The Souters were guests of Joy and Geoff Howley and daughter Jayne, Alto, Calrossie, Caramut, to spread the word about Native Angus genetics.
Mr Souter started building his herd of Native Angus in 1990 but he quickly discovered that the “phenotype of the breed had been changed out of all recognition”.
“They were nothing like the cattle of my youth,” he said.
“So I investigated why that was the case and found that the genetics had been infused over the years with genetics from overseas.”
This started him on a quest to find cattle that had no overseas bloodlines.
“I wanted animals that were totally original, going back to volume one of the herd book, which was produced in the mid 1880s,” he said.
“They were on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s critically endangered list at the time - there were 40 odd breeding females remaining.”
A lot of them were old and without exception were in calf to “non-native cattle”.
There were only nine cow families in existence with no imported bloodlines, he said.
“If you go back to the 1960s there were almost 100 - so very quickly these cattle were very much threatened,” Mr Souter said.
He went about buying “something from the remaining nine cow families”.
He said that in some cases there was only one cow left and if that cow died “then you would be down to eight cow families”.
It was not an easy process and the purchasing took a number of years.
“We also picked up pockets of old semen, going back to 1961,” he said.
“Because of its age and the way it was collected back then, the efficacy was ‘questionable’ at best.
“Sometimes you had to use a fair few straws and be fairly tenacious to get a cow in calf - but there was no other option.”
The more he went through the process, the more he could see that the Native Angus cattle had a huge amount to offer.
The cattle had maternal ability - “second to none” - short gestation and easy calving with an average gestation of 275 days (with pure breds around 270 days).
In extensive grazing systems, the benefit of short gestation cattle was in getting a calf on the ground.
“Calves grow a lot in their mother in the last couple of weeks,” he said.
Mr Souter said the breed’s attributes had “helped the breed populate the world”.
The cattle had the ability to adapt anywhere.
“Like here, with the temperatures getting to 40 degrees - it shows how versatile these cows can be,” he said.
Because of the low numbers an embryo transfer program was introduced as an insurance policy - not to sell - but in case one of the ageing cows was lost.
Mr Souter said that without exception the Native Angus lived to 12-15 years - and produced some nine generations.
Part of that longevity was related to the natural process of eating forage (no grain) and producing first-class beef - its a sustainable process with little inputs.
“The cattle are not forced in any way - very natural,” he said.
His Kingston Farm herd was housed in the winter as the paddocks become wet and pugged.
The buildings date from the early 1880s and the cattle were loose in a large shed, where they were fed hay and/or silage and turnips.
Sales of embryos and semen today are done by private sale with much of the interest generated via the website and online.
Mr Souter said buyers tended to be people that were looking for grass-fed animals producing “healthy” beef.
“Not intensive farmers - these are not feedlot cattle,” he said.
“The buyers are looking to breed cattle that they can finish on a totally grass-fed diet.
“This can be done and produce a quality carcase, but only if you have the right genetics to start with.”
Mr Souter said there was a swing to “downsize” commercial cows where fertility was a big issue - the inability to get cows back in calf.
A lot of people bought Native Angus genetics to “bring down cow size a bit, with more flesh and doability”.
“They can use them to put more Angus back in their Angus,” he said..
The genetics were popular in Argentina and Uruguay.
“We don’t have enough genetics to change the world, but you can see in one generation a change in phenotype in these cattle.”
Joy Howley said the Alto herd was about helping people rediscover the benefits of pure Angus.
The Native Angus herd at Alto is based on three families: Erica, Ruth of Tillyfour and Jipsey as well as using Cherry Blossom.
“We are convinced that Native sires make heifer calving truly easy,” Mrs Howley said.
“A lot is invested to produce a good heifer and she must have a live calf at two years old.
“Ease on the heifer and the cattleman is important.”
She said the breeding program at Alto meant the herd was now there to breed bulls with which she was happy.