Friday, April 22, 2011

A Country Girl At Heart

Last summer, my great-niece, Wyllow, had her very first visit to a farm.   She was not quite nine years old and had always loved animals so to see a lot of them in one place was going to be something special.   On a calm, sunny day she and her mum drove out of the big city and set off into the country backblocks where our farm is.   That in itself was an experience.

The first animal to appear was Gord, a thoroughbred horse which my daughter rides in competitions.   For a small girl he would seem quite big but Wyllow had no fear of him when he sniffed her hand looking for a carrot.   Maybe one day when she is older she might be able to have a ride on him.

After having something to eat and drink we all went over to the covered yards on the farm where Wyllow met some very small cattle called Miniature Herefords.   This was really exciting for her.   A calf called Paddy had a halter put on him.   He was then tied up so Wyllow could groom him to make his coat cleaner.   He wasn't quite sure of this strange person but enjoyed being brushed under his chin with Wyllow kneeling on the floor beside him because he was so small.   She didn't seem to mind the dirt on the floor either - a true country kid!

After getting him tidy it was time to go for a walk.   Wyllow was a quick learner and you can see how she is holding the lead properly and walking by his shoulder.   You have to be careful not to wind the lead around your hand in case the calf takes fright and tries to run away.   Your hand could get caught in the loop and you might be hurt.   Wyllow is holding the lead folded in her hand so it will pull free easily.

The two of them headed for the next pen where they followed Paddy's mother, Patsy and went right around the inside yards and back to the first pen walking nicely together.   Then it was time for Paddy to be tied up again and given another brushing before taking his halter off.   It was the first time Wyllow had done anything like this but she was as good as any other child who had been to Calf Club competitions.   Perhaps next year she can lead a calf at a Show and maybe even win some rosettes or ribbons to hang on her wall.

Miniature Herefords are ideal animals for children to start learning how to handle cattle and in America you can see even very little children competing in the show ring.   They have the wonderful calm temperament of the big Herefords, learn quickly and seem to enjoy the company of those working with them.   It would be great to see more of them out and about with young people.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The First Day in the Life of a VERY Miniature Hereford.

Riverlets Abigail, born on March 2nd, 2011 and weighing just 17.5 kgs explores her new world.

 What a big place.   Where do I go now?

Actually, it feels safer with Mum.


Mummy, I've got a tummy ache.


Ooh!   It's that meconium business

                                                    Aah!  That's better

                               Now, for another wee drink.

Heck, Mum's gone.   Gotta catch her up.

                                     Where did she go?

Crikey - what are these craters. 


                               This cuzzie bro' is HUGE.

            Ha ha - can't see me now! 

                                                            Mummy loves me.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Exactly What Is A Miniature Hereford

There is a lot of misunderstanding being perpetrated regarding the classification of Miniature Herefords, making them out to be a separate breed, which they are not. It is also causing unnecessary confusion among new owners and potential breeders. Quite simply the animal is a Hereford first by breed and a miniature second by size. A look at some of the terminology which has been used incorrectly will show this.

Firstly, there is no such thing as a “purebred” Miniature Hereford. The description should be “full blood Hereford” without any reference to the miniature size. A full blood animal is one which has no other breed in its background going back many generations. In the case of Herefords this goes back several hundred years. A Hereford bred to another Hereford, regardless of size is still a full blood Hereford. The only differentiations which can be made with Herefords are whether they are horned or polled or of different sizes e.g. standard, classic or miniature but those are just varieties of the same breed.

“Purebred” is the result of successive back breeding from original crossbreeding or interbreeding and this applies to using two or more entirely separate breeds. In this way we now have recognised breeds such as Belgian Blue which was developed from native Belgian cattle crossed with Shorthorn and Charolais. The Australian Belmont Red is another example of crossing or interbreeding, in this case Africander bulls over Hereford and Shorthorn cows. Purebred usually means a minimum 31/32 cattle which have been produced through a “grading up” process from the original breeds used.

“Crossbreeding” or “interbreeding” is exactly that – the mixing of different breeds. You cannot crossbreed or interbreed within the same breed therefore the practice of referring to a Miniature Hereford with Classic or Standard Hereford in its pedigree as a crossbreed is totally untrue. All Miniature Herefords have this mixture of sizes (not breeds) in their pedigrees. A Brahman crossed with a Hereford produces a crossbreed known as a Braford – two separate breeds. Likewise a Brahman crossed with an Angus produces a Brangus. The popular Murray Grey is a result of crossing an Angus with a Shorthorn and refining the breed over many generations. Another interesting combination of breeds leads to the Mandalong Special which has Brahman, Shorthorn, Charolais, British White and Chianina in its background.

“Grading up” again applies to using more than one breed to combine particular genetics It starts with using a bull from one breed across a cow of another breed. The first offspring is half-bred and heifers from this are then bred back to the original bull breed. The next offspring will be three-quarter bred and the procedure is repeated using part-bred heifers back to the original bull breed until offspring which are of 31/32 breeding are then classified as “purebred”. They are not full blood of either breed used. The “grading up” being used within the Hereford breed to produce a so-called fifth generation miniature is not justifiable as it is simply using two animals of different varieties of the same breed and the final outcome may not necessarily fall within miniature status as the frame score size could well be over the limit. The original process of acquiring miniatures was to breed the smallest Herefords possible to other small Herefords and continue from there to reduce the size, not to establish so many generations of breeding. Frame score can be heritable and changed mainly through using selected sires therefore it is more important to know the framescore background of the animals being bred than their pedigrees.

