British Cattle Breeds
The Hereford is one of Great Britain's indigenous cattle breeds. Herefordshire is an English county in the south-west of the country on the border of Wales. The city of Hereford is home to the Hereford Cattle Society and has been since its formation in 1878 (although at that point it was called the Hereford Herd Book Society). These red and white cattle appeared in documentation as early as the early 1600s with records being kept through the 1700s and early 1800s.
In 1775 the Hereford was exported to Ireland. The first Herd Book was printed in 1846 and in 1886 registration was restricted to those animals whose dam and sire were already recorded. In 1817 the first Herefords found their way to America and by 1825 they were in Australia.
The Hereford came about to meet increasing demands for beef around the time of the industrial revolution. Farmers set out to create a breed that could sustain itself on pasture without much hand-feeding but still become fat enough to market. Benjamin Tomkins selected local animals that had the necessary attributes of being able to convert grass to beef, were early maturing, had good fertility rates and were hardy and tough. Tomkins was selecting his beasts some eighteen years before Robert Bakewell revolutionised farm livestock breeding practices. The early Herefords evolved from draught animals and were much heavier than today's animals. In 1839, a prize winner weighed in at 3,900 pounds.
During the late 1930s and 40s, the fashion was for early maturing animals and Herefords became more compact, low-set and deep-bodied. It also became smaller in size. Further down the track, in the 1960s, market demand saw a push towards a leaner, trimmer animal with less fat.
Herefords can be found in the Arctic areas of Canada, on the ranches of the USA, in tropical South America, in the arid Australian outback (and on its lush coastal plains) and in the hot lands of Mid and South Africa.
Today's Hereford is moderate in size with an equable temperament and easy calving ability. The quarters are well developed and the brisket deep. The short, thick horns normally curve downwards. The Polled Hereford has largely taken over from the original horned variety and is now considered a separate breed. The Hereford is easily recognised with its rich red colour and white face. The belly is white as are the legs and the tail has a white switch. Red eye patches are acceptable and are, indeed, regarded very favourably as helping to prevent cancer of the eye. Being of good disposition means the cattle are easy to handle. This reduces labour costs and loss of weight through stress. They are unlikely to injure themselves or others due to becoming agitated and the meat is of better quality because of this. Cows continue to produce until the age of 15 or more.
Around 1864, Herefords were part of the revolution of beef production in America. Crossed with the hardy longhorns, the progeny were of much better quality but still retained the toughness necessary to survive firstly, the long overland drives to the railheads and the subsequent rail trip to the slaughter-houses.
In the 1960s, consumers were demanding more muscled and less fatty carcasses. Genetic changes were hastened by the introduction of artificial insemination, sire evaluation, performance testing and embryo transfers. Herefords were to the forefront when 'baby beef' became the new 'flavour of the month'. Youngstock were fattened and slaughtered at a young age negating the necessity of raising and feeding steers till three or four years old.
In more recent years, the Hereford has been crossed with the Brahman to produce the Braford. The Brahman is a Bos indicus breed which is characterised by loose skin, a pronounced dewlap, and a hump above the neck. Bos inducus breeds are unfazed by heat and humidity and also have good resistance to insect pests. Crossed with the Hereford, the new breed tolerates uncomfortable climates whilst still producing tender beef.
Today the distinctive red and white cow can be seen on many a farm and ranch and has a large part to play in the fortunes of the beef producer.