By Gary Cutrer
& Chester Sanders
Published August 2010
What better, more picturesque ranch scene could there be than a wide pasture green from the summer rains, bordered by dusky liveoaks—a field dotted with red, white-faced Hereford cattle grazing serenely? When Texas cattlemen see a verdant pasture scene like that they see green all right, the green of profits that come from a productive beef animal that has been one of the mainstays of agriculture in the United States for more than 100 years.
Among the most popular cattle breeds in Texas, the Hereford is known for its adaptability and hardiness, its survivability, mothering instinct and ability, and handling ease due to good disposition, along with many other advantageous traits, chief among them the breed’s ability to convert forage and feedlot rations into quality beef.
In recent years with the growing popularity of another English breed, the Angus, and the heat and humidity tolerant Brahman, the Hereford bull has become an extremely valuable and sought after sire to produce F1 crosses on those breeds to produce cattle that sell at auction for consistently solid prices. You can like Angus, you can like Hereford, you can prefer a continental breed or an American original like the Beefmaster, but the bottom line is the bottom line. And Herefords have proven and continue to prove their ability to make money for the producer.
We contacted four reputation Hereford breeders in West Texas for their input on the state of the Hereford breed--Case Ranch Herefords in Eldorado, Texas; Dudley Bros. Herefords, Comanche, Texas; James L. Powell, Six Mile Ranch, Fort McKavett, Texas; and Rocking Chair Ranch, San Angelo and Fort McKavett, Texas.
Case Ranch Herefords
In 1941, when the breed was advertised as the “King of the Range,” the Case family entered into the registered Hereford business. P.F. Case and his son Fred operated the family’s Eldorado, Texas, ranch, establishing a fullblood herd. P.F. Case passed away in 1961, but since then Fred has continued the operation, now along with son and partner Pete. They’ve seen their registered Herefords go into 40 states, Canada and Mexico, and Case Herefords are recognized as a prime source of quality stock.
Their cow herd is strictly a closed herd since they have not purchased a female since the mid 1980s. “Since our cows are sired by only herd bulls we have purchased, there is quite a bit of uniformity in our calf crops,” Pete Case said. “Our desire was to develop the best Herefords we knew how to provide for our customers. Today their dependability as sound breeders, easy temperament and good marbling have kept us in the breed.”
Herefords are great in the pasture but fullblood calves don’t grow quite as rapidly as Angus types to slaughter size. They do gain weight on grass and can be brought to slaughter weight fairly easily in the feedlot.
“Straight Herefords are at a disadvantage when marketed commercially, that is quite certain,” Pete said. “This may change as feeding costs continue to rise in light of the idea that Herefords perform well on grass and require less time on feed to finish. Only time will tell if feeding cost continue to stay high. Until then the most profitable way to market Herefords for us is to offer the best genetics to our crossbred customers as seed stock. Our customers seem to have enjoyed the benefits of crossing Herefords with their cattle.”
Most of the Case Ranch top production is marketed in special consignment sales as breeding stock for commercial operators who raise mostly crossbred cattle.
The Hereford’s advantages over other popular breeds used in Texas include fertility, temperament, soundness and marbling, Pete added. And, though Herefords have diversity in body structure, varying in stature depending on the preference of the individual breeder, at Case Ranch, “We still belive that size matters,” Pete said. “We never intend to veer from that belief.”
“One timely concern is the question about how well we treat our livestock these days,” Pete said. “Herefords are easy to manage and therefore less likely to give the impression that they might be mistreated due to temperament.”
The bottom line is that Herefords produce meat that is very desirable to consumers, he added.
Dudley Bros. Herefords holds a fall production sale each October at the ranch headquarters, 2 miles southwest of Comanche, with an offering of 125 2-year-old bulls. They also sell females by private treaty in the late spring. Like the other breeders we interviewed, the Dudleys have a strong reputation for raising quality Hereford cattle.
Originally established in 1925 as a mercantile and ranching partnership by brothers, Gail, Tom and Eltos Dudley, Dudley Bros. is operated today by Gail’s sons, John, Jim and T.J. and by Eltos’ sons, Tom, Ray and Harry. The current partners’ great grandfather, James Hudson Dudley, Jr., originally purchased land in the area in 1885, and a portion of that original ranch is still part of the current Dudley Bros. operation. They run registered Herefords and commercial cattle in Runnels and Comanche counties and are known for their gray quarter horses.
John Dudley said one of the main strengths of Herefords is that the Hereford/Angus cross is such a quality commercial animal.
“The British black baldy is very well regarded in the feedlot. And on the killing floor,” John said. That fact helps drive bull sales at Dudley Bros. and elsewhere.
Dudley Bros. wants their bulls to be docile and manageable yet effective for the people who buy them.
“We try not to ever sell a bull in our sale that can’t be managed in most circumstances,” John said. One circumstance would be using bulls a large West Texas ranch where the bulls are moved by cowboys on horseback, he said. Another circumstance might be the ranching couple and their small place and a handful of cows. “So we try not to sell a ‘wild bull,’ a bull with attitude,” he added.
John points out that with the ranch’s 49th sale on the way, Dudley Bros. depends on repeat customers that have used their bulls with good success. “Many of our bulls go into relatively tough environments and we try to condition our bulls so that they can go out and get the job done and not fall apart,” John said. “We like for the buyer to be able to recognize his bulls after they have been in the pasture working for several months.”
Dudley Bros.’ herd bull battery includes individuals representing the best in horned Hereford genetics and the ranch adds several young prospects each year from top breeders across the United States.
