Sunday, January 13, 2013

Hereford Cattle - The Icon of the Cattle Industry

The Hereford has long been the icon of the cattle industry. Their breeding is steeped in tradition and has a great number of steadfast supporters.

With their large frame, their trademark red bodies and white faces, Herefords populate cattle pastures the whole world over. One would be hard pressed to find a more resilient and overall outstanding breed of beef cattle, which has so thoroughly taken over the beef business since its introduction.

The Hereford breed was founded some two and one-half centuries ago as a product of necessity. It is said that enterprising farmers near Hereford in the County of Herefordshire, England, were determined to produce beef for the expanding food market created by Britain's industrial revolution. To succeed in Herefordshire, those early-day cattlemen realized they must have cattle which could efficiently convert their native grass to beef and do it at a profit.

There was no breed in existence at the time to fill that need, so the farmers of Herefordshire founded the beef breed that logically became known as Herefords. These early Hereford breeders molded their cattle with the idea in mind of a high yield of beef and efficiency of production, and so firmly fixed these characteristics that they remain today as outstanding characteristics of the breed.

Believe it or not, beginning in 1742 with a bull calf from the cow Silver and two cows, Pidgeon and Mottle, inherited from his father's estate, Benjamin Tomkins is credited with founding the Hereford breed. This was 18 years before Robert Bakewell began developing his theories of animal breeding. 

From the start, Mr. Tomkins had as his goals economy in feeding, a natural aptitude to grow and gain from grass and grain, rustling ability, hardiness, early maturity, and prolifically, traits that are still of primary importance today. Other pioneering breeders were to follow the Tomkins' lead and establish the worldwide renown for the Herefordshire cattle causing their exportation from England to wherever grass grows and beef production is possible.

Herefords in the 1700s and early 1800s in England were much larger than today. Many mature Herefords of those days weighed 3,000 pounds or more. Cotmore, a winning show bull, and noteworthy sire weighed 3,900 pounds when shown in 1839. Gradually, the type and conformation changed to less extreme size and weight to get more smoothness, quality, and efficiency. These early animals were much larger than their easier fleshing, modern counterparts. Always a hardy breed they were able to efficiently convert grazing into body mass making them exceedingly popular in their region and attractive to all cattlemen.

In 1817, statesman Henry Clay of Kentucky imported the first three Herefords to the United States. The first importation was a bull and two females. These cattle and their offspring attracted considerable attention, but they were eventually absorbed by the local cattle population and disappeared from their permanent identity. But it was in 1840 when William Sotham and Erastus Corning brought them back into the public eye by actively breeding and marketing them within the New England states.

So basically the first breeding herd of Hereford Cattle in America is considered to be the one established in 1840 by William H. Sotham and Erastus Corning of Albany, New York. For practical purposes Herefords in the United States date from the Sotham-Corning beginning. Records of the New York State Fair reveal that 11 Herefords were exhibited there in 1844 and were highly praised. Several breeders were active in exhibiting at fairs and exhibitions in the East and Midwest where the Herefords met with great success.

With the end of the American Civil War and the coming of the American Industrial Revolution, the Westward expansion continued and so did America's appetite for beef. Western ranching developed from free land and local Longhorn cattle originally brought to Mexico by the Spanish. They bred in the wild and soon populated northward into what is now America's great southwestern cattle country. These cattle were tough and had the bred-in ability to survive, a trait that enabled them to be driven to railhead shipping points and then transported by rail to slaughter at eastern markets.

It was on such wild Longhorn cattle that Herefords proved to be the great "improver." They survived the rough ranching conditions and improved beef quality in the process. Because of this, demand for Hereford bulls boomed. And because of that demand,  Hereford cattle importation increased.

To satisfy the growing market which developed from the Western cattlemen, Hereford breeders expanded their herds through heavy importations from Herefordshire. Where only 200 head were imported up to 1880, more than 3,500 head of Herefords came over during the 1880-1889 period.

