Saturday, December 18, 2010


Galaxy at around 18 months of age
Genetics are interesting but bamboozling stuff when they throw up unexpected traits despite the best efforts with breeding programmes.   For instance, take the business of animals having horns, scurs or being polled.   All the research shows the polled gene being dominant but, to confuse the issue, every now and then an animal with a polled background of several generations suddenly sprouts real horns as in the case of the boy here.

The story of the bull we called “Galaxy” began when he was born in the corner of a paddock and managed to snuggle himself against the fence becoming almost invisible.   His mother went walkabout, forgot where her calf was and “calf-napped”  the newborn offspring of another cow.   Once we discovered what had happened we tried to reunite her with her own calf but she wasn't interested even when we put the two of them together in one of the races for a day.

Rather than cause more stress by trying to right a wrong we took the little bull home to rear and put the cow in a different herd to curb her obsession with the other calf.   We already had a number of hand feeders owing to several cases of twinning so Galaxy settled in well.   He was really laid back even as a youngster and thrived on the daily attention.

When Galaxy was around five weeks of age we noticed he was developing little horns, proper ones which really puzzled us knowing his background so we had a look back through his pedigree record.   Amazing reading.   With his dam we went back nine generations on the female side and six on the male before the indication came up “pedigree unknown” on the New Zealand Hereford Association database but ALL those animals were polled.   Then we looked at his sire's record and this is where the horny business started.   His sire had two paternal generations of polled animals then in came the horns with a great-grand-dam listed as “pure horned” and from this we traced back to1958 – all horned – before the pedigree records ran out.   The maternal side of Galaxy's sire showed one great-grand-dam which was horned but her parents, grandparents and as far back as we could go were polled!

In August of this year (2010) I took part in a webinar run by Southern Beef Technology in Australia
which was about a new DNA test for the polled gene.   The discussion covered a number of topics which has since been updated and I have permission to use some of this.

It has been found that the polled characteristic is dominant over horns, however, although you might buy a polled bull you won't know until he has progeny on the ground whether he is “true polled”.   An animal that is polled may still possess a copy of the recessive gene for horns and throw a proportion of horned calves.   The difficulty of distinguishing between homozygous polled animals and polled animals that are heterozygous carriers of the allele (an alternative form of a gene) responsible for horns is an impediment to breeding for polled stock.  

Research has shown that using bulls tested to be homozygous with the Beef CRC (Co-operative Research Centre) test will result in a reduction in the proportion of horned calves but in some breeds there will be an increase in the proportion of scurred calves and in all breeds there will be an increase in the proportion of polled calves.   Very basically homozygous means having two of the same alleles at the same location on a chromosome and heterozygous is having two different alleles at the same location on a chromosome.   All these terms and descriptions of them can be found on the internet.  

These factors need to be taken into account when breeding for polled Miniature Herefords.   They are relatively new on the scene when compared with the horned ones and all of them have been bred from polled animals among the larger Classic Herefords which in turn have evolved from polled Standard Herefords.    You can see this within a few generations in their pedigrees.   At least one of the bulls I have selected  for semen import is known to be homozygous and with around forty progeny so far is throwing 95% polled calves from horned cows.   Some others I have looked at have a heterozygous background with the resulting progeny being a mixture of polled, horned and scurred.   These animals would not be as suitable for using to breed polled offspring unless mated to a homozygous polled bull or cow when the chances could improve.   For this reason in breeding my own line of polled miniatures the heifers selected from among the standard Herefords have had their pedigrees scrutinised for any appearance of scurs or horns but that is still no guarantee that the polled factor will be dominant.

Galaxy as a 2 year old the day before his horns came off

We should have dehorned Galaxy in the autumn following his birth but by then the antlers were promising to be something spectacular (move over Donner and Blitzen) and we had hopes of selling him to one of the bullock teams which operate up here.   He would have been great as a stud bull for new team stock, although what guarantee could we give that his progeny would have horns?   At the very least he would have had to be mated with a horned cow.  

Unfortunately he wasn't wanted by the bullock teams nor as a ring-in for Santa's reindeer so reluctantly we had the deed done.   We couldn't keep him for breeding ourselves even though apart from the horns he would have been ideal as a stud bull so he was up for sale as a terminal sire to a dairy herd.   Parting with him was hard but we do know he has gone to a small dairy farm in a pleasant location where he should be able to live a peaceful and productive life. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Another 'Short' Story


Riverlands Pearl 05 0722 was leaving it very late to calve and we had almost given up hope that she would do so as she didn't look overly large.    BUT........on November 27th 2009, when the 'boss' was on his daily rounds, he almost ran over a small object lying in the grass.   Pearl was standing nearby and on closer examination the discovery was made of an incredibly little calf which turned out to be hers!   It weighed only 16 kgs – less than half the average weight of a normal standard Hereford calf and a good 5 kgs lighter than the smaller of my twin Miniature Hereford calves.   When checking the condition of the calf and the mating records we decided it might possibly be a couple of weeks early but certainly not enough to be called 'premature'.

This little lady, Riverlands Pearl 09 0085, could not even reach her mother's teats so for several days we hand milked the cow and fed the baby from a bottle with a lamb's teat attached as her mouth was too small for the conventional calf teat.   Finally, with much stretching, she managed to latch onto a teat and was away.   It was quite funny to see her mother washing her and almost knocking her over with just her tongue but the wee thing was very determined and nothing was going to keep her down.   I missed one of the best of photographic opportunities on a day that was raining when little one was tucking into breakfast while sheltering right underneath her mother.   The camera is now almost a fixture on my person!

