16th European Hereford Conference
The 16th European Hereford Conference was held in France from 4th – 7th October.
The conference included a full four-day schedule including a visit to the Sommet d’Elevage – The world’s number one livestock show. There were four delegates from Ireland in attendance at the conference; Joe O’Connor (IHBS Chairman), Willie Branagan (IHBS Council Member), Louise Callan (IHBS Secretary) & Larry Feeney (World Hereford Secretary) and there were 39 persons in attendance altogether from all across the world including, UK, USA, New Zealand, Estonia, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Norway.
The conference began with a free morning at the Sommet d’Elevage followed by the official opening of the Conference in the afternoon at the Conference Centre at the show. The group were given a tour of the cattle by Pascal Bastien (French Association President) which finished at the Hereford stand with a welcome drink & a selection of local cheeses and meats before a presentation of the Hereford cattle on display in the show ring. The group in full then attended a welcome cocktail & dinner that evening in Vichy.
National Hereford Championship:
The big event for day two of the conference was the National Hereford Championship. There were three classes; Hereford bulls, Hereford heifers and Hereford cows with calves at foot. There was a Female Champion & a Male Champion crowned on the day. The Male Champion was UK bred; Romany 1 Popcorn, bred by Scotland’s Romany Herefords, sired by Barwise 1 Lancer, a previous UK sire of the year, produced by Carolyn Fletcher of Barwise Polled Herefords. Carolyn is currently the President of the UK Hereford Society. The judge on the day was Mr. PJ Budler, originally from South Africa but currently living in USA, PJ is an international cattle judge and is CEO of Global Livestock Solutions.
PJ commented on the Hereford breed stating it is “the breed that has changed the face of cattle breeding around the world which is a good thing for consumers”.
Each country relayed a report on the progress of Herefords at home during that afternoon. Although there are many differences between the countries the one issue facing every nation is climate change and the role agriculture needs to play in reducing carbon emissions. It is clear to see there is no one solution or “one size fits” all plan. Every country present delivered very interesting information about the workings within the world of farming and Herefords on their local patch including;
- Average bull prices in the UK this year was over 4000guineas & they are beginning to adopt a Linear scoring programme.
- In New Zealand, there are currently 21,000 Pedigree Registered Herefords & they are making progress on their Genomic test programme.
- In Germany in 2021, the association celebrated they’re 30-year anniversary. They are currently working on a genomic evaluation programme.
- USA currently have 76,672 Pedigree Hereford Registrations. They are also hosting the next World Hereford Conference in October 2025 & are working on an excellent conference line up and some added tours also. They also have several research projects running at the minute in relation to genetics & efficiency.
- In Norway, 90% of the Herefords are Polled. The Norwegians choose Herefords because they are calm & robust. They have shown to have the fewest stillbirths & highest survival rates until weaning of all breeds in Norway. The Herefords low body weight also make them ideal for thriving in local landscapes. The Norweigans have also developed a Breeding programme where stock is evaluated for conformation, morphology of udders, hooves, legs, breeding values, temperament, health & fertility before being accepted onto a five month performance test programme where they are fed silage & meal & their feed intake & body weight are recorded daily. The best performing bulls are then chosen for AI & their progeny are also tested for performance.
- In Sweden, Herefords are the second largest breed in the Swedish Beef Control Programme, after Charolais, with 3200 calves. All calves are weighed at birth, 200days & again at 365 days. Calving ease is also recorded. In 2021, heifers weighed at birth – 41kgs, at 200 days – 251kg and at 365 days – 386kgs. Bulls at birth weighed 43kgs, at 200days – 277kgs & at 365 days – 495kgs. All bulls must pass certain requirements before going for auction including high average daily weight gain, minimum Linear conformation & hoof health requirement.
- In Estonia, the most popular AI bull in 2021 & 2022 was Fisher 1 Rancher. They hope to import new genetics & increase the use of AI while increasing consumer awareness about the benefits of beef into the future.
PJ Budler then closed the afternoon session by making a presentation entitled “Global Hereford Challenges & Opportunities”.
International Gala Evening:
The delegates attended the International Gala evening, alongside 400 other international visitors, which illustrated a presentation of over 40 national breeds of sheep, cattle and horses. The evening concluded with a cocktail in the showring and a performance by a traditional French band and some traditional Mongolian music also.
Hereford Farm tour:
The last day for the Irish delegation began with a tour of the farm EARL Vizelles. The farmer & host; Olivier Avignon and his wife & son welcomed the group and gave a tour of their cattle enterprise. Olivier farms 220 Hectares with just one employee. His main herd consists of 80 Charolais suckler cows but in 2016 he branched out and purchased Hereford cross suckler cows.
The farm is based in a predominantly breeding area of France given the poorer quality of the soil. This is Olivier’s family farm which he inherited from his father. They also fatten pigs on site. In 2016, an opportunity arose for the farm to rent a further 80 Hectares which they went for. The farm was unsuitable for calving Charolais cattle so the farm invested in Hereford sucklers and have now grown to 40 Hereford suckler cows. Olivier is delighted with Herefords because of the good quality meat they produce and their good terminal traits. He started with crossbred Herefords including Herefords crossed with Limousin but the farm is slowly moving to fully purebred. They also imported Pedigree Herefords from Hungary.