During that time, breeders of Herefords led by such men as T. L. Miller, C. M. Culbertson, and Thomas Clark, all of Illinois, won hard-fought battles for breed acceptance in the agricultural fairs and expositions which furthered the use of Herefords in American beef production. In fact, one of the greatest early interests in the breed came from the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia where T. L. Miller was awarded a medal for the first-prize herd.

Early Hereford breeder promoters and exhibitors in the 1870s and 1880s included such names as Earl, Stuart, Fowler, Van Natta, and Studebaker of Indiana, and the Swan Land and Cattle Co., the forerunner of the present Wyoming Hereford Ranch. These breeders were instrumental in the movement of Herefords to Wyoming, other mountain states, and the Northwest. Gudgell and Simpson of Missouri made their start in 1877. Four years later, they were to gain everlasting renown in the Hereford world through importing and concentrating on the great young sire Anxiety 4.

No other bull comes close to the stature of Anxiety 4 for he is often credited as being the "Father of American Herefords" and "the bull that gave Herefords hindquarters." Today, he is the common ancestor of nearly all Hereford cattle in this country.

The momentum continued with increased exhibitions and participation in cattle shows. Slowly but surely, Hereford cattle, the breed itself, began to prove its presence in the cattle industry.

The Hereford industry in America passed a great milestone of progress on June 22nd, 1881, when a few breeders met in Chicago at the Grand Pacific Hotel to lay the foundation for the organization of the American Hereford Association.

The American Hereford Association was formed in an attempt to promote interest for the Hereford in addition to serving as a record-keeping seat. Both horned and polled Herefords were registered under the Association. The AHA continues to be active and involved in all aspects and commercial needs of its ever-increasing membership now the second largest in terms of numbers and members. One of their main accomplishments was the push and ultimate creation of a Certified Hereford Beef program.

For over a century, the AHA has performed its duties with little change in the original bylaws while providing leadership for the industry that has seen Hereford cattle taken to every area, region, and territory of America and become the greatest influence in the nation's beef production activity.

Herefords Become Dominant

It was largely through shows and expositions that Herefords gained their greatest acceptance among cattlemen of this country and, no doubt, the first great impact was scored at the 1883 Chicago Fat Stock Show, the forerunner of the famous International Livestock Exposition which, until closing after the 1975 event, was the premier show for market animals in America. At that show over a century ago, the Hereford steer Roan Boy won the grand championship for his exhibitor, C. M. Culbertson. The steer's early maturity marked the beginning of the end for the previously popular four-year-old steers which some say are the big, rough, old-fashioned kind.

In 1886, a two-year-old Hereford was the grand champion. And in 1903, Hereford yearlings won the carlot grand championship. Three years later a 336-day-old Hereford won the show, the first ever at less than two years old. Because of this, Herefords led the way in revolutionizing beef production in America. This fact is said to be because of the traits of doing ability and early maturity -- getting fat at an early age and producing the ideal in "baby beef."

While other traits in beef cattle continued to be important in the cattle breeder's selection program during the ensuing years, there is no doubt that early maturity and fattening ability were of primary concern - first because the market paid the highest price for the cattle that fattened well on forage, and second because the preferred breeding animals were those that demonstrated the ability to fatten readily at a given age.

To get this early maturity, breeders in the late 1930s and 1940s eagerly sought out the compact type of conformation -- short, low set, wide, and deep-bodied cattle - as their preferred breeding stock. By comparison, such cattle were naturally smaller. Their success in achieving such an animal with its abundance of fat and establishing that kind as the breed's "ideal" proved to eventually be a detriment.

That was fine until the market changed in the 1960's. It caused such cattle to be penalized in price and discriminated against. All of a sudden, it was apparent that demands were starting to change what were being looked for in types of Hereford cattle.

Following World War II, and really well into the 1950s, the compact, fat, small-type cattle continued to be favored in the show ring, but quietly and almost unnoticed, there was a change taking place in the meat-packing industry and in the basic American consumer's diet which reflected on the demand and price of the favored kind up to that time.

The commercial market for fat or beef tallow declined, plus the fact that consumers were unwilling to buy the excess fat on cuts from "overdone" carcasses. The result was that beef packers paid less for the overfat cattle and suddenly there was a different type of animal preferred by the industry.

