The Hereford as seen here today with its famous white face – as the name suggests – has evolved from the indigenous red cattle which roamed the Welsh border counties and the western extremities of England.
As provider of the 'roast beef of olde England', the Hereford has stood the test of time for over 250 years and since those early days Herefords have been exported to over 120 countries throughout the World, surviving all conditions from the harsh Winters of the Russian Steppes and Northern Canada to the oppressive heat of Australia, South America and South Africa.
The Hereford prides itself as the most adaptable breed of cattle in the world, always at its best when bred in a natural environment at pasture and this is why the breed produces quality beef which has the true flavour of the countryside. Research at the University of Bristol and Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER) has proven that beef produced off grass is higher in omega-3, has a longer shelf life and a more distinctive flavour than beef finished off a cereal based diet.
Research undertaken at the University of Ulster took a group of healthy people who normally ate meat and put half on a diet containing beef from pasture-fed animals and half on beef from grain-fed animals. After just four weeks there was a significant increase in blood levels of the essential fatty acid omega-3 in the group eating pasture-fed beef. Simultaneously, the levels in the group consuming grain-fed beef actually dropped below the baseline.
Having survived the intense competition from numerous continental breeds that have been brought into this country, it is the recognition of the Hereford’s ability to produce quality beef economically that is now bringing the breed back to the forefront of British beef production. Since the year 2000, the number of herds registered in the UK has increased threefold, and the number of calves notified likewise.
Leading supermarket chain, Waitrose, having recognised the value of consistent quality, are now in their thirteenth year of marketing branded Hereford Beef, which is now available in stores across the country and through the online food retailer Ocado.
In 2013 a new branded Hereford Beef scheme was launched by meat processor Dunbia in order to supply the Co-op with a premium product for its Irresistible range, across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Through this processor, Hereford steaks are also readily available in Lidl stores.
On the home front, the on-going changes to farm support favours an extensive and low input farming system and it is breeds such as the Hereford that reign supreme, being easily managed and always at its best and most profitable when farmed under such conditions.
Since the lifting of the export ban, a renewed demand for the breed has emerged with successful orders for semen having been exported to South Africa, Uganda, Australia, Canada, USA, Vietnam, Germany, the Republic of Ireland, Denmark, Hungary, Finland, Norway and Poland.
Live cattle exports have also taken place with consignments going to Germany, France, Poland, Czech Republic, Belgium, Netherlands, the Republic of Ireland and Spain and further orders on-going with specific interest being received from Romania, Bulgaria, Russia and Turkey.
Economy of production and the quality of meat produced are the key factors to a successful future for our national and international beef industry and these attributes, combined with the breed’s thriftiness, hardiness, ease of calving and docility, are readily available in the Hereford.
Fans of BBC Radio 4’s long-running everyday story of country folk, The Archers, will know that all of these attributes have been recognised by David and Ruth Archer, with a Hereford herd playing a major role in the storyline with the Archer family selling Ambridge Hereford Beef.
TV stardom has also come the way of the Hereford, playing a major role in a BBC documentary Mud, Sweat and Tractors. The programme outlined the reasons for the re-emergence of the Hereford breed and the important role it will play in the future of UK beef production.
Also, the renowned TV chefs, The Hairy Bikers, claimed on their travels they visited at least six different beef breed producers and, while they were all excellent, the beef from Hereford cattle did stand out as one of the best. They remarked 'the taste just amazing – so different from the usual supermarket beef'.
A top German Food Magazine, aptly named Beef, organised a competition to find ‘the best steak in the world’. In doing so they selected steaks from eight major beef producing countries and it was a Hereford steak that was eventually declared the winner.
Domestically, Hereford Beef has also had some success. In 2019, Hereford Beef picked up a string of accolades including the best steak in Which? magazines review and Co-op's 28 day matured Hereford sirloin steak was named best for Valentine's day by Good Housekeeping.
And in 2014 Dovecote Park Ltd won the Waitrose Product Innovation Award for their dry-aged Hereford Beef range.
In 2013 organic Hereford Beef won the prestigious National Trust Fine Farm Produce Award for great tasting beef produced to the highest environmental and welfare standards.
In 2011 Hereford Beef won the best beef steak in Northern Ireland and the best steak in Wales - The True Taste - Food and Drink Awards.
For more information on where to obtain Hereford Beef consumers can visit www.herefordbeef.org.uk.
Anyone wishing to find out more about this famous breed is always welcome to contact the Hereford Society’s offices, known as Hereford House, in the City of Hereford where it has been based for over 130 years.