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, natural aptitude to grow and gain from grass and grain, rustling ability, hardiness, early maturity and prolificacy, traits that are still of primary importance today.
Other pioneering breeders were to follow the Tomkins' lead and establish the world-wide renown for the Herefordshire cattle causing their exportation from England to wherever grass grows and beef production is possible.
Herefords in the 1700's and early 1800's 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 permanent identity.
But, it was in 1840 that William Sotham and Erastus Corning brought them back into the public eye by active breeding and marketing within the New England states.
So basically the first breeding herd of Herefod 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 longhorned cattle originally brought to Mexico by the Spanish conquerors and allowed to drift 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 their being driven to railhead shipping points and then transported by rail to slaughter at eastern markets. It was on such cattle that Herefords proved the great improver.
They survived the rough ranching conditions and improved beef quality in the process. Demand for Hereford bulls boomed. And yes, 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.
And yes, maybe one of the greatest early interest 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 1870's and 1880's included such names as Earl, Stuart, Fowler, Van Natta and Studebaker of Indiana, and the Swan Land and Cattle Co., 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 22, 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 this 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 -- the big, rough, old fashioned kind.
In 1886, a two-year-old Hereford was 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.
Thus, Herefords led the way in revolutionizing beef production in America, largely through 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 1930's and 1940's 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 1950's, 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 "over done" 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 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 1960's saw the beginning of acceptance of the performance era in Herefordom.
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 effect 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 for 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.
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 short cuts.
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 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 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 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 blood.
Although the Line One cattle were developed at the Miles City station and they have remained a prime source of seedstock, a number of other breeders drew heavily on Line One sires starting in the 1940's, and these breeders became suppliers of the Line One seedstock in the early 1970's.
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 difference 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 its 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 newly 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 whitefaces.
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 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 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. Lightheartedly alleged by ranchers to subsist on sticks and rocks, they are excellent foragers, excellent mothers and provide a consistently excellent eating experience.