THE Hereford breed is the ‘sleeping giant’ of the Australian cattle industry and is about to wake up and resume a major role in improving productivity and profitability for Australian cattle producers according to Hereford Australia’s recently appointed marketing consultant Geoff Phillips.
“I was looking forward to a relaxing retirement after 16 hectic years marketing Angus, but the enormous potential of Herefords convinced me the breed is set for a major resurgence in Australia and it will be an exciting couple of years for all concerned with Herefords”, said Mr Phillips.
The positive signs for Herefords in Australia were reinforced during Mr Phillips' trip to the United States last month to investigate how and why Herefords had grown to the point where white faced cattle are now highly regarded as efficient breeders and as producers of top quality carcases.
Mr Phillips said there is ample evidence to suggest the use of Hereford genetics is growing, generated through breed efficiency, calving ease, growth, temperament and fertility.
“There is a definite resurgence of Herefords in the USA with registrations up to almost 70,000 a year and growing after years of decline,” he said.
The highly respected Western Livestock Journal conducts an annual survey to ascertain industry trends. The response to “Which breeds of bulls you are using?’, 20.4 per cent indicated Hereford, almost double the response three years ago. Hereford was the second most used sire breed and double the next best breed.
“There is evidence that Hereford bulls are being bought by producers who have never bought the breed before or were lapsed Hereford bull users. There is also evidence the black baldy breeder can be worth $200 more than other breeders and a black baldy steer is $30 more profitable. The tiger stripe (brindle) cow (Hereford-Brahman) is highly regarded in the south (e.g. Texas) and sells for $1500 open (un-joined),” said Mr. Phillips.
A major three year US study compared the performance and heterosis effect of Hereford sired baldy calves with straight Angus. The first year involved 400 Angus cows, 10 Hereford bulls and 10 Angus bulls while in years two and three, this was expanded to 600 cows and 15 bulls of each breed. The direct impact of heterosis was a $30 advantage per head on calves not including the maternal heterosis of the females. Two years of female data reported a 7pc advantage in pregnancy rates adding an additional $50 a head in maternal advantage,” said Mr. Phillips.
In an extension of this research, the American Angus Association is collecting data from members who run both purebred Herefords and Angus in the same contemporary groups and this is expected to reinforce the white face advantage.
A decade ago a white face was considered an impediment to marketing cattle in the USA but that has all changed according to Mr. Phillips.
“The whiteface is now a badge of quality rather than something to be avoided. The ‘black baldy’ and the ‘tiger stripe’ are now looked upon as highly desirable. In fact the black baldy is considered to be a most desirable breeder and a profit driver for cow-calf producers,” he said.
The big semen companies all report dramatic rises in Hereford semen sales with some doubling over the past couple of years.
“Semen production companies are great barometers of industry trends. They catalogue breeds that sell and the number of Hereford bulls in their catalogues has increased over the past two years and all see that trend continuing,” said Mr Phillips.
There is also an increase in sales of Hereford ‘$20 semen’ to commercial producers, many who have black cow herds and are returning to Herefords or using Herefords for the first time.
A strong indication of the situation is the black baldy photograph on the front cover of the 112 page ABS 2011 spring Beef Sire Directory. ABS management indicates the black baldy on the front cover is a deliberate marketing strategy to capture the growing Hereford semen market.
Lorna Marshall, long time Beef Sire Acquisition Manager for ABS said Hereford was their fastest growing breed (for semen sales) over the past three years and the ABS catalogue now contains more Hereford bulls than ever before.
“Ten years ago Hereford birth weight was too high, mature cow weights were too big (the result of over-reacting to the introduction of Euro breeds) and milk was poor. The breed has followed Angus in breed improvement and there are now plenty of ‘curve benders’ (low birth, high growth, good carcase) in the Hereford breed. There are also fertility and disposition issues with Angus that a Hereford infusion can adjust. More commercial cattle producers are using $15-$20 Hereford semen in their black herds. The American Hereford Association’s advertising campaign claiming Herefords to be The Efficiency Specialists’ has worked well”, said Mrs. Marshall.
Mr. Phillips attended the National Western Livestock Show at Denver, Colorado, where 600,000 visitors from throughout the world attend this enormous beef cattle focused event. Close to 7000 beef cattle (all registered) compete including 650 Herefords.
At a Hereford sale at Denver, bulls sold to $69,000 and averaged $23,317; females averaged $7406 while three flushes averaged $8333.
A leading Australian Angus breeder and judge was attending Denver for the fourth time. “Angus quality has gone down and Hereford quality is up. The structural correctness, thickness and muscle of the Herefords here are now superior to the Angus and it is a great opportunity for Australian Hereford breeders to obtain some good genetics (from the USA)”, he said
In more evidence of the Hereford resurgence in the USA, the 70 year old privately owned giant US and international food company JR Simplot & Co, the second largest cow-calf operator in the US with 30,000 cows on 15 ranches and two feedlots holding 220,000 head, has turned to Herefords to ‘add consistency and value to the Simplot program’. Simplot has interests in Australia in vegetables (Edgell and Birdseye) and seafood (John West) and now the Melbourne based red meat processor Top Cut.
The Simplot breeding herd was mainly black cattle and seven years ago Simplot developed a process to inject efficiency, high fertility and docility into their herds which run mainly in harsh desert. By incorporating Hereford genetics, Simplot has been successful in introducing good temperament, consistency, highly marketable feeder cattle and a replacement female program benefiting cattlemen in western USA.