Face the Facts. Color you can count on. Both these slogans are being used by Hereford associations. Namely, the American Hereford Association, and the American Black Hereford Association. Didn’t know there was such a thing as a Black Hereford? Now you do. The idea is Hereford heterosis without Hereford “discounts” (meaning a red baldie). It seems to be catching on rather well, really. The point of both these advertising lines is to focus on color. White, Red, Black, you name it. What’s the big idea about hair color anyway? I don’t know of anyone who eats hair. Unless I’m eating my own beef, which is quite a privilege in this day and age, I don’t know what color the hair was when my steak was walking around. I’m sure I don’t think about it during dinner.
Today, the White Face automatically says “Hereford.” If you were to tell a Hereford breeder that some animal you owned was purebred Hereford, and it did not sport a snowy white face, you’d be considered a city slicker who didn’t know anything. You certainly would not be allowed to register the animal. But that wasn’t always the case. Herefords descend from a Cow called Silver (you don’t think she was red, do you?) and two cows known as Pigeon and Mottle (spots, maybe?). Here is an excerpt from the Hereford in America by Donald Ornduff, quoting an “eminent agricultural historian” by the name of W. H. Bustin: “Regret was at one time expressed that the Tomkinses did not exclusively adopt the red with white face colorings for their cattle, but considering that the cattle with which the elder Tomkins began were a grey, a dark red with white spots on its face and a red with a white face, he and his son had to subordinate color marks to the more essential qualities when developing a fresh type of animal from various sources. When selecting and blending the best materials from a limited number of animals, it would have been impossible, even if desired at that time, to make the places of the color spots on the body and all-important consideration. If they had bred exclusively from red with white face, mottle face or grey, they must have sacrificed some of their best animals and thus defeated their object. They knew the business too well to do that, and by continually crossing their differently marked cattle to develop and fix certain characteristics they kept these color marks on the body, liquid or movable.” This tells me that the Hereford was not originally known as the White Face, rather, the white face markings became an easily identifiable symbol of the desirable (and I believe superior) traits the Hereford cattle possessed. The Tomkinses valued conformation over color, and so impacted the beef cattle industry for over 200 years. Another excerpt of interest is from the 1843 book entitled “Cattle: their Breeds, Management and Diseases” which contained some fascinating information about early Hereford history. It describes Herefords as “. . . usually of a darker red; some of them are brown, and yellow, and a few are brindled; but they are principally distinguished by their white faces, throats and bellies. In a few the white extends to the shoulders. The old Herefords were brown or red-brown, with not a spot of white about them. It is only within the last fifty or sixty years that it has been the fashion to breed for white faces.”
Why, may I ask, is the White Face of the Hereford desirable today, but the remaining red hide is not? Obviously, the White Face is taken to indicate the presence of “good” Hereford traits, but any animal with a red hide must have an extra dose of Hereford in it, and therefore inherited the “good” traits and the “bad.” Does this make any sense at all? There are so many people who cannot see conformation, who simply look at the color of an animal and decide whether it is good or not. They have been told that a black animal with a white face is the best, and they believe it without question. This is a common fallacy, and has been for centuries. Let me present another quote from The Hereford in America: “It is unfortunate that at the time the Tomkinses were systematically transforming the Herefords from the rough, bony draught and dairy cattle into a superior beef-producing breed, that no written records were kept. In the absence of these, the old writers took color markings as indicating what they chose to call breed. They spoke of the white-face breed, the mottle breed, the grey breed; and they took it for granted that breed and color necessarily went together and could not be separated. The universal acceptance of this great error led to endless disputes.” And so the disputes continue today. Color does NOT equal quality.
Back in the early days of the Hereford expansion into Texas, there was a horrible tick-borne disease known as Texas Fever. Cattlemen from Texas would travel north, select 20 herd sire prospects in the hopes they would make it to their Texas spread with 5 still alive. I’m not kidding, they lost huge numbers of cattle and yet they kept persevering. Why? Because they wanted white hair on their calves faces? So the calves would be easier to find in the Texas brush? I don’t think so! What they wanted was the superior beef-ability on poor quality West Texas feed. The Hereford had that trait, while the Angus and Shorthorns of the time did not. Was it related to their hair color? Nope.
The white face is simply an easily identifiable marker. It is a stamp that says “Hereford” and, ordinarily, indicates the presence of Hereford traits that are more desirable and far more important than hair pigment. These traits include a higher aptitude for survival in rugged environments as well as a greater ability to produce beef. The Texans of 100 years ago needed more beef on their animals, and that is why they brought the Hereford bull to their vast ranches. It was not simply for the white face. They wanted what that white face represented.
Let me present my theory another way: the White Face is similar to our dollar bill. We all want a dollar bill, because it’s worth a dollar. At one time, that dollar meant there was a dollar’s worth of gold sitting in your bank. Something of real value, not just a slip of paper. That is no longer the case, and now, my dollar is only worth what everyone agrees it’s worth. So it is with Hereford cattle. The White Face they’re stamped with used to be backed by a load of beef, awesome hardiness, longevity and superior survival skills. The modern Hereford today is no more than a red and white haired animal, with traits and abilities of no superiority to any other beef breed out there today. Folks call themselves cattlemen, when really they’re just hair stylists. They look for hair color, and automatically assume that the stuff inside is all there, or perhaps they decide true conformation is not worth bothering their heads about. Either way, they apparently can’t see bone structure and beef producing ability.
My point? Look inside the cow, not just at her hair! When it all comes down to it, black hair will protect a cow from the elements just as well as red or brown hair will. It’s the insides that count. I breed the Whiteface, but I breed the Whiteface “type” of 50 years ago; because to me, the Classic Hereford still maintains some remnant of the Tomkinses’ genius.