James L. Powell
Powell Registered Herefords was begun by Virgil J. Powell about 1951. Today, James L. Powell and wife Nancy continue development of the herd at the family’s Six Mile Ranch near Fort McKavett, Texas. Each October, Powell conducts an auction on the ranch offering select sire prospects to both commercial and registered producers. The sale this year, the 13th annual, is scheduled for Oct. 12.
Pasture survivability is important in an area like West Texas where drought comes around at least once a decade. Hereford cattle have an advantage there in that they can maintain high fertility during periods of drought with only adequate feed, Powell said.
In addition to survivability Powell cites the modern Hereford’s meat to bone ratio and large frame as points in the breed’s favor.
“The Hereford as well as other breeds have in the past several years been bred for a somewhat larger frame and a larger ratio of meat to bone,” he said. “In the feedlot the rate of gain and ratio of choice quality to total cattle fed is much improved. Our cattle reflect those changes.”
The quality and tenderness of Hereford beef has been its strength for perhaps hundreds of years, Powell noted. “For centuries the English selected Hereford calves for the popular fatted calf dinners in England. If the calf was not tender or the taste gratifying to the guest the dam and maybe the sire was slaughtered,” he said. “The continental cattle when slaughtered were ground into sausage and seasoned. There is an inherent demand for the Hereford and why I think the demand will be continually good.”
In addition to the registered herd, Powell runs a commercial herd of Angus cows bred with Hereford bulls for black baldy calves. Their commercial calf is a black-baldy--1/2 hereford-1/2 Angus or 3/4 Hereford-1/4 Angus, a few Angus, and a few Hereford. They’ve always experienced excellent demand with the price in the “most acceptable range,” Powell added.
“Agriculture is a noble profession and will always be in demand to supply the requirements of any population,” Powell remarked. “It is from this source that strength, stablilty and forthriightness is provided for our nation.”
Powell invites Breeders who would like to emphasize the characteristics in Powell registered Herefords to visit and look at their herd.
Rocking Chair Ranch
Rocking Chair Ranch near Fort McKavett, Texas, has been producing and selling registered Herefords for many years under the direction of owner Lloyd C. Whithead and his staff, former Hereford manager and now consultant Mark McClintock, and new Hereford manager Randy Wood. Rocking Chair Ranch bulls have built a solid reputation among cattlemen, and customers come from all over the country. Some cattle raisers even purchase bulls over the phone because they know RCR quality and trust Whitehead and his staff to ship good bulls.
McClintock, who helped develop the ranch’s herd over his 27 years there, with Whitehead’s direction, said their approach consisted of an end game goal of producing animals with utility, grading, marbling, calving ease, growth and numbers. And their cattle had to be attractive, they had to have a certain consistent look. “If we’re going to spend 24/7 looking at these cattle, I want to go out and look at something that’s pleasing. But, that’s subjective, because everybody’s idea of the perfect animal is different.”
“The selection of Herefords in Texas is very good. All the ranches that are still in business are serious and good cattlemen,” McClintock said. “If you want to hang with these guys you’ve got to have a pretty good product.”
They worked to develop a cow that will breed every year, that will successfully raise a calf, and that will wean a 550-600 pound heifer or a 600-700 pound bull calf. “And we have as a general rule been able to do that on a pretty consistent basis,” McClintock said.
“We’ve worked on a lot of traits that Herefords are known for anyway,” he added. “One is, these are cattle that will survive. . . They can get out and take care of themselves.”
Rocking Chair no longer creep feeds calves, thus helping identify better milking cows. “One thing I think we’ve done fairly well is we’ve been real conscious on udder quality. I think I’d put that herd of cows up against most herds in the country as far as udders. If it’s not good, we have their heads cut off,” McClintock said. “We will not tolerate bad udders.”
One negative stereotype that Herefords carry is the perception by a lot of people that they have “bad eyes,” or “cancer eye.” The lightly pigmented Hereford has had a susceptibility to cancer around the eyes but that problem has been addressed and continues to decline.
“I think people trying to breed pigment on their cattle has helped; culling cows that have that problem has certainly helped,” McClintock said. “We don’t see the incidence of bad eyes like we did 15-20 years ago,” McClintock said he has no hesitation ruthlessly culling for defects and shipping the culls, or, as he puts it, “cutting their heads off.”
Whitehead has implemented a state of the art embryo transfer program to produce multiple offspring from favored cows. Most of the ET work is done of the Rocking Chair Ranch’s Lipan Springs division, south of San Angelo. Older, proven cows are used for flushing embryos and commercial cows carry them to term. “We flush cows that have some age on them, that have proven to us that if we’re going to put the expense and multiply progeny out of this cow, that we can’t afford to make mistakes. We will flush cows that are 8, 9 , 10 yrs old. For one, she’s stayed on the ranch that long, so that means something; she’s got daughters in the herd,” McClintock said.
Whitehead, McClintock and Wood choose cattle they think will produce good bulls that will sell. “That’s our main business. These bulls have to be structurally correct, they have to have some meat in them, they have to have some capacity and we like them to have a look,” McClintock said.
A big percentage of the bulls sold at RCR go to producers who cross them on Brahman type cows to get a tiger stripe. Like the Hereford/Angus cross the Brahman cross gives all the benefits of heterosis, or hybrid vigor. “You get more pounds, you get more fertility, I think, you get longevity from the Brahaman, and you get an animal that can handle the heat and humidity and still perform really well . And those cattle will top any market in the Southeast that you can run them through,” McClintock said.