Is it any surprise that the Hereford breed originated as a product of necessity? Efficient, adaptable and hardy, these cattle have always had a face to remember. Nearly 300 years ago, farmers of Herefordshire, England, founded the breed in response to demand created by Britain’s Industrial Revolution. Efficient production, high yields and sound reproduction were of the utmost importance. Benjamin Tomkins is who to thank for the original design. A primary founder of the breed, Tomkins began in 1742 with a bull calf from a cow, Silver, and two cows, Pidgeon and Mottle.
Henry Clay, Kentucky statesman, brought Herefords to the United States in 1817. A true Hereford identity was not established in the states until William H Sotham and Erastus Corning, Albany, N.Y., began the first breed herd in 1840. Among other renowned early Hereford breeders were Charles Gudgell and Thomas A. Simpson of Missouri. Their big break came with the importation of Anxiety 4, a bull credited as being the “father of American Herefords.”
A few of these early breeders came together in Chicago on June 22, 1891. The result was the foundation of the American Hereford Cattle Breeders Association, later renamed the American Hereford Association (AHA). Its purpose was two-fold: to keep the breed’s records and to promote the interests of its breeders. Seven years later Warren Gammon of Iowa noticed naturally hornless Herefords at the Trans-Mississippi World’s Fair in Omaha, Nebraska. He decided to fix the hornless trait using the bull Giant and 11 Hereford females. In 1910, the American Polled Hereford Association (APHA) was founded.
Though Horned Herefords were already seen on the Wisconsin countryside as they had been across the nation since the late 1800’s, it was in the early 1910’s that the first Polled Herefords made their way to Wisconsin with the help of a Southwest Wisconsin cattleman named Bill Merry. From 1916 to the mid 1920’s, up to ten small herds of Polled Herefords developed-mostly based on the genetics from Bill Merry’s original purchases.
As the popularity of the Polled Hereford breed gained momentum in Wisconsin over the next 30 years, a group of breeders from across the state joined together in February of 1953 in Richland Center, Wisconsin to hold the charter meeting of was to be known as the Wisconsin Polled Hereford Association.
On a national level, the two Hereford associations merged in 1995, keeping the AHA title. The AHA now registers all horned and polled Herefords across the country. Through the years shows and expositions contributed greatly to a growing Hereford popularity. The breed’s doing ability, coupled with early maturity, revolutionized American beef production.
To achieve this desired early maturity, breeders in the 1930’s and 1940’s sought short, low-set, wide and deep-bodied cattle. Success eventually became a downfall when beef packers started paying less for over-fat cattle. The American diet was calling for leaner, more heavily muscled carcasses. Hereford breeders stepped up to the challenge.
Beginning in the 1960’s, breeders focused their attention on tools such as performance testing, artificial insemination, objective measure, embryo transfer, and sire evaluation. These tools allowed the rapid genetic change needed to bring Hereford in synch with consumer and industry expectations. A broad genetic base allowed Hereford breeders to select stock comparable in size and performance to competing “exotic” European breeds.
Although major changes were made, breeders didn’t’ lose sight of fundamental Hereford traits, particularly fertility and docility.
Today’s Hereford is the efficient, adaptable and hardy product of necessity is was in yesteryears. Add fertile, gentile, crossbreed friendly and quality assurance, and you’ve begun to put a name to the face behind the product.