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4-H members showing Lowline Angus heifers make history at New Mexico Expo

LOS LUNAS - Four Valencia County 4-H members made history this year when they showed their unique livestock projects at the Expo New Mexico state fair.

4-H member Jessica Tafoya works with her Lowline Angus heifer before showing the small stature cow at the Valencia County Fair. Tafoya was among four youth who entered their heifers in the first-ever show of the breed at the New Mexico State Junior Livestock Show.

While other youth showed traditional breeds of cattle, Josh Tafoya, Jessica Tafoya, Jocelyn Shaffner and Caitlin Rowe opted for a newer, smaller breed, the American Lowline Angus.

This was the first year the breed had its own category at the New Mexico Junior Livestock Show. Shaffner's heifer was breed champion, while Rowe took reserve breed champion.

"The size of the animal and the amount of feed required to raise a Lowline Angus makes it an ideal animal for 4-H large animal projects," said 4-H agent Juli Hutchins with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service in Valencia County. "By working with a breeder in Albuquerque's South Valley, several of our members have been able to raise this breed and help introduce it to New Mexico."

The Lowline Angus breed is the result of research in Australia beginning in 1974. A trial at the Trangie Research Center was conducted to establish whether large or small animals were more efficient converters of grass into meat.

"The researchers chose one herd selected for high yearling growth rates and another herd for low yearling growth rates, with a randomly selected control group. They named the herds high line, low line and control line," said Hutchins.

"The 19-year study determined that while the high line herd was about 5 percent more efficient converters of grass to meat than the low line herd, the efficiency as protein converters was much the same."

A by-product of the study was the development of the Lowline Angus breed. After 15 years of selective breeding, the low line herd stabilized at about 30 percent smaller than the high line cattle. The bulls were maturing at about 43 inches and the cows at about 39 inches or less, compared to the standard Angus at 59 inches.

"This breed is ideal for a youth wanting to move up from the smaller animals, such as goats and hogs, to the larger animals, but they don't want to work with a 500-plus pound animal," said Roy Cain, a Lowline Angus breeder since 1999. "Because the Lowline Angus is smaller they are easier for youth to handle."

An added benefit is that the breed also has a docile personality and is easy to halter train.

Jessica Tafoya agrees that the breed is good for a first time cattle project. She had watched her brother, Josh, raise a standard size heifer and having difficulty with it at livestock shows. She wasn't sure she wanted to do a large animal project. But then the family was introduced to the Lowline Angus breed.

"I really enjoyed working with my heifer. Grooming her and doing the everyday chores is fun." Tafoya said. "I'd encourage others, especially little kids, to raise the Lowlines."

One of the biggest benefits for raising Lowline Angus is that it takes less feed and acreage to support them.

"They eat a third of the feed than that of a standard Angus. I've a 40-head herd on eight acres in the Albuquerque South Valley," Cain said.

Jessica's mother, Gina Tafoya, said since both her daughter and son wanted to raise a heifer, it would have been impossible on their one-and-a-half acre farm if the animals had been standard size.

"Because of the size and less food required, both Josh and Jessica could raise a heifer, instead of limiting it to just one," Gina Tafoya said. "This breed allowed both to have the opportunity and experiences gained from raising and showing animals. It is the perfect project for kids."

As a breeder, Cain said the Lowline Angus yields 40 percent more retail product per acre than the Simmental, shorthorn, Hereford or standard Angus.

"They have superior carcass traits with 30 percent larger ribeye area per hundredweight than any other breed and they have excellent marbling," Cain said. "Pounds of retail product per acre run at about 154.3 pounds instead of 110 pounds for Angus."

He added the breed is perfectly suited to a premium niche market for beef with a smaller portion, thick-cut steak of excellent tenderness and marbling.

"Lowline Angus are practical, profitable and fun," he said.