Herefords holding ground

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Growing commercial demand for Hereford cattle has seedstock producers scrambling to produce enough bulls and females to meet it, says Craig Huffhines, executive VP of the American Hereford Association. Huffhines, along with other AHA staff and officers conducted a media tour last week, providing trade reporters an update on the Hereford breed and its place in U.S. beef herds.

The tour visited Olsen Ranches in western Nebraska, a large commercial operation that has cooperated with AHA as a sire-test herd for 18 years, breeding emerging Hereford AI sires to commercial females and tracking their progeny’s performance from the ranch through the packing plant.

During the 1990s, Huffhines says, the breed was losing market share and facing image challenges. The AHA board resolved to aggressively pursue breed improvement, and initiated the National Reference Sire Project in 1999. Today, the breed is resurgent. Huffhines says Hereford registrations have remained stable in recent years in spite of the overall decline in U.S. cattle numbers, which has reduced registrations in most breed associations. Hereford seedstock prices are up at least $500 from a year ago, with bulls averaging about $4,000 and cows about $3,000 per head.

Huffhines attributes some of the breed’s recent success with the association’s focus on breed improvement, with ongoing research programs in heterosis, carcass characteristics and genomics, along with an aggressive marketing program targeting ranchers, feeders, packers and retailers.

Growing recognition of the value of crossbreeding and heterosis also has benefitted the breed, as producers use Hereford bulls with their Angus-based cow herds to produce high-value baldy feeder calves and replacement heifers.

The success of Certified Hereford Beef also has contributed to the breed’s recent success. Huffhines says CHB is known for exceptional tenderness and consistent palatability regardless of grade. The brand markets two lines, one a Choice product and the other – CHB Classic – including Select and Choice cuts. CHB has certified 2.4 million cattle since 2000. This year the brand has experienced 6.4 percent growth and will market 40.5 million pounds of beef. Much of the recent gain has occurred in food service, where the brand has experienced 47 percent growth over the past year. Huffhines says 37 food-service distributers in 25 states carry CHB products, along with 233 supermarkets in 35 states.

Currently, AHA is cooperating with University researchers and the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center to identify and validate DNA markers specific to the Hereford breed for traits including growth, feed efficiency, fertility, calving ease and carcass quality.

For more information, visit the American Hereford Association website

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