Bright future of a beef breed in the ascendancy

FRIENDS OF Geoff Riby will tell you he is an unassuming chap but his recent appointment as the new president of The Beef Shorthorn Society means he is the voice for a breed which is stealing the limelight.

Geoff Riby and his son, Christopher.

The shorthorn has evolved over the last two centuries from Teeswater and Durham cattle in the North East and has qualities which make it suited to both dairying and producing beef.

As such, the breed society which East Yorkshire farmer Geoff now leads, predicts a bright future for a breed which continues to build on its long heritage.

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Enthusiasm for the breed is remarkable, with the Beef Shorthorn Society reporting that registrations are up 41 per cent over the last five years, with the rolling 12-month average at 3,565.

Going hand in hand, membership of the society has risen by almost a third - 30 per cent - to 742 members during the same period.

All in all, recent data shows a 40 per cent increase in Beef Shorthorn and Beef Shorthorn cross registered cattle since 2008 - the largest increase of any breed in the country.

Pedigree sales too have hit an all-time high, for the fifth consecutive year, reaching a record top price of 17,000gns and record averages for both bulls and females at £5,457 and £2,725 respectively.

Geoff, who runs his Stonehills herd at 1,000-plus acre Low Stonehills Farm at Fraisthorpe, just south of Bridlington with his wife Jackie and son Christopher, is a passionate advocate of the beef shorthorn. Originally, however, he was a dairyman.

“We were dairy producers up to 2004. I’d been milking cows all my life and it was hard letting the cows go. We had about 140 at the top and none of us like to give up or be beaten but I wanted to do something that was going to be more profitable, involved less capital input and was going to be a little less stressful.

“Because of the ease of calving and fertility, the beef shorthorn is the ideal cow to keep. I just fell in love with them.

“I initially intended to cross breed heifers but I was so impressed that I decided to breed them pure. It is such a rewarding breed and there are some wonderful people who breed shorthorns.

“We started off with three shorthorns from Gerald Turton at Upsall Castle and we’ve added to them by buying some more but not an awful lot. Most of what we have got we have bred ourselves from those original three and we now have about 130 heifers or cows.”

The Ribys’ herd is still expanding. They buy in some females, while also selling some of their own females privately as they strive to improve their herd in the long term.

Their perseverance and passion after switching from milking has reaped exceptional results with their herd going on to claim some major award wins. They won several classes in the Northern Shorthorn Club’s herd competition last year, winning best cow and calf, best yearling heifer, best large herd and best group of heifers, which led to them landing the champion herd title.

They also won the National Beef Shorthorn Show supreme championship at the Great Yorkshire Show last summer.

“The breed started taking off, coincidentally, just as we started out in them,” Mr Riby said.

“The main reasons for the breed’s continued success is that it is a very easy and viable female line to have for your suckler herd. Whether it is pure bred or as a cross breed, the shorthorn is a far easier suckler cow than what we have had in the past.

“Also, Morrisons’ Traditional Beef Scheme pays a 20p premium for all steer calves and heifers because the meat is so good. It has a wonderful taste. It’s marbled naturally on a low input diet and so it cooks better and tastes better than other beef.

“We are also among the only breed societies that registers DNA samples of every bull so the provenance of our product too is beyond reproach.” Mr Riby added: “Hopefully the herd numbers keep increasing because Morrisons want to be able to have in all their stores a beef shorthorn line and that’s the big goal for everyone, to get enough cattle on the ground to make this happen.”