“Inbreeding” along with “linebreeding” is now prevalent among Miniature Hereford herds in both Australia and New Zealand owing to the lack of new bloodlines. Although one advantage is the early exposure of a defect - providing measures are taken to eradicate that - the main outcome is a loss of fertility along with detrimental effects on production efficiency. Inbreeding is computed as a percentage of chances for two alleles to be identical by descent. This percentage is called “inbreeding co-efficient”. Alleles are alternative forms of genes and part of the DNA coding which determines distinct traits which are passed on from parents to offspring. Progeny can have a 1 in 2 risk of inheriting identical alleles from both parents which greatly increases any negative effects. Linebreeding is a milder form of inbreeding through breeding of cousins. Anyone claiming to have “five full generations” of “miniature” in an animal should properly examine its breeding – it is most likely the product of straight inbreeding or very close linebreeding, neither of which is desirable. It is more likely the five generations are obtained by picking and choosing what appears to be "miniature" from among each generation and this is where frame scores are needed.   For this reason conscientious breeders in other parts of the world occasionally introduce new bloodlines using mainly the smaller Classic Herefords which are of FS 2 or FS 3. This is known as “outbreeding” but it is still within the same breed. . In Australia and New Zealand there are Classic sized animals among the standard Hereford herds but not actually classified as such. A miniature bull (FS 1 or less) over a Classic cow should produce progeny not much bigger than itself.

Much has been made of a “foundation herd” and a claim that all Miniature Herefords in Australia and any animals coming to New Zealand from Australia must be linked to this. The foundation herd is nothing more than a collection of original imports from the USA most of which had a Classic Hereford in its immediate parentage. There is at least one animal classed as “miniature” which had Classics for both parents. How did the classification as “miniature” arise then? It could only have been on frame score as most of the Classics were FS 2 or 3. Was FS 2 considered “miniature”? It certainly wasn't in the States. To restrict the classification as “miniature” to only particular animals whose pedigree traces back to chosen “ancestors” is not only irrelevant it drastically narrows the gene pool and constitutes restrictive trading practice for other breeders who have animals which qualify by size – the only criteria needed. These latter animals are likely to have superior genetics through a widened gene pool and as such strengthen the overall breeding of Miniature Herefords.

Finally, to state that animals must be classified as “miniature” by only one particular group is an insult to the majority of breeders. The integrity of the breeder in noting the size of an animal goes hand in hand with the integrity of the breeder in stating the correct parentage. If the intending purchaser has any concerns, a request can be made for a DNA profile, the registration checked and the measurement process observed or done independently to confirm what has been stated. As it stands now, no group is the authoritative body for classification of Miniature Herefords.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Elastic Miniature

Let's get this right. The only thing the word “miniature” has to do with an animal's description is its size - more specifically its height. In no language in the world is “miniature” defined by pedigree but some of the synonyms for it are; small-scale, diminutive, short and so on. Small-scale best suits Miniature Herefords but with two breeder groups allowing animals to be up to a frame score of 2 this creates confusion and misleading conceptions of what size these animals really are. A good example is when visitors see my Frame Score 2 registered miniature cow among the rest which, except for one Frame Score 1 animal are all Frame Score 0 or less. They ask why she is called “miniature”. With standard Herefords in a nearby paddock their question is not surprising.

    Standard Hereford cow on left - Miniature Hereford cow on right.   The Standard cow is only .5 cm above being Frame Score 2 while the Miniature cow is Frame Score 2.

In 2004 the New Zealand Hereford Association introduced a rule which does not allow the registration of progeny from a mixture of miniature and standard Herefords. I suspect one of the reasons was the bigger sizes being allowed for miniatures. Breeders of standard Herefords were concerned, and some still are, that these animals would end up in the sale yards being passed off as conventional Herefords with the purchaser finding later on that they did not grow to expectations. The fact that these animals are also being sold on to private buyers with no controls in place as to their backgrounds should be of equal concern. On the other hand some crossbreds (Hereford and another breed) which look like Herefords are also in the sale yards but that does not appear to generate the same concern.

   Three-quarter Hereford, quarter Friesian calf

There are three height categories used not only for Herefords but also for other cattle. Basically, anything below a Frame Score of 1 is classed as Miniature, from 1 to 3 is Classic and from 4 up is Standard or Regular. In the States, where Miniature Herefords originated and where they are far more prolific than in other countries, the upper level for a miniature can be FS 1 but the preferred height is from 0 down. Anything over FS 1 is NOT classed as miniature – it becomes Classic. This makes it very clear for purchasers as to what they are actually buying – pedigree does not come into it except for registration purposes as a full blood Hereford although the discerning buyer would do well to check any frame scores in the pedigree.
Seven-year-old Miniature Hereford bull

The argument for classifying FS 2 as miniature has been qualified by some as necessary because they need the larger size for their particular meat production purposes. This simply does not make sense. If you want a bigger animal then don't call it a Miniature – call it a Classic or Standard Hereford. If, however, you look closely at these larger “miniatures” you will see not too far back in their pedigrees, generally in the second or third generation, the Classic heights of F2 and F3. For those who have a fixation on Largent stock read this comment in an e-mail from Roy:

“It is very helpful for me when looking at an animal's pedigree to be able to see the frame score of each animal in that pedigree so that I can better predict the % of calves possible that would be larger than the parents from a certain mating.”

