Exactly what is a miniature Hereford

Reproduced with permission from Janet Poole (riverlets@gmail.com)

There is a lot of misunderstanding being perpetrated regarding the classification of Miniature Herefords,  making them out to be a separate breed, which they are not.   It is also causing unnecessary confusion among new owners and potential breeders.   Quite simply the animal is a Hereford first by breed and a miniature second by size.   A look at some of the terminology which has been used incorrectly will show this.

Firstly, there is no such thing as a “purebred” Miniature Hereford.   The description should be “full blood Hereford” without any reference to the miniature size.   A full blood animal is one which has no other breed in its background going back many generations.   In the case of Herefords this goes back several hundred years.    A Hereford bred to another Hereford, regardless of size is still a full blood Hereford.   The only differentiations which can be made with Herefords are whether they are horned or polled or of different sizes e.g. standard, classic or miniature but those are just varieties of the same breed.

“Purebred” is the result of successive back breeding from original crossbreeding or interbreeding and this applies to using two or more entirely separate breeds.   In this way we now have recognised breeds such as Belgian Blue which was developed from native Belgian cattle crossed with Shorthorn and Charolais.    The Australian Belmont Red is another example of crossing or interbreeding, in this case Africander bulls over Hereford and Shorthorn cows.   Purebred usually means a minimum 31/32 cattle which have been produced through a “grading up” process from the original breeds used.

“Crossbreeding” or “interbreeding” is exactly that – the mixing of different breeds.   You cannot crossbreed or interbreed within the same breed therefore the practice of referring to a Miniature Hereford with Classic or Standard Hereford in its pedigree as a crossbreed is totally untrue.   All Miniature Herefords have this mixture of sizes (not breeds) in their pedigrees.      A Brahman crossed with a Hereford produces a crossbreed known as a Braford – two separate breeds.   Likewise a Brahman crossed with an Angus produces a Brangus.    The popular Murray Grey is a result of crossing an Angus with a Shorthorn and refining the breed over many generations.   Another interesting combination of breeds leads to the Mandalong Special which has Brahman, Shorthorn, Charolais, British White and Chianina in its background.

“Grading up” again applies to using more than one breed to combine particular genetics   It starts with using a bull from one breed across a cow of another breed.   The first offspring is half-bred and heifers from this are then bred back to the original bull breed.   The next offspring will be three-quarter bred and the procedure is repeated using part-bred heifers back to the original bull breed until offspring which are of 31/32 breeding are then classified as “purebred”.   They are not full blood of either breed used.   The “grading up” being used within the Hereford breed to produce a so-called fifth generation miniature is not justifiable as it is simply using two animals of different varieties of the same breed and the final outcome may not necessarily fall within miniature status as the frame score size could well be over the limit.   The original process of acquiring miniatures was to breed the smallest Herefords possible to other small Herefords and continue from there to reduce the size, not to  establish so many generations of breeding.   Frame score can be heritable and changed mainly through using selected sires therefore it is more important to know the framescore background of the animals being bred than their pedigrees.

Inbreeding” along with “linebreeding” is now prevalent among Miniature Hereford herds in both Australia and New Zealand owing to the lack of new bloodlines.   Although one advantage is the early exposure of a defect – providing measures are taken to eradicate that –  the main outcome is a loss of fertility along with detrimental effects on production efficiency.   Inbreeding is computed as a percentage of chances for two alleles to be identical by descent.   This percentage is called “inbreeding co-efficient”.   Alleles are alternative forms of genes and part of the DNA coding which determines distinct traits which are passed on from parents to offspring.   Progeny can have a 1 in 2 risk of inheriting identical alleles from both parents which greatly increases any negative effects.   Linebreeding is a milder form of inbreeding through breeding of cousins.   Anyone claiming to have “five generations” of “miniature” in an animal should properly examine its breeding – it is most likely the product of straight inbreeding or very close linebreeding, neither of which is desirable.    For this reason conscientious breeders in other parts of the world occasionally introduce new bloodlines using mainly the smaller Classic Herefords which are of FS 2 or FS 3.   This is known as “outbreeding” but it is still within the same breed.   .    In Australia and New Zealand there are Classic sized animals among the standard Hereford herds but not actually classified as such.   A miniature bull (FS 1 or less) over a  Classic cow should produce progeny not much bigger than itself.

Much has been made of a “foundation herd” and a claim that all Miniature Herefords in Australia and any animals coming to New Zealand from Australia must be linked to this.   The foundation herd is nothing more than a collection of original imports from the USA most of which had a Classic Hereford in its immediate parentage. There is at least one animal classed as “miniature” which had Classics for both parents.   How did the classification as “miniature” arise then?   It could only have been on frame score as most of the Classics were FS 2 or 3.   Was FS 2 considered “miniature”?    It certainly wasn’t in the States.

To restrict the classification as “miniature” to only particular animals whose pedigree traces back to chosen “ancestors” is not only irrelevant, but it drastically narrows the gene pool and constitutes restrictive trading practice for other breeders who have animals which qualify by size – the only criteria needed.   These latter animals are likely to have superior genetics through a widened gene pool and as such strengthen the overall breeding of Miniature Herefords.

Finally, to state that animals must be classified as “miniature” by only one particular group is an insult to the majority of breeders.   The integrity of the breeder in noting the size of an animal goes hand in hand with the integrity of the breeder in stating the correct parentage.   If the intending purchaser has any concerns, a request can be made for a DNA profile, the registration checked and the measurement process observed or done independently to confirm what has been stated.   As it stands now, no group is the authoritative body for classification of Miniature Herefords.