Probably Hereford’s most famous export is its Hereford beef cattle. Herefords are docile but extremely hardy creatures and these attributes have led to their proliferation across the world, particularly the USA, South America and Australia. The breed is so gentle that a Hereford bull has been used as the mascot for Hereford United Football Club for many years, led around the club’s Edgar Street ground before major matches.
It is generally agreed that the Hereford was descended from the small red cattle of Roman Britain and from a large Welsh breed once numerous along the border of England and Wales. Benjamin Tomkins is credited with founding the modern breed in 1742 with a bull calf from the cow Silver and two cows, Pidgeon and Mottle, inherited from his father’s estate. He had as his goals a high yield of beef, hardiness, early maturity and efficiency of feeding – traits that are still of primary importance today.
Herefords in the 1700’s and early 1800’s were much larger than today. Many mature Herefords of those days weighed 3000 pounds or more, with Cotmore, a winning show bull weighing 3900 pounds in 1839. Today cows weigh about 1200 pounds and bulls about 1800 pounds.
All Herefords are red and white, with the red varying from a deep cherry red to a light buckskin-orange colour. Cattle of this breed will have white running from their faces to behind their ears and down their chest, between their front legs, all along the lower belly, covering the flanks, and end at the point between their legs. Most will have this white stripe running from the back of their heads to behind the shoulders.
Herefords are not as muscular nor as massive as continental breeds. They are quite blocky in appearance, but are more smooth down their rump, loin, thighs and shoulders. Bulls are more muscular than cows in this respect, often having more muscle mass in the shoulders, neck and hindquarters. Cows and bulls may have a broad forehead and bulls almost always have curly hair around their foreheads, more so than with cows. These cattle are known for their vigour and longevity. Many females live and produce calves beyond the age of fifteen years. Bulls are still capable of remaining profitable at stud to the age of twelve or more.
Our most local herd of Herefords is at Llandinabo, two-and-a-half miles away. The Llandinabo Hereford Herd was founded in 1947 by the late Major Michael Symonds and is now owned by his cousin Peter Symonds who took over the farm in 1996. The herd is comprised entirely of animals whose ancestors were registered in the British Studbook from which all Herefords throughout the world descend. They are kept on 60 hectares of mainly permanent grassland, and their meat is sold at Llandinabo Farm Shop in Ledbury.