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New Zealand: Rare
Importation: 1970s

Meuse Rhine Issel Cattle

A Rare Breed of Netherlands Origin

Meuse Rhine Issel
Part of the Aura-Lea herd, Southland (Photo courtesy Lyn and Colin Marshall)

      Meuse Rhine Issel* cattle were developed in the south and east of the Netherlands (Holland) in the catchment areas of the Meuse, Rhine and Issel rivers from the late nineteenth century. The Dutch Herd Book was started in 1874 and at the end of the twentieth century the Meuse Rhine Issel cattle were reported to comprise about a third of all the dairy cattle in that country. (Other figures put the percentage much lower.) A parallel development of the breed occurred in Germany, where it was called the Rotbunt. Between 1920 and 1950, Belgium, Luxembourg, France and Denmark founded their own versions of the breed based on the Dutch and German stock.

Meuse Rhine Issel
MRI bull calf   (Photo by Elisabeth Greaves)

      It was originally developed as a dual-purpose breed – for both meat and milk production – but in recent years producers have concentrated on milk production and have obtained high annual yields with a good protein content. Nevertheless, the Meuse Rhine Issel is still considered to produce a good quantity of meat of excellent quality.

      Meuse Rhine Issels are decribed as medium-sized but solidly built cattle, red and white in colour, with good length and depth to the body. They are hardy and adaptable, have good disease resistance, and perform well on rough pasture. They have a docile temperament, and the cows have a relatively short gestation period and calve easily. Although higher figures are often quoted, the average weight for a cow is probably about 675 kilograms with a rump height of 132 centimetres; for a bull the figures are probably around 1050 kilograms and 143 centimetres respectively.

Meuse Rhine Issel
Heifer at Uruti MRIs (Photo from Graham & Jenny Cook)

      The breed (often referred to as “MRI”) was introduced into New Zealand in 1969 by Colin Smith using imported semen with Friesian and Shorthorn cows, continuing to breed them for twenty years. The first live cattle imports were made in 1972 by Butland Industries Ltd (Chesdale Cheese), and shortly afterwards Harry Liemburg who came from Holland imported three purebred MRI heifers whose blood lines have influenced the breed in New Zealand up to the present day.

      Meuse Rhine Issel cattle were imported into the United Kingdom and Ireland from Europe in the early 1970s, and the breed also occurs in small numbers in Australia and North America.

* The last word in this name is sometimes spelled "Yssel" or "Ijssel".   The breed is also known as Rotbunt, Roodbont, Maas-Rijn-Yssel, Rotbunte holländische, Mosane-rhénane-ysseloise, Dutch Red-and-White, Red Pied Dutch, MRI and MRY.
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