Herefords – 90+ Years of Service to the South African Cattle Industry Introduction
The South African Hereford Breeders Society celebrated their 90th Anniversary during 2007. Hereford Breeders looked back at 90 years in which the breed and its breeders played a major role in the development of the South African Beef Industry.
Origin of the Breed
The Hereford as it’s name suggests has evolved from the indigenous Red cattle which roamed the Welsh Border Counties and the Western extremities of England. The origins of a special breed of cattle in the county of Herefordshire has been mentioned by agricultural authors as long ago as the early 1600. The County of Herefordshire had been famous for its cattle, particularly the work oxen that were bred to subsist on poor grazing while at the same time stand the hard work which they were put to.
Authors on the Breed state that the formal selection and improvement began in the 18th Century when Benjamin Tomkins started a herd headed by his bull “Silver”. This bull was a calf of the cow, also named “Silver” that was bequeathed by will to Benjamin by his grandfather Richard Tomkins in the year 1720.
Records show that the Bull “Silver” was red with a white face and had a little white on his back.
Formation of the First Hereford Herd Book
During the 1700′s and 1800′s documented records of the breed were maintained by various individuals in and around the Herefordshire area, leading to the publication of the First Herd Book of Hereford Cattle in 1846 by Thomas Eyton of Wellington, Shropshire. The first Herd Book contained the records of 551 bulls entered by 75 breeders. The Hereford Herd Book Society was formed on the 5th March 1878.
In 1886, eight years after the Society’s inauguration, entries of cattle into the Herd Book were confined to those whose Sire and Dam had been recorded in previous volumes. “Silver” appears in the first Volume of the English Hereford Herd Book as No.41, and may be considered the progenerator of the Hereford, especially when colour, grazing qualities and hardiness are considered.
In 1996, the 150th Anniversary of the publication f the First Herd Book, the Society changed its name to The Hereford Cattle Society.
There are currently at least 25 countries around the world maintaining their own Hereford cattle records, although all Herefords relate back to the cattle recorded in those early volumes of herd book.
Some of the earliest recorded dates for the introduction of the breed into other countries are Ireland in 1775, USA in 1817 and Australia in 1825.
Herefords in South Africa
The first two Hereford bulls was imported to South Africa in 1890, this was followed by a number of further imports from 1894 to 1899. No female animals was imported during this time. Hereford Bulls were used to improve the national herd. In 1901 George Moorcroft imported the bull “Southern Cross” and the possibility exist that a number of cows was imported at the same time.
Mr James Gray of Waverley, Ceres Road in the Western Cape Province imported the bull “Rufus” and two cows in 1902 and that was followed by a large number of animals by Sir Abe Bailey and Mr.G J Young. These men should be considered the founders of the breed in South Africa.
A very important factor in the growth of the breed in South Africa before it became a Union in 1910 was the importation of 27 female animals by the then Transvaal Government with the purpose to further improve the South African National cattle herd. Pedigree Herds on Government farms, coupled with the infusion year by year of imported genetics from the best herds in England
From 1906 to 1917 Records were kept by the South African Studbook and Volume 1 contains the names of the earliest imported animals. The breed quickly established them in Southern Africa, all the way up to Kenya as their popularity grew.
This lead to the formation of the Hereford Breeders Society of Southern Africa, responsible for the administration of all Herefords in Southern Africa. This included Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Kenia.
In their Journal of the British South Africa Company, published in 1924, titled Ranching in Rhodesia, they wrote: “The Company’s experience on its ranches has led to the selection of the Hereford as the most suitable animal for purely ranching purposes. Running under precisely the same conditions the Hereford is found to be as hardy, healthy and prolific as the native stock of the country; and a very encouraging feature to be noted is that the most highly bred animals have so far given the best results”
The prepotency of the Hereford breed, largely as a result of his long breeding lines, is still well known, and recognised virtue amongs Ranchers all over the world.
The Hereford was also very highly regarded by the world renowned Dr.Jan Bonsma, the father of the Bonsmara. He wrote that ‘the Hereford is the best grazing animal of the British Beef Breeds, it has a wonderful temperament and utilizes sour pasture exceptionally well”
With the onset of feedlots the Hereford breeders also had to adapt to changing demands. The Herefords where challenged to change from and earlier maturing type that had an uncanning ability to convert grass into quality meat to a breed adapted for feedlot requirements. This the Hereford has done exceptionally well.
Hereford breeders have also worked very hard at identifying and addressing the perceived problems in the breed, and breeders has embarked on very strick culling programmes to rid the breed of unwanted traits.!
In their 90th Anniversary year South African Hereford breeders are indeed upbeat about the prospects for their breed, because they believe that the characteristics of the breed make them ideally suitable to add value to the South African Cattle industry as it has been doing for all these years. This positivity is definitely not unfounded, and there are a number of reasons why they believe this.
Fertility is the biggest contributor to economic cow-calf operations. Herefords have been the most fertile breed for three consecutive years of all the breeds affiliated to SA Studbook. Fertility is highly hereditary and therefore will have an influence on the herd in which it is used.
Growth in Numbers
There has been a 12% growth in the numbers of registered Hereford animals during the past year. This growth is indicative of the continued renewed interest in the breed.
Whiteface Weaner Programme
The Whiteface Weaner Programme has been initiated by the South African Hereford Breeder Society, in conjunction with CMW. The aim of this programme is to make quality Hereford-and Hereford type weaners available to the market via internet auctions. The first major auction this year realised a premium of nearly R1.00 per kilogram for these weaners. During 2008 the Society is planning three such auctions. The benefit of this programme is that it is free to all farmers that uses Hereford Bulls in their crossbreeding programmes.
With the ever increasing labour cost in South Africa, as well as the implications if an employee should be injured on duty, South African farmers should seriously consider the advantages of Hereford temperament.
Hereford breeders are very proud of the fact that Hereford genetics are affordable. The aim of cattle breeding is to produce quality beef as effectively and efficiently and t he Hereford can do this at a price that makes it a very good option for the commercial stockman.
The fact that Hereford Herdbook has been closed for so many years resulted in Herefords being one of the purest Beef breeds available in the world. Purity of parent lines are the most important prerequisite for hybrid vigour. It is this purity of Herefords that make it ideally suited for Crossbreeding programmes.
The excitement about the prospects for Herefords are not unfounded. The number of registered animals increased by about 12% during the past year, which is an indication of the growth in demand for Herefords in South Africa.