Consumers wanted a trimmer, leaner, less fat, and more red meat kind of beef. The once preferred wide-backed, overfat, and wastey (too fat) cattle were heavily docked in the market. This change in consumer market preference was first expressed in Hereford circles at the National Hereford Conference in Denver in 1963. But then it was voiced even more loudly in 1967 at a conference in Kansas City, and then at the now-famous 1969 conference in Wisconsin. This change was very conclusively demonstrated, consumer desire had changed.

Economics in cost of production required faster daily gain at less cost conversion of feed to muscle instead of fat and far less loss in offal waste in the desired market kind. These requirements translated to more size and a different style of conformation which, in turn, presented the breeder with a tremendous challenge in modernizing the breed and turning it around to a new kind of Hereford.

What was needed was a Hereford endowed with all the basic economical traits to encompass total performance yet without the other traits. One without the other, at the expense of another, is hard to find. Accomplishing their objective in a remarkably short time is a great tribute to the dedication of Hereford breeders, the broad genetic base of the breed, and the ability of breeders to utilize modern technology along with the practical application of the breeder's art.

The 1960s saw the beginning of acceptance of the performance era in Herefords. Breeders began giving concentrated attention toward applying new-found tools such as performance testing, artificial insemination, objective measures, embryo transfers, generation turnover, and sire evaluation to affect more and more rapid genetic change in the past 25 years than perhaps had been accomplished previously since Benjamin Tomkins undertook his systematic efforts to make better beef cattle from his native Herefords.

In 1963, the American Hereford Association embarked on an experimental program to test sires under practical feedlot conditions through their progeny in feedlot performance and carcass yield. That program was replaced by the current National Reference Sire program to identify superior sires. This program led the way for all breeds in sire testing.

The beginning of the American Hereford Association's record-keeping activity was expanded to include performance records and initiation of the present Total Performance Records (TPR) service in 1964.

Having been developed over some two decades, often amended to utilize new technology and to provide maximum service to breeders, the TPR program that has evolved has proven to be a great service to individual breeders and the breed in general.

Presently, there are some two million records of performance on file in the AHA computer, stored for use to assist in selecting improvements in future cattle generations.

The late 1960's found breeders faced with overpowering evidence that the breed had too many cattle that simply did not measure up in the modern measures of performance and with great competition from European "exotic" breeds, Hereford followers sought out breeders and bloodlines noted for cattle of substantial size and performance.

It was fortunate for the breed that there was an ample and broad genetic base from which to select when the demand came for larger framed cattle. Breeders found the growth traits fairly easy to select for. Both 205-day and yearling weights were accurate measures of growth, fairly easy to obtain, and they were highly heritable.

To maximize selection within the herd, within-herd selection, was a long process when considering the rule of thumb of cow generation being some seven years. Many breeders began looking for shortcuts. They searched the country for sires with more frame and size, requesting and analyzing weaning and yearling weights.

Leaders in beef cattle education and research stressed growth as a major criteria of performance, often ignoring or de-emphasizing the most important economical trait of beef cattle production, fertility. Breeders were often selected for frame score and mature weight and paid little heed to fertility, structural soundness, feet, and legs. The "yellow and mellow" coloring, a tic of white in the back, or extra white on the legs and underline became less of a selection criteria. "If big enough, markings and color became less important."

Where and in what bloodlines could these cattle be found to increase the frame and weight of Herefords? Voices of the speakers at the Madison, Wisconsin, conference in June 1969, had barely quieted when breeders started looking.

The frame 5 steers at the conference came from the Northwest. That's where many breeders headed and they found some bigger-than-average framed bulls there. Many were of Evan Mischief, Mark Donald, and Real Prince Domino's bloodlines.

Some breeders selected bigger framed cattle in Canada, many of which traced to an American-bred Prince Domino son, Real Prince Domino 109. Also about this time, breeders found the Line One cattle developed by the U.S. Range and Research Station at Miles City, Montana.

