowlines, visit www.wessexlowlines.com.