Story credit – Mel Williams, Australian Community Media (ACM)
The Hereford breed originated in Herefordshire in south-west England and was one of the earliest British cattle types to have been systematically improved.
The first Herefords were imported to Australia in 1826 and today they are one of the most numerous of all breeds produced in the country.
Herefords are found in all extremes of environment.
Their distinctive white face tends to dominate in crosses with all other breeds and this is considered to have been a key factor in establishing their popularity.
The breed’s long-term success can be attributed to an ability to do well in a wide range of conditions and its fertility, foraging ability and docility.
Depending on the level of nutrition and management, Herefords can be produced as top-quality carcases ranging from heavy, marbled and fat, through to small, young and lightly finished.
They have a docile and productive temperament that will positively impact on a herd’s growth rates, carcase quality, stress levels, fertility and increased ease of handling.
This is important, as cattle with a good temperament grow faster to final weights, have heavier carcases and high feed conversion ratios.
Incoming Herefords Australia chief executive officer Michael Crowley said, aside from temperament and fertility, more recent selection pressure had been put on Hereford growth curves, performance in feedlot conditions and improved carcase outcomes – and therefore meat eating quality and yield.
He said feed conversion efficiency was a key trait that progressive Hereford seedstock breeders were addressing.
“This positions the Hereford’s ability to target pure or crossbreeding systems, for light through to heavy weight carcases finished on either pasture or grain,” he said.
Feeding cattle is the single biggest variable expense in commercial beef production.
Hereford cattle have been shown to reduce feed requirements and improve feed utilisation to reshape profitability and sustainability for farmers.
Herefords Australia has found whiteface cattle consume 1.2kg per day less feed than other major British breeds and 6 per cent less feed for the same weight gain.
It says industry research has shown the Hereford advantage when it comes to net feed intake. Beef CRC data analysed by the Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit at the University of New England, Armidale, NSW, found Herefords were ahead of other major British breeds – with significantly lower NFI.
Hereford-sired progeny consumed significantly less feed daily, without sacrificing growth and gain.
Mr Crowley said the Hereford breed had a strong foothold right across southern areas, but there were crosses increasingly being made in northern regions.
“Northern producers are leveraging the adaptability of their cattle with the carcase quality traits and ‘do-ability’ of the Hereford,” he said.
“At the same time, they are improving herd growth rates and weight for age measures.
“And they are getting higher carcase weights at a younger age, coupled with quality traits such as intramuscular fat – which delivers carcase marbling and higher MSA index outcomes.
“Producers are seeing significant productivity gains on the ground and are using detailed carcase feedback to relate back to their production system.”
Herefords Australia has invested in sire benchmarking that has enabled the commercialisation of genomics for the breed and the inclusion of genomic breeding values as part of Hereford BREEDPLAN.
This was a co-funded program with Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) through the MLA donor company.
Herefords Australia is also supporting, in kind, the NSW DPI/MLA multi-breed project where Hereford sires are part of a large sire benchmarking program over five cohorts of progeny.
Its Super Sires program is part of efforts to promote the breed. This started in 2018 with the aim of identifying elite young bulls within the breed and better connecting seedstock breeders with commercial producers.
Mr Crowley said Super Sires enabled commercial producers to accelerate genetic gains in their herd by accessing superior genetics.
He said there were 34 bulls listed at present and each had to meet a strict selection criterion on BREEDPLAN estimated breeding values.
“Herefords Australia select the Super Sires on BREEDPLAN data, but it is up to the stud to ensure the bull is phenotypically suitable and structurally sound,” he said.
“In the past few years, Super Sires have topped production sales – reinforcing industry demand for commercially relevant genetics.”
Mr Crowley said Herefords Australia was heavily invested in a wide range of initiatives to market the breed and worked closely with the commercial sector and processor customers.
“We are keen to do a lot more in this space, including with major end customers, such as processors, supermarkets and feedlots,” he said.
Herefords Australia is very keen to support branded beef supply chains, such as JBS’s “Hereford Boss”, to continue to improve outcomes for the processor and consumer, as this delivers value back to producers.
Mr Crowley said Hereford Boss cattle were grass fed for life and all natural.
He said this program was underpinned by JBS Farm Assurance, used only 100pc grass-fed product and the beef was free from added hormones, antibiotics and GMOs.
“Our grading data continually proves that the beef that is packed into the Hereford Boss brand is consistently in the top 10 per cent of all MSA graded beef in Australia,” he said.
“This is proving it is guaranteed to be some of the most tender, juicy and full flavoured beef produced in Australia.”
A wealth of experience
Mr Crowley has grown up with Hereford cattle all his life.
He has been on the board of Herefords Australia for the past two years and will start as CEO on March 1.
He brings to the organisation experience in livestock production, processing, marketing and sales.
Mr Crowley worked for Meat & Livestock Australia for the past 14 years and has worked across the industry on major initiatives, including MSA.