It was at the Miles City station in 1934 that a selection program commenced and the development of inbreeding several different lines with selection emphasis on yearling weights. Of all the different lines developed at Miles City, the most prominent to date has been the Line Ones.

The foundation cows for the Line Ones can be traced back to stock purchased in 1926 from George M. Miles. The bulls used in the development of the line were half-brothers, Advance Domino 20 and Advance Domino 54, purchased in Colorado. These two foundation sires were strong in Prince Domino's blood.

Although the Line One cattle were developed at the Miles City station and they have remained a prime source of seed stock, a number of other breeders drew heavily on Line One sires starting in the 1940s, and these breeders became suppliers of the Line One seed stock in the early 1970s.

The complete and universal acceptance of utilizing performance records was a slow process and, even today, does not have universal appeal. Different breeders place emphasis on different aspects.

Because of such differences in opinions in the past, the present, and likely in the future, it is believed that Hereford cattle will command the premier spot in the beef cattle industry for years to come. On its own, Hereford beef does not fall short of the superior eating qualities required of Select or Choice grade meats.

It is because of the undeniable palatability of the naturally tender Hereford that the newly formed Certified Hereford Program is an escalating economic success. It is no overstatement to say Herefords owe their success to heritable qualities.

As a docile breed with high fertility levels, Herefords calve easily and have excellent maternal instincts. They are without a doubt an optimum choice when seeking maximum heterosis. As is likely within all economic venues, the cattle industry not having the necessary performance data and cattle experience, at one point considered the Hereford to be a relatively inferior beef.

Due to their high popularity and adaptability in all regions, they were for a time not as carefully selected for the most favorable beef breeding scene. A staple of the beef cattle industry, the Polled Hereford has fought a long battle to occupy its current position as one of the primary cattle breeds in the world’s beef market.

Possessing a typically large, muscular, red frame, with a white face, crest, dewlap, and underline—it is one of the two most common purebred beef breeds in the US. The horned Hereford was developed and has a reputation as a hardy animal. It opened the door for introduction and acceptance into the new beginning cattle industry of the United States.

It wasn’t until 1898 after seeing a polled Hereford at the Trans Mississippi World Fair that Warren Gammon, an Iowa rancher, began to look closely into the benefit of a naturally hornless, known as polled, variety of Hereford. Thought to cause less injury to self and ranchers, the development of a genetically polled Hereford became his objective.

In 1901, after an extensive search for all polled Herefords, he founded the American Polled Cattle Club, with only 11 "white faces."

Currently known as the American Polled Hereford Association, it is combined with the American Hereford Association. The Polled Hereford are highly resilient cattle, able to withstand harsh weather conditions and insufficient grazing. It is because of their adaptability, they have effortlessly spread to every corner of the cattle country.

Considered to be one of the gentlest-natured cattle breeds, owners of these cattle will be quick to point out the ease with which these cattle are handled. Their docile temperament continues to be unrivaled by other breeds. In spite of their qualities, the status of the Polled Hereford was tainted by negligent breeding. A genetically hornless animal is almost certainly beneficial to the beef cattle industry.

Dehorning calves can be an expensive endeavor, the stress surrounding the procedure at times proving to be detrimental to a calf’s development. The desire to have naturally polled cattle led to indiscriminate breeding.

Crosses to any polled bull or cow became the rule in hopes of repeating the hornless condition in offspring. Indisputably the quality of the cattle breed decreased when only its polled status was considered when deciding on a cross. This practice has steadily come to an end but left a small blemish on the breed’s reputation.

Today we can thank ranchers out there who refused to run anything but purebred Hereford cattle herds. They are men and women who stuck to the guns and stayed the course and refused to crossbreed many of the great qualities of Herefords out of the breed.

It is interesting to note that John Wayne had a purebred Hereford cattle herd on his ranch and sold some of his prize bulls to cattle producer George Berner, then president of the Georgia Cattlemen's Association, back in the early 1970s.

