This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Limousin Society in New Zealand. The breed society formed in March 1973 in response to a move by Government to relax the restrictions on imports of live cattle and to allow further European cattle breeds to be imported for commercial purposes.
A broader genetic base in the NZ cattle industry was considered of economic merit to the country. Later that year the NZ Director of Agriculture (Dr Johns) approved the importation of 10 Limousin heifers. Eight farmers expressed an interest in buying one or more heifers, some costing up to $5000 each!Since their introduction to NZ the Limousin breed has established itself as a genuine terminal sire, known for its outstanding yield and meat quality. Limousin cattle originated from central France where they experience hot, dry summers and very cold winters. They are traditionally foraging animals that thrive on lower quality feed and are able to survive in harsh climates. The breed’s traditional qualities of easy calving, high growth rate and feed efficiency have been retained.
There are a number of different myostatin genes amongst cattle, many almost exclusive to a particular breed. Usually growth slows as an animal reaches puberty but the presence of a myostatin gene interrupts this process. Sometimes it is called “double-muscling”. Limousin has a high incidence (98%) of the F94L myostatin gene which is a very moderate type. It doesn’t adversely affect calving ease and birth weights unlike some myostatin variants in other breeds. F94L adds more muscle fibre which improves the tenderness of the meat. There is now a DNA-test for this gene.
In the earlier years some of the AI sires used turned out to be of poorer temperament and this led to the breed gaining a reputation for difficulty of handling. In 1995 the breed was the first to introduce docility scoring and the subsequent improvement in temperament has been exceptional.
Although naturally horned, there has been a move to polledness amongst some breeders and black Limousins are increasing in popularity.
Another initiative has been the establishment of Limousin bull trials in both islands and is now one of the few breeds that continue to have this type of independent assessment programme. Breeders are invited to enter one or two of their best yearling bulls in August and the animals are evaluated monthly by weight, structure and docility score. Farming the trial animals under the same conditions on grass removes any impact of environment differences across farms.
“There is a lot of variation in the animals when they arrive but over time their true genetic potential begins to show through. It’s a simple programme but quite an exciting initiative,” one of the organisers Gary Kennett explains.
“Later in the programme they are scanned for eye muscle and fat cover and a scrotum measurement taken. Blood and semen tests are taken to ensure that each animal is disease free and fertile. Finally a hair sample is collected and DNA-tested to ensure they carry no known genetic disorders. Only those animals that meet the high standard of the organisers are catalogued for sale in May/June the following year.”
“This programme gives potential buyers some degree of certainty of what they are purchasing.”
Limousin New Zealand has 45 registered breeders and one herd, Ben More Limousin (Coalgate), has been there from the start.