Of medium size and docile temperament, Red Poll cattle are among the less common breeds farmed in New Zealand. But a Tararua farm has been included in a herd tour by members of the Red Poll Cattle Breeders Association.

The property, Athbey Farm is at Papatawa, Woodville, and is owned by Athol and Betty Sowry, who started raising Red Polls nine years ago after giving up dairy farming after some 21 years.

The Sowrys run 48 registered Red Poll cattle made up of 31 in-calf cows, seven mixed-age bulls and 10 rising one-year heifers.

"We like Red Polls because they are docile, are polled, therefore don't need dehorning, and are of medium size. We can't have big heavy cattle on our wet hills," says Athol. "Also they look nice."

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Red Poll cattle are fertile, free calving and produce high-yielding tender carcasses. Athol says they are proven as a pure breed and as a dairy beef sire,

Red Poll cattle are a traditional British breed, native to East Anglia and originally formed by crossing the Suffolk Dun cow (a dairy type) and the Norfolk Red (which was beefier) in 1780.

They were first imported into New Zealand in 1898, by Sir Heaton Rhodes (Otahuna Stud) of Tai Tapu, Christchurch, who brought a bull and three in-calf cows from England, on board the SS Tokomaru, arriving in New Zealand on March 10 1898.

In 1899 Sir Heaton won the Ellesmere seat as an "old-style Liberal". He joined William Massey's Cabinet in 1912 as Postmaster General and Minister of Public Health.

In England the Red Poll is often used for dairying, although originally they were considered more as a dual-purpose breed, which means that they produced both excellent milk and beef.

Red Polls are now used by commercial and pedigree breeders throughout the UK and overseas, especially in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, Europe, Jamaica and the USA, to produce an excellent suckler cow with plenty of milk with which to rear a strong and healthy pure bred or cross-bred calf.

Athbey Farm was the second stop on the herd tour, which began with a visit to Kelvin and Kath Lane's property east of Shannon, where they run 50 cows.

They also run another 50 cows on their property at Pongaroa. From Athbey Farm the tour group, made up of Red Poll cattle breeders from both the North and South Islands, headed to Waipukurau where they visited Andrew and Ruth Pinfold's herd at Onga Onga and Bruce Nimon's herd out of Hastings.

On Tuesday the group attended the association's annual meeting.