7 facts about Hereford cattle


One of the most prolific breeds in the world, the Hereford cattle lineage started in 1742 in Herefordshire, England, and now represents millions of pedigree Herefords

Driving across the great American highways, pastures and fields abound with the sight of grazing cattle. Chances are, there’s some Hereford blood in their somewhere. One of the most prolific breeds in the world, what started in 1742 in Herefordshire, England, with just one bull calf and two cows now represents more than 5 million pedigree Herefords in 50 nations, and has the distinction of being the first English cattle to recognized as a breed. Today, millions more carry the Hereford cattle lineage on farms and feedlots around the world.

Legend has it that Benjamin Tomkins was among the earliest founders of the line back in 1742 with the son of a cow named Silver, and two other cows named Pidgeon and Mottle. Some 278 years later, farmers around the world still look to that line when seeking genetics resulting in greater weight gain on either grain or pasture, as well as early maturing and a productive lifespan.

Whether a commercial producer, or a hobbyist looking for a homestead operation, adding Hereford cattle into the mix might be of interest considering the following facts:

1. Bred for big beef

All the way back to their ancient origins as the draught oxen and small red cattle of Roman Briton and Wales, Hereford breeders have sought to maximize beef yield and efficiency of production on either grass or grain. By the early 1800s, the Hereford breed in England was producing cattle in excess of 3,000 pounds, with Cotmore, a winning show bull and sire, weighing in at 3,900 pounds in 1839. Breeders have scaled this back a bit in modern times as they sought more smoothness, but the potential for a big beef is still in the bones.

2. Well recognized

By 1960, the American Hereford Association (AHA) had a total of 10 million head registered. By 2000, AHA membership had grown to more than 4,000 family ranches, just 12 years before publishing the first genomically-enhanced EEPDs. In 2013, a Hereford bull named C Miles McKee 2103 ET set the world record for a single cattle sale at $600,000.

3. A case for performance

Every breed makes claims to economic performance, and the AHA likewise puts numbers toward the bottom line. A 2007 study conducted by Circle A Ranch in Missouri in conjunction with the AHA incorporated 10 Hereford bulls into its 600 Angus cow operation with the goal of measuring results against a control group including progeny from three proven Angus sires. Results of the study showed after 10 years an advantage of $514 net per cow over that period, meaning $51 per cow per year. The study showed that Hereford-sired females generate a 20 percent advantage in herd size for the same relative cost versus straight Angus cows because of increased fertility and longevity.

4. A good look for life

The Hereford is typically colored dark red to yellow with a white face, crest, and underline. White flanks and markings below the knees and hocks are also commonplace across the country. Unless polled, Herefords typically have short, thick horns curving down the sides of the head, and mature males weight up to 1,800 pounds with females around 1,200. Muscular with moderate to long length, females live and produce calves beyond the 15th year, with bulls still profitable to stud at 12 or more. Versatile in their ability to feed and forage, the export of Herefords which began in 1817 has resulted in their dotting farms from the U.S., Canada, and Mexico to South America, Russia, and Finland.

5. Feeding efficiency

Farmers want the most beef for the buck, and according to a study sponsored by the United States Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC), Herefords do well when pitted against other breeds in this regard. Against the Hereford, the five-year cost difference per steer/year in terms of feed was $19.75 for Black Angus, $22.79 for Red Angus, $22.16 for Simmental, and $5.80 for Charolais.

6. Family fun

If incorporating the entire family into the operation is of any value, consider that the National Junior Hereford Association (NJHA) has more than 3,800 active members with lots of activities. One of the largest junior cattle programs in the United States, members can register cattle with the association at discounted rates, as well as participate in conferences, shows and numerous contests. Membership is open to youth aged birth through their 22nd year. And in addition to raising and showing cattle, members have opportunities to win summer internships, scholarships and participate in leadership training.

7. To “steak” your operation on

Producers of any size are undoubtedly familiar with the Hereford name, and opportunities abound to incorporate them into a herd. With a long history across the world, breeders can certainly trust they’ll have plenty of information at hand if questions arise.


Curious about other breeds? Here are 7 facts about Black Angus cattle, 6 facts about Japanese Wagyu cattle, as well as a list of the most popular cattle breeds in the U.S.

Brian Boyce is an award-winning writer living on a farm in west-central Indiana. You can see more of his work at

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