By Glenda Price
During the latter part of the 19th century American cattlemen discovered England’s Hereford cattle, and began importing them. The idea was to improve the native descendants of the Longhorns that had evolved from the cattle brought in by the Spaniards.
It worked. These red-and-white cattle were easier to handle and produced succulent, tasty beef. By the 1920s Herefords were the dominant breed in this country. Then, breeders began selecting for “compact” cattle, thinking they produced more desirable beef. But in their search for smaller, compressed animals they went too far, and by the late 1940s and early 1950s dwarfism occurred in many Hereford herds.
My dad’s cow sense was ahead of his time. Even before the dwarfism problems surfaced he, investigating other breeds, found black Angus. When our first set of Angus cows and bulls arrived at the ranch, a neighbor cowboy told my grandmother the meat would be black. She hesitated and asked, “Are you sure about that?”
I still remember him taking off his black felt hat and declaring, “Black as this hat.” I think she believed that until she actually saw the beef for herself after the first butchering.
I was old enough to join 4-H by then (10) so Dad gave me a black heifer. I named her Sapphire. She and I were best buds. I broke her to lead easily, brushed her pretty hair daily, gave her special sweet feed. I think she spent more time with me than with her mother.
When it came county fair time I wanted to show her, so Dad got me a show stick and showed me how to use it. We got her looking her best and went to town.
The people handling entries looked at that black heifer, then at each other, then at us. You’d have thought we brought King Kong’s daughter to the show by the way they acted.
“We don’t have a class for – that,” the lady in charge said, looking at Sapphire as if she’d been imported from Mars. “Is it a female or male?”
“She’s a breeding heifer,” Dad said. He looked the lady right in her incredulous eyes and added, “A good one, too. Won’t throw a dwarf.”
Dad happened to know that lady’s family – and cattle – so that last comment hit home.
Even so, the lady pointed out, correctly, there was no class for “other breeds.” My heifer would have to show in the same class as the Hereford heifers.
So we unloaded Sapphire and led her into the assigned pen. While I filled her water bucket, got her feed and brushed her down my dad stood by and answered questions. I bet every cattle person in the county looked Sapphire over that day.
At the show the next morning Sapphire and I showed against three Herefords. Wanta guess where we placed? Right. Fourth. But we had made an impression.
Hereford breeders solved the dwarfism problem admirably, and their cattle are again valued by many knowledgeable cattlemen and cattlewomen.
Still, the past few years, grand champions at that county fair have been … Angus.
Glenda Price has been a contributing editor to New Mexico Stockman magazine since 1982. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.