Frame Score is only a prediction, not a guarantee, of mature height of any progeny. In fact, according to some American research, frame score is more a predictor of future weights rather than a measure of body size. Check out this article on the website “Texas adapted genetic strategies for beef cattle X: Frame Score, Frame Size and Weight.”

Roy considers that miniatures are classified as cows being under 45” (114 cm) and bulls under 47” (119 cm) when they are three years of age. This means they are UNDER FS 1. Pedigrees should show either the concentration of smaller heights or the lack thereof - in other words HEIGHT is the important factor. The Official Frame Score Chart for the American Miniature Hereford Breeders Association allows mature bulls (3 years or older) to be up to 48" (121 cm) and mature cows (3 years or older) to be up to 45" (114cm).   This height is classed as Frame Score 1.

Roy also recommends developing our own lines of miniatures in the same way as being done in the States – that is, using a Miniature bull over small standard or classic Hereford cows and repeating the process with the progeny (with different bulls of course) until the miniature size is reached – depending on the heights of the animals used this can happen within two generations! Again NOTHING to do with pedigree but ALL to do with height and the added advantage of a wider gene pool.

Miniature Hereford bull running with yearling Jersey, Jersey/Friesian and standard Hereford heifers

This downsizing is easily done in Australia and all other parts of the world where full blood Herefords, regardless of height, can be registered with that country's Hereford Association but currently not so in NZ. A safeguard can be put in place, however, by using only registered animals to begin with then having a separate register for the progeny which will record both the pedigrees and the frame scores. With the dearth of a range of new bloodlines and the incredibly involved process for importing new genetics this is the only way NZ is going to avoid going further down the track of line and in-breeding with their inherent problems.

An animal of two years is not really fully mature and may well have more growing to do. For this reason Miniature Herefords should not have an official measurement recorded at two. It is a useful interim indication of how tall the animal may be later in life but the official measurement should be at three years. A case in point is Patsy, who at two years of age had a frame score of 0 but was very close to being 00. She will probably not grow enough over the next year to stay at 0 so her three-year-old measurement is likely to be 00.

Patsy (on left) at 108 cm and Eve (on right) at 111 cm
Both FS 0 at 2 yrs but this could change with Patsy.

Stretching the frame score to allow for bigger animals is defeating the purpose of having “miniature” Herefords. The question also has to be asked – Why was the FS set at 2 and under by two breeders groups when it is so obviously at odds with the rest of the world. It makes a mockery of the hard work done by breeders in the USA to get the sizes down and they are quite puzzled by it. It also does nothing to help market the minis as truly small cattle which is what the majority of lifestylers are looking for.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Colour Coded

Recently I had the pleasure of getting back into the “driver's seat” behind a one horse-power engine of energy. It was at a meeting of the Kaipara Equine Driving Club which has a mixture of members, horses and ponies but all with one thing in common – the enjoyment of an original form of transport.

I have now become a member of the group with the offer of animals to drive providing I can find a little cart and harness. Having sold my smaller turn-out some years ago the Trade-Me columns are now being scrutinised for something which will fit a Miniature Horse which is around nine hands high!

The Miniature Horse (Equus ferus caballus) is found in many nations particularly in America and Europe. It's distinguishing feature is that it is small size with horse phenotype 34-38 inches (86-97 cm) as measured at the last hairs of the mane. In other words, like a Miniature Hereford it is based on size but it is exactly the same as its larger counterpart.

The mini horse pictured here is “Red”, an11-year-old stallion with the most amazing disposition. He drove calmly and responded well to my rusty instructions and it was sheer delight to be rolling gently around the paddock to the familiar hoofbeat, harness and “buggy” sounds. Another attraction is that Red exactly matches the colour of my Miniature Herefords so would blend in well with them! He is one of two horses offered to me for use in either leisure or competition driving events so once I get the necessary gear we will be away.

A Games Day is to be held on April 3rd, weather permitting, with April 10th if not and an ODE will take place on either May 1st or 8th, again depending on weather. Unlike ridden horses, which generally have to cope with whatever conditions are thrown at them, a driven one will find the going too hard if the ground becomes soft or boggy. I now have a Dressage Test to learn which for me is quite a mission to remember. My daughter who does eventing on horseback has no such trouble, often learning the test just before going into the ring!

In the past I have driven big horses - taken the ribbons (reins) of a Clydesdale and ponies around 11 to 13 hands plus my beloved donkey. With wonky knees, which I am waiting to have replaced, getting on and off a horse is not easy so returning to harness driving seems a great solution.