50 years of Simmental
A Simmental heifer gained massive media attention 50 years ago when it was guided into the lift at a Christchurch hotel and transported to the top floor to be sold at a swanky auction event.
The publicity stunt worked, and the heifer was reputedly sold at a world record price for Simmental cattle of $47,500 to a buyer from Australia, keen to get a head start on building their own purebred herd.
They were heady days in the early seventies when the breed first arrived in New Zealand in a wave of exotic breed imports.
An early consignment of 36 purebred Simmental females from Germany was imported by the Government (Lands & Survey) and the fledgling NZ Simmental Association. Lands & Survey got half, but the rest were offered to breeders through a ballot system, and the lucky cattlemen made their selections while the cattle were completing quarantine on Soames Island in Wellington Harbour.
Other small consignments were imported to NZ from Europe and the United Kingdom in the following years. Not surprisingly, there was enormous demand for any purebred Simmental or Simmental-cross cattle in those early days, and prices reflected it.
At one stage, the breed society boasted more than 1500 members, but just over 50 years later, there are now 45 registered studs active on the herd book, and the Simmental breed is the third-ranked breed for registered stud females in the country.
Current breed society president Tracey Neal says the opportunity for cross-breeding with the large British Breed cow base here in New Zealand was the major early attraction farmers had for Simmentals in the early seventies.
“Heterosis was in play and it was a free lunch for many breeders who used Simmental bulls over their British breed cows. The progeny were exceptional and Simmental-sired weaners are often still among the top-priced pens of calves sold at weaner fairs right across the country,” she says.
Neal says the terminal sire bull market remains the primary outlet for Simmental bull breeders, but many are now targeting the dairy bull market and Simmentals are prominent in the rankings within Beef + Lamb NZ’s dairy beef progeny test.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing for the breed in New Zealand. It took 15 years and heavy culling to overcome the stigma of Simmentals being renowned as a stroppy breed.
“As a breed society, we were the first to introduce an estimated breeding value (EBV) for docility and to measure docility in our heifers at both weaner and rising two-year-old stage, so we could cull poorly ranked cattle from our herds,” she says.
A recent herd tour of Northland snapped a two-year gap in activities because of the travel restrictions imposed by Covid-19, which also put plans on hold for a big celebration of the breed’s 50 years in New Zealand. Neal says travel restrictions made it impossible to run any events at the time.
At an individual stud level, just two studs in Hawke’s Bay have reached the milestone of 50 years of breeding Simmental cattle.
The Absolom family’s Rissington stud at Rissington notched up five decades in 2021 and Tony Thompson joined the NZ society in 1971 but registered his Glen Anthony stud in 1973, initially at Matamata then Waipukurau.