Thursday, July 28, 2011

All Herefords Great and Small

Following the past season's A & P Shows and an article in a magazine about my Miniature Herefords there has been a steady flow of interest from all walks of life.   Contacts have been made via e-mail, telephone or directly and several have then visited our farm to get a close-up view of the small cattle.   As we also have a conventional Polled Hereford Stud this adds to the enjoyment as there is an obvious comparison of sizes to view.

 With our big Herefords we have what we call a more "traditional" sized herd, the average size being slightly smaller than most which particularly suits our dairy farming clientele.   Among these animals are a few which in America would be classed as "Classics" with Frame Scores of 3 and a couple may well be only FS 2 when mature.   A comment often made about the minis is "They look just like the big Herefords."   Of course they do.   A Miniature Hereford should simply be a small replica of the larger animal but they're all full blood Herefords no matter what their size and, in the case of our herds, pedigreed, registered cattle.

Miniature Herefords are classified by a measurement across the backbone at the hips converted into Frame Score.   The breeding programme to produce miniature sized Herefords was started in the USA in the 1970s and the generally accepted size for these small cattle on reaching maturity at three years of age is 114.30 cm (45 inches) for cows and 121.92 cm (48 inches) for bulls.   That upper limit is known as a Frame Score of 1 but the miniatures can go well down the scale, some having been recorded as FS 0000 - 93.98 cm (37 inches) for cows and 101.60 cm (40 inches) for bulls.   Above the upper height for FS 1 they are classed as "Classics" in the States but on reaching 129.54 cm (51 inches) or more they become known as the Modern, Standard, Regular or Conventional Hereford with frame scores between 4 and 10, the last being extremely tall.   New Zealand does allow slightly larger sized cattle to be classed as miniature but, however great or small, they are all Herefords, not different breeds.   It is only their size which distinguishes the varieties of the one breed.

Both the move toward larger Herefords and smaller Herefords began around the same time.   Eventually it was apparent the really big animals were not coping as well with adverse conditions so overseas there has been a turnaround to downsize them a bit.   The Miniature Herefords have their own problem when becoming too small as there is no longer any meat value and some of them begin to look quite stunted, losing the conformation of the bigger animals.   For me, the ideal size of a Miniature Hereford is between a Frame Score of 00 and 1.   This is where there is the potential of being able to produce a compact, meaty animal, easily managed and less damaging to pasture and facilities.

A problem facing any variety of a breed which is in small numbers is that without a steady source of new bloodlines breeders are restricted to a limited gene pool.   Miniature Herefords face this in that they are a relatively new variety of the Hereford breed stemming from a small selection of foundation animals.   Originally bred by using the smallest regular sized Herefords available then progressively downsizing to what is now recognised as miniature size the herds now rely on introducing new bloodlines by occasionally going back to larger varieties - usually the Classic sizes - then continuing to downsize the progeny.   This is not crossbreeding - it is simply utilising different sizes to achieve the desired end result of miniature size.   All the animals used in such a programme are full blood Herefords and should be registerable as such.


Up to now Miniature Herefords in New Zealand have all been horned although for many breeders the polled variety is preferable.    Owing to the very slow processes involved in importing polled Miniature Herefords New Zealand breeders have to look at how their counterparts in the States and Australia developed their herds and follow suit.    At this stage it basically means using a horned miniature bull over polled standard Hereford heifers which have been selected for their small size and lack of any horns or scurs in their backgrounds.   Unless suitable polled mini bulls can be acquired this is a long term breeding programme over many years but the results are worth it.   All the progeny, regardless of how much miniature or regular genetics they have, are still Herefords with the trademark features.    

The category of "miniature" can be applied once progeny reach a particular size - this can be sooner or later depending on the type of Herefords (big and small) used.   Once that size has been reached then it is a matter of selecting bulls and cows with similar sizes in their ancestry and progressing from there.   Whether they have other varieties of Hereford in their pedigree is irrelevant, unless breeding for the polled factor, as they have all contributed to the eventual miniature size.    The photos in this story are a mixture of regular, Miniature and regular/miniature Herefords.   Great and small, they are the one Hereford breed.

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