Promoting the benefits of using Hereford bulls in crossbreeding programs has been the key to creating increased demand for the breed in the United States.
That was the message from the American Hereford Association executive vice president Jack Ward speaking at last week's first Herefords Australia Breed Forum held at Hamilton in south-west Victoria.
About 150 people from throughout Australia and overseas attended the two-day forum to hear guest speakers present the latest from the research, trade, health and breeding sectors of the beef industry.
Speaking to forum delegates about the experiences and challenges faced by the American Hereford Association, Mr Ward said it had been important to overcome a historic bias by seedstock producers and breed societies to crossbreeding.
"Over the course of time, the benefits of heterosis has been ignored in the commercial cow herd because people have a belief that purebreds are better," he said.
"The American Hereford Association decided to take a different approach and not worry about changing every commercial cow back to a Hereford cow but focus our efforts on getting every black commercial cow in the US joined to a Hereford bull."
He said the American Hereford Association had made a deliberate decision to play an active role in large-scale research projects across the US to help document the value of Hereford genetics.
Mr Ward used the example of one study at Circle A Ranch, Missouri, which artificially inseminated 600 commercial Angus cows to 10 Hereford bulls with the goal of comparing the best of its Angus herd to the best of the Hereford/Angus cross.
A range of traits were measured including calving ease, weaning weight, yearling weight, feedlot gain, feed efficiency and fertility of the F1 females.
"It is the net additions at the end of day that create value, one of the key results was the advantage in disposition of the black baldies and a slight advantage in feed conversion efficiency," he said.
"Most importantly though, the Circle A Ranch holds two production sales a year and in the first year the black baldy females outsold the straight black cattle by $110 per head."
Further analysis of the data showed an advantage of $514 per cow over a period of 10 years which equated to a $51 difference per cow per year.
An economic model also predicted that if replacement females were retained over a period of 10 years, Hereford-sired females would generate a 20 per cent advantage in herd size for the same relative cost compared with commercial Angus cows because of increased fertility and longevity.
"The real bang for your buck over time is the effect of the crossbred cow on lowly heritable traits such as fertility, longevity, health and efficiency," he said.
He said other ranches involved in similar projects were now actively buying more Hereford bulls than alternate breed bulls and joining entire replacement heifer herds to Hereford sires.
"What we wanted to do was show the value of Herefords in a crossbreeding program and then let the producers run with it," he said.
"We are now seeing a significant increase in the sales and value of Hereford bull markets in these regions."
Mr Ward said one of the boldest moves made by the association was the implementation of mandatory whole-herd reporting.
It is an inventory-based system where producers pay $5 a cow and report on two easy to measure traits: calving ease (whether the cow calved or not) and weaning weight.
"Producers have to submit data for these two traits for their entire calf crop to be a compliant Total Performance Records breeder," he said.
"We give them two years to be compliant for a calf crop and if they are not compliant after two years we turn the expected progeny differences (EPDs) off on their animals.
"I think it was a game changer for us as a breed because it got everyone committed to performance recording."
He said only two breeds in the US, Hereford and Red Angus have mandatory whole-herd reporting and the Hereford cow inventory had now reached a high of 121,000 females.
A range of marketing initiatives have also been developed including the Hereford Advantage Program and the Maternal Advantage Program, both designed to boost Hereford-cross sales.
"If producers have feeder calves sired by Hereford bulls in the top 50pc of the breed's terminal sire index or a set of females sired by a Hereford bull in the top 50pc of our maternal breed indexes, we help those members market their cattle," he said.
The American Hereford Association has also joined forces with the Red Angus Association of America to deliver the Premium Red Baldy program.
"We will jointly market the progeny if Hereford bulls are used as the top side cross on Red Angus cows and if Red Angus bulls are joined to Hereford cows but both sires need to be in the top 50pc of the breed index," he said.
"We are working collaboratively with as many breed associations as we can to identify good cross-bred cattle that benefit the industry."
But he emphasised that change was not immediate, it had taken 15 years to grow membership in the American Hereford Association from less than 6000 to nearly 8000 members.
"The research we've done has proven Hereford genetics have a place in the commercial cow herd and our seedstock producers are very committed because of what they do in whole-herd reporting," he said.
"But you have to be producing the right genetics because if there is something that fails, it won't be the black cow's fault, it will be the Hereford bull."