English beef breed Longhorn reintroduced to Australia with 16 purebred calves born
After a long absence, Britain’s oldest breed of beef cattle has been reintroduced to Australia.
Sixteen purebred English Longhorn calves, including a pair of twins, were recently born near Albury in southern New South Wales.
For prominent chef Jock Zonfrillo, who played a major role in the return of the acclaimed breed, it’s a special moment when he sees the young animals for the first time.
“To be here and see them actually a few weeks old is amazing,” he said.
The English Longhorns originally came to Australia with the First Fleet.
Although there are still a few crosses, recent efforts to find purebred animals have been unsuccessful.
So Mr Zonfrillo, who was born in Scotland but now lives in Adelaide, hatched a plan to bring them back.
“I really started a campaign for a lot of older races when I emigrated in 2000,” he said.
“At that time the industry was starting to move very strongly towards Angus so they weren’t really interested in what I had to say about traditional breeds.
“For me, as a chef, it was a little appalling to turn my back on the oldest breed of feeder cow.
“The only reason to do things like this, and our interest in other breeds as well, is to bring back that true vintage beef flavor. “
Beef helps the butcher stand out from the competition
Four years ago, he turned to an unlikely ally – Angus’ South Australian breeder turned butcher Richard Gunner.
“He thought I was nuts, he really did it,” the chef said.
“He said you know I’m one of the greatest Angus finisher in the country and I was like it’s great, good for you, but let’s talk about the English Longhorns.”
Earlier this week, Mr Gunner was named the country’s Most Outstanding Provider at the ABC Delicious Produce Awards, primarily for his Coorong Angus beef and Suffolk lamb.
But he recognizes that it is also necessary to find new ways to stand out from the competition.
“Angus had become a little ubiquitous,” he said.
“It was in McDonald’s pies and burgers.
“Although our Angus was always something special, it was very difficult to be heard among more and more noise around things that were not of the same quality as what we were growing, so we were looking for something else. . “
With the resounding backing of celebrity chefs such as Heston Blumenthal and Jamie Oliver, Mr Gunner has decided that the English Longhorns are worth a closer look.
So he joined Mr Zonfrillo on a tour of some of Britain’s best farms and the animals known for their striking appearance left a lasting impression on the butcher’s taste buds.
“We were very lucky to have both crossed and purebred longhorns at the same time and (we found) the half-blood had excellent experience eating beef, but the full blood was again d ‘on a whole new level,’ said Gunner.
“I guess it gave real confidence that there really was something in the genes.”
Challenges in bringing English longhorns to the country
However, bringing these genes to Australia has been a long and costly saga that began long before Mr. Gunner and Mr. Zonfrillo were involved.
There have been several unsuccessful attempts over the past decades by other English Longhorn loyalists to reintroduce the breed.
Even when Mr Gunner finally managed to import embryos last year, it seemed for some time that they would not be implanted when quarantine regulations changed and more testing was needed.
“There have been some epic highs and some really dire lows throughout the process and that has changed at times on a daily basis,” Zonfrillo said.
“One moment there was complete elation and the next you tear your hair out and bang your head against the wall.”
Just when all seemed lost, a lab in Belgium was found at the last minute that could perform the additional test.
The embryos were then transferred to cows carefully selected by Calfcorp – a company in Holbrook near Albury that specializes in artificial breeding.
She was a little disappointed with the pregnancy success rate.
“We often find that a lot of our embryos imported from Europe and England perform slightly below average,” said Reon Holmes of Calfcorp.
“We would like, on average, to exceed 70% for most of our embryos that we transfer, but a lot of those embryos have gone below 50%.
But beef connoisseurs are just thrilled that the breed is finally back.
“It’s really exciting to see it’s real, it’s here, it’s in Australia after all the trials and tribulations,” Gunner said.
A second batch of English Longhorn embryos from the award-winning Blackbrook Stud in Leicestershire have now been imported and implanted.
But even with calves on the ground and another batch on the way, it will be at least five years before the breed makes an appearance in local restaurants or butchers.
“These guys are going to mature between two and two and a half years,” Zonfrillo said.
“Obviously, we want to breed this first batch rather than eat it.
“I would really love to eat one ASAP, but you know for me it’s a plane trip to the UK if I want to eat Longhorn right now.”
For more on this story, watch Fixed this Sunday at noon on ABC1.