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Welsh Black Cattle Society President calls for commercial commitment

The new President of the Welsh Black Cattle Society is urging breeders to adopt a more commercial edge.


Lorraine Howells

Lorraine Howells, who farms at Rhymney in the heart of the South Wales coal mining valleys, where Glamorgan meets Monmouth, says the modern market needs a low maintenance, functional cow.

And she wants producers to bring the commitment and dedication they applied to controlling Johne’s disease to improving the breed and to validate this with performance figures. Her realistic appraisal stems from direct contact with the consumer at the Valleys butcher shop she runs with several partners, as well as from her long career breeding Welsh Blacks.

Lorraine’s science background is also a factor, helping her to properly analyse and appraise her business and the industry. She read Science at UWIST, Cardiff, while regularly helping out on the home farm and taught at the local comprehensive for nearly thirty years.

Her vision includes encouraging more breeders to register their cattle and so qualify for a healthy premium and stresses that the breed is ideal in an age when the carbon footprint and methane emissions are being questioned. The breed is versatile and will efficiently convert feed into meat with a good daily weight gain, whether reared intensively or allowed to mature more slowly in the traditional way.

She says: “You’ve got to have a good milky cow that’s got a good frame about her. You need a type of cow that can cope with the demands of modern agriculture, producing meat at a low cost.

“You also need to have the figures to back that up, to prove what the cow can do. And I want to use my term of office to encourage people to record and score the animals.

“We’re a maternal breed and we need to have the figures to show the hard-headed beef producer, the commercial businessman working on slender margins. Take our herd health policy, we’ve spent years working on health programmes and bringing Johne’s under control, so that we have a better record than many other breeds.

“I’d like to see the Welsh Black breeder bring the sort of drive and tenacity they’ve shown getting Johne’s under control to improving the commercial edge. And more than that, we need to be able to validate that commercial edge.

“I’d like to see more people realising the value of the Welsh Black as an extremely good versatile suckler cow. She can be kept pure or she can be crossed with a Limousin, a Simmental, a Charollais, or whatever is your choice really.

“She is a low input cow. She’s not going to live on fresh air, but she does live on a lot less than some of the bigger, cross bred cows. You can also keep Welsh Blacks on poor forage, they are ideally suited to the uplands of Wales, whereas often cross-bred cattle struggle to cope.

“We also find that people are questioning the environmental aspects, the carbon footprint and the methane emissions. We can clearly show that the Welsh Black is extremely beneficial in terms of the environment.

“There’s nothing more efficient than a cow on a hill or lowland that can produce a calf from the available forage. They take a lot less feeding than some of the continentals.”

The Cwm Carno herd was established after Lorraine and her family lost the best part of their ‘rough hill farm’ to opencast coalmining. Once the land was returned, she bought cattle from five cow families and set about breeding pedigree stock.

It’s been a challenge, with the land rising from 800 to1200 feet above sea level and today extending to 300 acres with 40 suckler cows and up to a thousand South Wales Mountain (Nelson) sheep. Working with her is Lee Pritchard, a young farmer from nearby Treharris, who now lives on the farm and plays a big part in management of the herd.

The quality of Lorraine’s stock is renowned, with the breeding heifers and suckled calves sold directly from the farm. The steers are fattened and sold through the shop, Cig Mynydd Cymru, in the valleys town of Treharris.

The venture was set up with five fellow breeders seven years ago. Customers are drawn from across South Wales and a recent visitor, HRH Prince of Wales, enjoyed a tasting session.

She is passionate about the outlet, saying, “You’ve got to have something different and our something different is that we sell Welsh Blacks. We sell the best and in our opinion it’s the best beef to eat.

“We wouldn’t survive just on local custom in Treharris. We get people coming from all over, having heard about us in the news, or by recommendation or on the internet.

“People like to know the provenance of their food these days and we can show them that in our shop. We know that if we haven’t bred the cattle ourselves, then we know exactly where they have come from and who has reared them.”

Now it’s time to channel that passion for the wider benefit of her beloved Welsh Black. Lorraine says success in the show ring is a source of great pride and has put the breed on the map globally, but there now needs to be more attention paid to hard commercial facts.


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