Lesley and l were introduced to miniature Hereford cattle about four years ago by an article in The Times describing the growing popularity of these little beasts in North America. We only had a 40 acre farm so they seemed to be just the ticket, and an ideal addition to a farm focused on pedigree native breeds of sheep and pigs.
Our only problem was knowing how best to start our herd of minis. We looked into importing livestock but it seemed impossible without the stock first having to be transported via Canada where they would have to stay for six months or more. So we went down the embryo route and imported fertilised embryos from a contact we had been given in Canada. We decided there was something right about using standard size Herefords as the surrogate mums, and initially bought 10 pedigree maiden heifers for the implant programme. We prepped the heifers on a diet of high protein calf rearer and sugar beet, upping the rate over a month, until we had them all on a rising plane of nutrition. Meanwhile we used prids to get them cycling all at the same time, and when they were ready, the technician came to implant the 10 embryos. Six weeks later, a scan showed that five had taken. We didn’t have enough spare embryos to re-implant so we got the remaining five in-calf to a standard bull. Nine months later we had our first mini Herefords – two heifers and three bulls. There’s obviously more to implanting embryos than l have described here, and if there’s a desire to know more l can follow up separately to those that are interested.
Three years later, we now have five mini Hereford bulls and four mini heifers on the ground. The original two heifers are now in calf to Gulliver, our first bull, and due to calve in February, and we’re all set to implant a further eight heifers in the New Year. It’s a slow process of course – with an embryo success rate of only 50-60%, and a normal ratio of bulls to heifers, you only get about two heifers per 10 embryos. So we decided this year to send a couple of our best bulls to a stud in Kelso, Scotland, where they collected both sexed and unsexed semen. The plan now is to artificially inseminate the mini heifers and flush sexed embryos for implanting into the surrogate mums.
We bought out the entire stock of embryos from our Canadian supplier – which she had built up over 20 years – so we’re now very happy that we’ve now got a good variety and quantity of embryos, and this along with the semen means we have good protection for our small gene pool.
The are only two other breeders of miniature Herefords here in the UK to our knowledge, with only about 20 animals on the ground, including our herd. We recognise that it is something of an experiment to start a herd of minis in the UK, but hardly a week goes by without someone contacting us expressing an interest to buy. We’re trying hard to protect the pedigree gene pool and we will only sell our spare bulls to people who are prepared to wait for a mini heifer to breed with.
All of our minis are pure blood pedigree Herefords. The UK’s Hereford Society recognises stock from Canada, although they do insist on conducting DNA tests on the tail hairs before they let them into the Breed Book.
We’re very happy with our growing herd of minis – we look forward to having a closed herd of about 20-25 breeding heifers and maybe three or four bulls, and then selling the calves each year. We’ve had a couple of farm visits from serious beef producers but as we tell them, livestock will be in such short supply for several years that we suspect the few offspring we have will go to petting farms, and smallholders who had ruled out owning cattle because of lack of space. Our little cattle are showing all the commendable traits of the Hereford breed, notably docility and a good appetite for grass and hay. The only other real option to the mini Hereford in the UK are the Irish bred Dexter cattle, but as they are a dual-purpose breed, some argue they don’t do either very well. We’ve heard mixed reports about their behaviour too. Another breeder has directly imported some Lowlines from Canada, but the Aberdeen Angus Society doesn’t seem to want to recognise them as an Angus breed which may put some people off.
There is much more information we’d be happy to share across the Pond regarding grazing, diseases and the like. Please see our website www.chatervalley.com for contact details.