Little Pearl eventually grew up, was weaned and went off with the big girls in her heifer group but we kept an eye on her.   A bit later on it became evident that she and a few others were not coping as well as they could in a wet winter which had followed a long drought.   We pulled them out of the group and put them in with the weaned Miniature Hereford calves where they were able to get a daily feed of molasses as well as have a whole paddock to themselves.
Although rather shy, reluctant to push her way in among the others and still shorter than even the minis Little Pearl was growing and thriving.    Now, as a yearling, she is quite beautiful – very dark, well marked and with good conformation.   She is not stunted in any way, just SMALL.   Her future will not be with the big Herefords as she will be too small for any of those bulls but she will join an elite group.   This is made up of specially picked registered standard Herefords, all polled and all smaller than average which are run with a Miniature Hereford bull to start an exclusive line of polled minis.  

Miniature Herefords began this way in the States, using small standard Herefords and gradually reducing the size until the “miniature”  was achieved.   Every Miniature Hereford has this mixture of sizes in its background and all their pedigrees will show it.      Around the world breeders are developing their own lines in a similar fashion but with the advantage of now starting with miniature stock such as a mini bull over larger Herefords.   They are ALL full blood Herefords - just different sizes of the same breed.   At the moment such progeny is not registerable in New Zealand but they will all come from registered animals and have their own pedigree records.   With the increasing preference for polled cattle there will be a demand for this type of Miniature Hereford and Riverlands Pearl 09 0085 will have her place in history!

Accidents can happen!

Even the best plans can be thwarted by Mother Nature especially if hormones kick in at the wrong time!   In September 2009 we were given a White Hereford heifer calf to put on a dairy nurse-cow which had lost her calf.   The calf thrived on the Ayshire/Jersey milk, grew well and started to look quite striking with decidedly 'blue' roan colouring.

White Herefords originated in New Zealand early last century when a breeder purchased a line of Hereford cows among which was a roan coloured cow with Hereford markings.   Running with only Hereford bulls this cow  produced a near white calf.    From this, a little family. line developed with the cows having more or less two roan calves to every one red calf all sired by Hereford bulls.  

Over the years with so few  numbers of the line inbreeding became a problem so the White Herefords were crossed out on occasions with such breeds as Jersey, Friesian, Friesian X. Ayrshire, Angus and Shorthorn X.   The progeny, all having the Hereford white face, were then bred back to the White bulls.   In Northland there is a White Hereford Stud known as “Lochnoor” which is making its mark as a recognised breed.

Our herd sires go in with their respective groups of cows in late spring and come out some three months later usually with a job well done.   The calves remain on the cows until they are around eight months old when they are weaned.   Once the calves reach six months of age, however, cows with bull calves are separated from cows with heifer calves.   This avoids any possible hanky panky although beef calves are normally later to mature than dairy ones.  

Unbeknown to us, the drop of dairy breed in our heifer brought her to maturity far earlier than the others and just before the bull was taken out of the herd she succumbed to his charms at a mere five months of age!   Once weaned she went off “up the mountain” at the back of our farm for the winter along with all the other weaned heifers.
In the spring  we noticed this heifer starting to look a bit seedy with a pot belly and harsh coat.   She had also lost cover condition but curiously was developing a small udder.   We decided to bring her up to our yards and drench her but before that happened she produced a tiny calf, perfectly formed and lively.   This wee creature was the typical black/white-face which results from crossing a Hereford bull with a Friesian cow.   Despite being only fourteen months of age the heifer calved all by herself and is a very good mother.

With the drought upon us this very young mum is needing some extra care so we have taken her out of the main herd and put her in with one of the Miniature Hereford groups where there will be less competition for food.   Owing to the age at which she calved and the adverse conditions at present it is very possible she will not cycle for some time.   If she does, then maybe next Spring we will have a miniature White (blue) Hereford!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Virtual Cattle Show for Miniature Herefords

The Australian Miniature Hereford Breeders Network Inc., is holding a Virtual Cattle Show for Miniature Herefords via the internet next autumn (Southern Hemisphere).   Entries are invited from interested breeders/owners/enthusiasts and there are already a number of people on both sides of the Tasman as well as further afield overseas wanting to take part.

The AMHBN is an incorporated society fully recognised by HAL (Herefords Australia Ltd) and thinks this would be a good way to showcase stock as well as promote the breeding of Miniature Herefords.   This is especially the case for those who live too far away from any show centres or have no means of getting to one.   The first Show will be purely for fun – no entry fees and no prizes apart from place recognitions but with international interest in it plans are in place for more serious competition while retaining the fun element.   For this show judges will be selected from both Australia and New Zealand.

The animals can be prepared as if for a live show (unless you are lucky enough to have ones that stay clean) although the emphasis will be on “natural” condition.

Except for Classes 10 and 11 animals must be registered as Herefords with either HAL or NZHA (or the overseas equivalent) and be of a Frame Score 1 or less in order to qualify for entry.

A sample Show Schedule can also be seen on this website along with helpful hints for animal preparation and photography.    For the full programme along with entry form and Frame Score Measurement Certificate please go to the Australian Miniature Hereford Breeders Network website which is:

For further enquiries please contact me on

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