Herefords go to work on black herds
The Hereford was arguably the most popular breed of cattle in the U.S. during the 1970s and 1980s, but with problems including cancer eyes and prolapses, and the increased popularity and marketability of black cattle, demand for the Hereford dropped. Today they are making a big comeback as producers re-evaluate their need for hybrid vigor and take note of a more modern and user-friendly Hereford breed.
“There is a lot more interest in Herefords as the cowherd gets blacker and blacker. More people are realizing they need hybrid vigor to get those free pounds. They’re deciding which breed to use, and with the advances the Hereford has made a lot of producers are thinking they’re the obvious choice,” explains Torrington Hereford and Angus breeder Blake Ochsner when answering why the demand for Hereford cattle is on the rise following several years of low interest.
“The trend has occurred more extensively in the south and east. Demand in Texas, Oklahoma and all through the south is really high. I think this part of the country was a little slower to switch from Hereford to Angus, so we’re a little slower to switch back also,” adds Ochsner.
“Hereford cattle have made more improvement than any other breed in the last four to five years, in my mind,” states National Hereford Board Director and Fort Bridger Hereford and Angus producer Dale Micheli.
“When demand went down on the Hereford side people became more selective with what made their purebred herds. There was a lot of culling on the bottom end and that’s helped the breed,” he adds.
Ochsner seconds that opinion, adding that demand has forced the breed to produce cattle with lower birth weights, a more moderate frame and an increased fleshing ability.
“The true heterosis and best hybrid vigor is always going to be an Angus-Hereford cross. Most other breeds are watered down; you’ve got black Salers, black Simmental and black in almost every other breed. They’re already somewhat crossbred to achieve that. Not that those breeds are bad, they each have some great things to offer, but the heterosis advantage on black cattle is a Hereford,” says Micheli.
He provides an ongoing heterosis test as an example of the increased efficiency black baldies possess.
“Several straight Angus producers contacted us, wanting to try a study. Their weaning weights had leveled off and they wanted to see the effect of using Herefords on their Angus cattle. We’re several years in, and the data is incredibly encouraging. Not only is there a huge gain for the crossbred baldies, but the long-term benefits on the female side are notable as well. We’ve been following the black baldy females for four or five years now, and on average those cows are getting a 17 percent increase in their calves weaning weights over the straight Angus cows in the same herds,” explains Micheli.
“Herefords also compliment Angus so well because of their disposition and longevity, which are two problems the Angus has,” adds Ochsner.
During a recent strategic planning meeting Micheli attended, people from across the nation listed livestock disposition as a top priority.
“Hardly anyone can question that the Hereford’s disposition is hard to beat, so that’s huge today,” he comments.
But what about the bad eyes, sunburned bags and prolapses any rancher who’s been around Herefords remembers clearly?
“As a breed we’ve made big strides in eyes and bags and cut those problems way down. At the national level we are pursuing data on genetic testing and gene markers and we’re pretty close to identifying the markers for prolapse and cancer eye. If we could identify which bloodlines are prone to that, it would be huge,” notes Micheli.
Ochsner comments that 20 years ago there would be several eye problems or prolapses a year, while now he deals with about one problem every three years.
“The breed in general has really eliminated those problems. You just cull those cattle and those bloodlines that carry those problems. Everyone that has sold bulls for a long time knows that you have to produce problem-free cattle. That’s the only way you continue to sell bulls,” says Ochsner.
He adds that for the last several years people have been buying a couple Hereford bulls to test the waters.
“Now those people are buyer a higher percentage of Hereford than Angus bulls. It was the same way this year; several people bought a couple Herefords and five or six Angus bulls. I suspect in a few more years those guys will purchase a couple Angus and five or six Herefords,” says Ochsner.
As demand increases the Ochsners are steadily increasing their Hereford numbers. This year they put several Hereford embryos in Angus cows as a means of increasing Hereford numbers.
“It’s been pretty fun. Quite a few people who haven’t bought Hereford bulls in many years are looking now and starting to buy them again,” states Ochsner.