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Originally from Herefordshire, England, United Kingdom, more than five million pedigree Hereford cattle now exist in over 50 countries. The Hereford cattle export trade began from United Kingdom in 1817, starting in Kentucky, United States, spreading across the United States and Canada through Mexico to the great beef-raising countries of South America. Today, Hereford cattle dominate the world scene from Australasia to the Russian steppes. They can be found in Israel, Japan and throughout continental Europe and Scandinavia.
They are found in the temperate parts of Canada, the United States and Russia, as well as the temperate parts of Australia, the centre and east of Argentina, in Uruguay, and New Zealand, where they make up the largest proportion of registered cattle. They originally found great popularity among ranchers of the American Southwest, testament to the hardiness of the breed; while originating in cool, moist Britain, they have proven to thrive in much harsher climates on nearly every continent.
The World Hereford Council is based in the United Kingdom; the Secretary General, Mrs. Jan Wills, is from New Zealand. There are currently 17 member countries with 20 Hereford societies and 10 nonmember countries, with a total of eight societies.
Until the 18th century, the cattle of the Herefordshire area were similar to other cattle of southern England, being wholly red with a white switch, similar to the modern North Devon and Sussex breeds. During the 18th and early 19th centuries, other cattle (mainly Shorthorns) were used to create a new type of draught and beef cattle which at first varied in color, different herds ranging from yellow to grey and light brown, and with varying amounts of white. However, by the end of the 18th century the white face characteristic of the modern breed was well established, and the modern color was estabilised during the 19th century.
The Hereford is still seen in the Herefordshire countryside today and featured prominently at agricultural shows. The first imports of Herefords to the United States were around 1816 by the politician Henry Clay, with larger importation of the breed beginning in the 1840s.
Iowa cattle rancher Warren Gammon capitalized on the idea of breeding Polled Herefords and started the Polled Hereford registry with 11 naturally polled cattle. Today in the United States, the American Polled Hereford and American Hereford breeds have been combined under the same American Hereford Association name.
The Polled Hereford breed is bred for its deep forequarters, depth and muscling, docile temperament, fast-growing calves, and good quality of beef. Hereford cattle are also known to be easy breeders and easy calvers.
Many strains of Hereford have used other cattle breeds to import desired characteristics, and this has led to changes in the breed as a whole. However, some strains have been kept separate, and these have retained characteristics of the earlier breed, such as hardiness and thriftiness. The Traditional Hereford is now treated as a minority breed of value for genetic conservation.
Eye cancer (ocular squamous cell carcinoma) occurs in Herefords in particular in countries with continued bright sunlight and those that prefer traits of low levels of red pigmentation around the eye. Studies have been made into eye cancer in Hereford cattle in the US and Canada, and lid and corneoscleral pigment were found to be heritable and likely to decrease the risk of cancer. Vaginal prolapse is considered a heritable problem in Hereford cattle, but it may also be influenced by nutrition.
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