|Virago Angus Stud||Updated 8 April 2012|
The farm on which the Virago Stud exists, had been owned by the Mathew family since 1977. In 1996 we, Ruth Renner and Stephan Mathew, began farming together and decided to gradually restock the farm with Angus cattle. Stephan had been predominantly a sheep farmer (500 Romney ewes) but had also kept a good Angus herd for some years. When I arrived, there were a number of store cattle on the farm, of mixed dairy and dairy/beef blood, and to this herd I added some Angus heifers, bought through the local stock markets. We then bought a pure-bred Angus bull to begin our Angus breeding.
When we heard of an upcoming stud dispersal sale, I decided to attend, thinking that
any cows bought from that sale would be an improvement on any of the animals
already on the farm.
In April 1999 I attended the dispersal sale of the Taurikura Stud near Whangarei Heads and purchased Queenly 486 of Taurikura and Taurikura Flower 682. By that time I had spent another year farming and had a few more clues about what I was looking for. I had also spent time becoming familiar with EBVs and deciding on my own breeding programme for the Virago Stud. Armed with the EBV profile I was looking for, I picked the animals who fitted it from the catalogue and went to the sale to have a look at them.
In early May 2003, we were able to purchase four empty cows from the Takou Bay Stud, so added Maunu Sybil 808 AB, Taurikura Ranu 589, Taurikura Irene 698 AB and Takou Bay Born Free to our herd.
We were very fortunate in that the majority of our early calves were heifers, which meant a much quicker increase in the stud herd than I had anticipated. By the end of calving in 2003, we had reached tag number 22 in the stud herd, with 18 registered females (of all ages and including the purchased cows) on the farm.
Our objective is to breed a "traditional" Angus animal, which will grow well under the conditions prevailing here and so should shift easily to other farming systems. Because our main bull market in this area will tend to be dairy farmers, we have been careful to breed for low birthweight and calving ease, but have looked to produce animals with excellent growth potential from then on.
In 2008 news of a recessive lethal gene defect began to surface in the US, originating in one bull, whose sons and grand-sons were popular and widely used in New Zealand. Angus NZ was extremely slow to acknowledge the problem and in my view acted unethically in the months and years following the disclosure. As a result of my extreme discomfort with the Society's lack of concern for the Angus breed and breeders, except those who held power in the organisation and coincidentally had much invested in keeping the whole unfortunate business quiet, I resigned my membership and the ability to register my animals with the organisation.
While it saddened me that I was unable to continue as a registered breeder, I was not prepared to continue associating myself with the activities of Angus NZ. My divorce from Angus NZ does not prevent my access to genetics of my choice, nor does it prevent me breeding good animals. My cattle no longer have registered pedigrees, nor EBVs, but now that I have a long history of herd data, that lack has little impact.