Cattle breeders from around New Zealand and Australia were happy to don gumboots and oil skins and hoist umbrellas for a farm walk in Woodville last Thursday.

The visitors were taking part in the New Zealand red poll cattle breeders farm tour at Athol and Betty Sowry's Athbey property on Valley Rd, one of five farm walks on this year's tour. And the 53mm of rain overnight Wednesday was the icing on the cake for the couple as they showed off their small red poll herd.

The Sowry's have 37 registered red polls in their herd of 130 cattle, 50 of them red polls, running on 40 hectares.

Twenty-month-old red poll bulls from Athol and Betty Sowry's Athbey herd at Valley Rd, Woodville were on show for cattle breeders last Thursday morning. The bulls average 500kg.
Twenty-month-old red poll bulls from Athol and Betty Sowry's Athbey herd at Valley Rd, Woodville were on show for cattle breeders last Thursday morning. The bulls average 500kg.

"They're the most docile of breeds and ideal for lifestylers and at the end of their life you get a useable carcass," Mr Sowry said. "I've held a flame for red polls for 50 years, ever since I went to Feilding Agricultural High School along with quite a few others from Dannevirke."

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While not the most prolific cattle, members of the New Zealand Red Poll Cattle Breeders Association are adamant there's plenty of good reasons to farm the breed.

"They're medium sized, that's the beauty of them. They don't pug the paddocks up," Mr Sowry said.

Kelvin Lane runs red polls at Pongaroa and Shannon and said taking part in the tour complements what he does on his properties.

"Originally there were a lot of red poll cattle around Dannevirke, but after the war, the Government's Rural Bank's influence saw a push to black cattle," he said.

Australian Doug D'Oliver from Victoria is a fan of red polls, having bred them for 12 years at his St Cerry stud.

"I'm taken by the temperament of red polls and their ability to milk, although I breed them for their meat," he told the Dannevirke News. "I thought they were the cattle to go with, although 40 years ago I had poll herefords and then Angus, but after an incident with an Angus, I knew red polls were for me. I grow my calves to two-year-olds and then sell them on. I only grass feed with hay in the winter. It's the best way to utilise grass and it's cheap."

Mr D'Oliver said he's got little time for Angus cattle after being charged and knocked down by one 10 years ago.

The New Zealand farm tours and annual general meeting of the association in Masterton was a wonderful opportunity to catch up with breeders, he said.

"I was here two years ago and enjoyed it so much I had to return. I'm always learning. It's interesting to see new ways of doing things and New Zealanders have a great reputation in farming, especially in dairy farming."

Graeme Evans of Masterton, the president of the New Zealand Red Poll Cattle Breeders Association, said there was a good turnout for the three-day event.

"We've 22 active breeders around from Kaitaia to Bluff as well as associate members," he said.

Peter Fleming, one of the patrons of the association, grew up on the Taitapu property of Sir Heaton Rhodes, the man who brought the red poll cattle to New Zealand in 1898.

"My father, Maurice, was manager for Heaton Rhodes for 30 years and growing up with red polls means I'm biased towards the breed," he said. "I was also secretary of the association for 30 years."

Red poll meat is relatively low-fat, with a high commercial value and Mr Sowry supplies Affco's Land Meats exclusively, selling through Keith Fergus.

"The meat schedule is on the rise and I try to supply them on the shoulder of the season," Mr Sowry said. "It's good for Affco and good for Betty and I as we get a premium. Because I'm loyal to Affco they look after me and I've a great relationship with Keith (Fergus)."

It's almost time for the first draft of cattle to the works from the Sowry property with some good looking red polls leading the way.