LOCAL Hereford enthusiasts are celebrating a significant landmark in the history of the breed in Northern Ireland.
It is 50 years since the formation of the Northern Ireland Hereford Breeders’ Association – set up to promote the breed and represent the interests of breeders in the Province.
The early work of the association – led by stalwarts such as Trevor Simpson, Wesley Henderson, Hall Fraser, David Moses, Eric McMordie, Robert Stewart and assisted by Secretary Eddie Patton, involved organising sales in Omagh under official auctioneer Arthur Robinson. These sales attracted around 50 or 60 bulls with similar numbers selling through the Balmoral sales – reflecting the popularity of the Hereford at a time before the continental breeds had become well established. A minimum sale price of 100 guineas was set for bulls offered through these sales.
Minutes of one of the early meetings record a proposal from a young Sam Coleman, then employed as cattle adviser with John Thompson and Sons. Thompsons offered to organise a tour for local breeders and this was to become a highlight of the Hereford calendar for many years.
Breeders enjoyed trips to Scotland, the South of Ireland and several regions of England – including the breed’s home county of Hereford. The opportunity to visit the leading herds throughout the UK and Ireland was much appreciated in an era when travel was less commonplace than it is today and the trips were always well supported.
Sam went on to succeed Eddie Patton as secretary, later serving as association President and representing Northern Ireland on the Hereford Society Council.
The 1970’s and 80’s were a period of major change within the Hereford breed as breeders looked to respond to the challenge of the larger, faster growing continental breeds. New bloodlines were sought from North America – larger framed cattle were in demand and polled Herefords started to gain in popularity across the region and beyond.
The popularity of the Hereford waned for a number of years as the breed went through a transition and sought to source new genetics which could deliver the performance and carcass quality demanded by the commercial beef industry. This was a difficult period but a number of dedicated breeders remained committed to the task – bringing out bigger, better shaped cattle which were increasingly competitive against the continental rivals.
By 2000 the tide was turning as eating quality was becoming increasingly important and consumer preferences were being reflected right along the supply chain. The modern Hereford was performing well at farm level and its early maturity and ease of finishing was increasingly valued by producers.
The introduction of breed specific beef brands was another game changer – bringing significant premiums for Hereford sired cattle and putting the breed back in contention as a major player in mainstream beef production.
The rest, as they say is history, as the breed has enjoyed 20 year of continuous growth in society membership, pedigree registrations and numbers of commercial cattle sired by Hereford bulls.
The necessity for food production to reduce its impact on the environment is focusing farmers on sustainable low impact systems and breeds which can perform on lower input costs. The Hereford is the breed in the lead in terms of feed efficiency and they perform well on grass based systems producing a quality carcass at a much younger age than the continental crosses.
This means lower emissions per kilogram of beef produced and the new generation of Hereford breeders are enjoying an increasing interest in the breed as a key element of “Low cost – Low Impact” beef production.
The recently elected committee of the Hereford breeders are confident of a bright future for the breed as they look forward to the next 50 years.
Their primary focus as they embark on their three year term of office will be on the development of the Hereford brand as a badge of quality and sustainability – based the performance of the modern Hereford in commercial herds and its ability to meet the rigorous requirements of the forthcoming Climate Change legislation.
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