What’s the big deal about registrations; they’re just cows, aren’t they?
Yes, ultimately they are just cows. But some are COWS and some are just cows.
If you simply want a pet, and never intend to breed it: get yourself a cute steer. They should be less expensive than breeding stock and you can have years of fun with them. However, if you want to try the whole calf thing, you will need to put a little more thought into your initial purchase.
First, find yourself a reputable breeder. How will you know if he is reputable? Talk with him. Listen to him. Ask other breeders the same questions and see if you get the same answers. Use some common sense. If you’re going to breed cattle for the first time, you’re going to want to work with someone who can help you through the first few hurdles. Remember the adage: “Empty barrels make the most noise.” So just because a breeder talks a lot doesn’t necessarily mean they know a lot.
Second, go look at some cattle. Look at as many pictures as you can. See the cattle in person if possible. Do they look healthy? Study conformation and structure, and don’t hesitate to ask questions. If the breeder doesn’t answer your questions, or doesn’t know the answers to your questions, you probably don’t want to buy from him.
Third, it is extremely important to ask about breeding and registrations. This is the point I will harp on, so be prepared.
The word “breed” is defined as “A group of organisms having common ancestors and sharing certain traits that are not shared with other members of the same species. Breeds are usually produced by mating selected parents” (The American Heritage Science Dictionary); and, “A group of animals or plants presumably related by descent from common ancestors and visibly similar in most characteristics” (Merriam-Webster’s Medical Dictionary). This is to say, a breed must be unique compared to the rest of its species, but similar within itself. It is also commonly accepted that a breed must “breed true.” In other words, the offspring must demonstrate the same traits as the parents. This is, unfortunately, a somewhat subjective definition and allows for much argument. What is breeding “true”? What traits are to be considered? If you breed a cow to a cow and get a cow, isn’t that true? Some would probably say yes. Others would require predictable hair color. To me, breeding true includes conformation, structure, productivity, longevity and hardiness long before I’d list hair color. Herefords originate from a cow called Silver (you don’t think she was red with a white face, do you?) and a cow named Mottle (spots, maybe?). Requiring the Red/Whiteface coloring is a concept that became popular around 1800*, roughly 100 years after Hereford cattle came to be.
The definition of “purebred” includes a heritage aspect: “Of or belonging to a recognized strain established by breeding individuals of unmixed linage over many generations” (American Heritage Dictionary); and, “Bred from members of a recognized breed, strain, or kind without outbreeding over many generations” (Merriam-Webster’s Medical Dictionary). So, to be purebred, an animal must have “many generations” of pedigree, presumably all of which bred true. The many generations of pedigrees are recorded in a studbook, usually by an association. But how many is many? Who decides when a breed becomes purebred? In horses, the Arabian is considered to be the only true pure breed. Thoroughbred horses originate from nearly the same timeframe as Hereford cattle, but they are not generally considered purebred.
Registered purebred cattle will always be more valuable than commercial stock, and their offspring will return more on your investment. This is because they will predictably produce offspring of their own quality, and show similar traits. But just because an animal is registered doesn’t mean that it qualifies as purebred. Attempting to tap into the financial gain of the registered purebred industry, many “breeds” have been developed, associations created and registration numbers issued. This is especially prominent in miniature cattle. The result? “Registered” cattle that have none of the heritage required to be purebred; and probably not even the qualities required to be considered a true breed.
So, when you go searching for the perfect miniatures to start your own operation, give some serious thought to:
-Who they’re bred by
-How they were bred (pedigrees)
-What association they’re registered with, especially the history and credibility within that association
Of course, you’ll also want to consider the obvious aspects like conformation, size and temperament.
And for Pete’s Sake, if you just want a steer….realize it’s only a steer! Don’t pay a million bucks for it. A steer is the end of the line, folks; the only real value besides sentiment is what he’ll taste like. I received an email from some folks hoping I’d be interested in a scrappy-looking Panda/Kentshire steer they’d paid $2600 for. Panda cattle being some secretive Belted Galloway/Miniature Hereford cross and Kentshire being a Miniature Hereford/Irish Dexter cross, the thing is a bona fide registered mutt. Poor folks. That is all to say: DO YOUR HOMEWORK before you invest!
* Tom Underwood of VA shared some scans of an 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.”