Big, brawny, and red with white faces, Herefords have been popular in the United State cattle industry for decades. These cattle are easy to keep and versatile. Currently, they are very popular to cross with Angus cattle. The resultant offspring are usually black with white faces and feature the hybrid vigor that heterosis brings.
During the 1700s, cattle breeders in England set out to improve the red and white cattle that were native to their region. Their desire was to create a beef animal that would grow quickly on grass and provide more meat per animal. In 1742, a cattle owner named Benjamin Tomkins began selecting for growth, feed efficiency, early sexual maturity, and hardiness. Tomkins' cattle proved very popular in the Herefordshire area of England where he lived and other nearby cattlemen began buying and breeding his animals. Therefore, the name of the cattle became Hereford.
During the early days of the breed, the animals were much larger than today's Hereford. Bulls could weigh up to 3000 pounds and cows were between 2000 and 2500 pounds. As the breed was refined though through the 1800s, the cattle were bred away from massive size and were given more grace, refinement, quality, and efficiency.
In the United States
Although Henry Clay brought Herefords to the United States in 1817, he failed to establish a true breeding herd. In 1840, another pair of cattlemen, Sotham and Corning, from New York created the first herd of purebred Herefords. The cattle spread to the West, as far as Missouri and Nebraska. In 1881, breeders came together in Chicago to create the American Hereford Cattle Breeders Association which later was renamed the American Hereford Association.
A huge development in the Hereford breed came in 1889 when a hornless version of the Hereford was discovered in Nebraska. Breeders began to select for the polled trait because more polled animals could fit into a railroad car for shipping to the meatpacking industry in the mid-West. Soon, the American Polled Hereford Association was established. In 1995, the two registries merged to form the American Hereford Association, which registers both polled and horned versions of the red and white cow.
The Development of the Hereford Body Conformation
Herefords were very popular, especially for their early maturity. In selecting for early maturity, Herefords soon became short, wide, and deep-bodied cattle. This occurred during the early part of the 1900s. However, by the 1950s, meat packers started getting a little choosier about the beef that they bought. They began to prefer cattle with less fat on the carcass, since the American public was beginning to show concern about the consumption of fat in their diets.
Because of these changes in the beef industry, breeders began selecting for more muscular animals with taller frames. The broad genetic diversity in the Hereford breed allowed cattlemen to drastically change the body type of the Hereford over just a few generations.
Even Today, Herefords Are Popular
Currently, the Hereford body is blocky, with muscular shoulders. They are less extreme in their size, usually weighing between 1,000 and 1,200 pounds. They still are popular for their muscling, hardiness, early maturity, gentleness, and crossbreeding performance.
Photo Credit: Hereford Cow with Calves by Nick Hubbard via Flickr