Today, the carcass value is on the rise, however, as more and more people are returning to the breeding of the white-faced red cattle. Though not the norm, the Polled Hereford’s meat may at times prove to rival the Angus’ renowned marbling. Hereford cattle and Hereford crosses are now being marketed under a branded beef program called Certified Hereford Beef. The continued growth of this program is an indication of consumer satisfaction and confidence in Hereford beef quality. Its high reproductive efficiency is quickly garnering it a return to grace.

Polled Hereford calves are quick to mature and flesh easily, making them popular in cross-breeding programs such as the black baldie (Hereford / Angus), the super baldie (Hereford / Brangus), and the tigerstripe (Hereford / Brahman) to name a few.

A highly popular cross, the Black Baldie, combines the enduring traits of the Hereford with the high meat quality of the Angus. And yes, we'll discuss Angus cattle next in our series about cattle. It is in essence an improving breed, which taking into account already excellent characteristics in terms of frame, reproductive success and high meat quality will only serve to keep the Polled Hereford predominant within the beef cattle industry.

Today, Herefords have demonstrated they are high-quality beef cattle in every aspect. Herefords have demonstrated they are high-quality beef cattle in every aspect. Most ranchers will laughingly joke that Herefords can almost subsist on twigs and rocks because they are excellent foragers, all while also being excellent mothers, and providing a consistently excellent eating experience for consumers.

So now, here is something more about this breed. There are Miniature Herefords. To the uninformed, those who know very little about Miniature Herefords may see them as "great pets" that are somehow genetically defective or not equal to full-size Herefords. Well, they are wrong. A Miniature Hereford is a full-blood Hereford. 

The distinction between the full-size Hereford and the Miniature Hereford cattle breed is that the Miniature Hereford is simply not as tall as the normal full-size Hereford that we find throughout our country. While ordinary Herefords are outstanding, Miniature Herefords have their advantages. 

I've read that the "Purebred Miniature Herefords" are free of the dwarf gene and subsequently that's why they are registered with the American Hereford Association (AHA). Yes, just the same as their larger counterparts. As for their bloodlines, their pedigrees within the American Hereford Association can be traced all the way back to when Hereford cattle first arrived in America.

Because Herefords have proven their hardiness time and time again, their incredible ability to adapt to any environment, and their ease of gaining weight to produce high-quality beef, these superb traits are treasured by cattle producers. Miniature Herefords are no different.

Because of their smaller size, Miniature Herefords are much easier to handle compared to large cattle. They require less space and Miniature Herefords are excellent for children because of their docile nature. And yes, this makes Miniature Herefords the perfect 4-H or FFA animal. And really, as most of us who have been involved with 4-H and FFA projects for children, we all know very well how such projects help instill a sense of responsibility, pride, and accomplishment in youngsters.

There are many reasons to choose a Miniature Hereford. They are small and compact. They mature quicker than their full-size counterparts. They eat 30-40% less than their full-size counterparts. They adapt to a variety of environments with varying conditions and temperatures. They really have a gentle disposition. Their dispositions make them easy to handle, especially for children taking part in 4-H and FFA. In reality, Miniature Herefords make great 4-H or FFA projects.

All of these are winning factors, especially since Miniature Herefords require less acreage and cost less to raise. The advantages of Miniature Herefords for more Americans today make them the perfect cost-efficient beef cattle to raise on smaller farms. And because more and more families on small family farms today are raising beef for themselves, Miniature Herefords sound like the perfect choice for American families with limited acreage.

This information has been compiled from many sources.

Tom Correa


  1. What would you say is the easiest way to tell the difference between Herefords and Simmental cattle just by looking at them?

    1. For me, I've always thought the heads were longer on Simmental cattle. Also, they have more loose "dewlap" which is the skin that hangs under their chin and their underside. Simmental cattle are large with heavy bone structure. If my memory serves me right, believe a mature Simmental cow can weigh up to 1,600 pounds or even more. A mature Simmental bulls usually weighs somewhere between 2,300 and 2,800 pounds. In contrast, a mature Hereford bull may weigh up to about 1,800 pounds. A mature Hereford cow may weigh in at around 1,200. For me, Herefords just look smaller but stocky. Simmental cattle are just larger. Thanks for visiting my site.


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