All Herefords are finished for slaughter on the farm. All males are castrated between eight and 10 days old and fed as steers. Hereford heifers are currently earning the farm €6.00/kg dead with no heed given to weights or grades. In 2007, the farm employed a nutritionist to allow them to move towards producing 100% feed on the farm. As it turned out, the nutritionist now sells the Hereford beef from the farm to restaurants & hotels. Due to there being no traditional market for Herefords in France, because they’re not the traditional breed, Hereford breeders need to build their own niche market to ensure good value for their product.
There is a stock bull running with the cows and the farm doesn’t use any AI due to time management constraints. There is a mix of Spring and Autumn calving. Herefords are farmed outdoors all year round with hay supplemented in the Winter.
Growth rates between Hereford & Charolais vary with the Charolais cows weighing 450kgs deadweight and Hereford cows weighing 350kgs deadweight but the inputs and costs are much lower with the Herefords.
The farm finishes all Charolais females onsite but exports the Charolais steers to Italy for finishing at 420kgs. The farm also purchase cull cows from neighbouring farms to finish for slaughter. Olivier sells crossbred (HExCH) Heifers at 18 months for slaughter between 330 – 360kgs carcase weight to Biggar Meat Business. The price at slaughter is currently; €5.40/kg deadweight for steers, €5.20/kg deadweight for cows & €3.30/kg liveweight for Charolais Steers exported to Italy. The cattle grade either U or R but recently there is little difference in the price between grades.
There is 100% of the feed produced on the farm and grass haylage is fed when alfalfa hay runs out.
The dairy market is growing in France also and this is leaving little differences in prices between beef cattle & dairy beef cattle at slaughter. Holstein Friesian cows are currently making €4.80/kgs which used to be €1.80/kg compared to Charolais cattle selling for €5.20/kg and used to be €4.80/kg deadweight. This has taken value from the beef breeds.
Olivier Avignon & his family treated the tour to a fantastic spread for lunch before saying our goodbyes.
That afternoon involved talks from three speakers including Mr. Jean Denaux who was instrumental in the start-up of Irish Hereford Prime 25 years ago. The French butcher was born into and reared in a farming family and his father was also a butcher. The farm was very much traditional and ran Charolais cattle in small buildings & outhouses. They found Charolais cows were hard to calve indoors and disease became an issue with the buildings being so small. Jean’s father travelled in the 1970’s and while in America he was first introduced to Hereford cattle. At the same time as the French Hereford Association was set up, Jean’s father purchased a Hereford bull to run with Charolais heifers and was delighted with the progeny which turned out to be better balanced in terms of having the double muscling from Charolais and gaining a year on calving from Herefords. Jean commented that having the backing of the society meant a lot to the project. Jean didn’t inherit the family farm but knew he wanted to work closely to a farming business. He went to Rungis, a large International market in Paris for trading food & horticultural products and he learned he was able to sell beef. From there, he met with chefs in French hotels and after chatting about cuts of beef and such he had a wakeup call and began his career as a wholesaler of beef. Over time, Jean was able to build up clientele with farmers and caterers. Jean’s career began by importing Wagyu beef from Australia and maturing in France. From there then he began to mature Charolais beef but there was very little demand in the catering sector at that time. Jean investigated importing Angus beef from Scotland but BSE was an issue at the time. He knew Ireland and New Zealand were producers of Hereford beef and contacted the Irish Hereford Breed Society to discuss whether a trade deal be negotiated. After travelling to Ireland and inspecting carcases in a factory – trials were set up based on customer specifications and demands. Jean commented that if it’s not raining in Ireland – it is thinking about raining which makes it an ideal location for producing grass fed beef which is what the caterers were demanding. The Irish was able to step upto the demands and meet consumer requirements. From this trade deal grew Irish Hereford Prime which has gone from strength to strength since & today processes over 65,000 cattle each year with 5,000 members. For this reason, it was delightful to hear from Mr. Jean Denaux on how his career began and the path that led him to Hereford beef.
We also heard from Didier Deleau – specialist of grass production who gave a detailed overview of grass production and grazing management in France which is proving to be instrumental in the fight against climate change as research has shown more grassland on French farms is helping reduce the carbon footprint. Didier concluded that Herefords are a breed with a future that meets; breeders’ demands, consumer demands and society’s expectations.
To cap off the presentations Ms. Sylvie Brunel – geographer, economist & writer made a presentation on the issues and barriers facing farmers globally in terms of climate change but concluded that breeding animals are beneficial for the world population and vital for securing food for the growing population. The speaker also commented on how Herefords fit the Climate change solution perfectly given they are docile, fertile, rustic and have good maternal traits.
Final Farewell & Passing the Baton:
The final evening of the European Hereford Conference 2022 was a trip to Puy de Dome & although the cloud was down the view & sunset was spectacular! The attending countries presented gifts to the French Association in appreciation & in-turn the French Association gifted each delegate a beautiful book & liqueur.
Before the conference officially ended – Pascal Bastien (French Association President) handed over the European Conference Baton to Ireland who will host the next European Hereford Conference in 2026. This is a tradition that began in 1997 by the Estonians. Ireland will host the 17th European Hereford Conference in August 2026 following the last conference hosted in Ireland which was in 2005.
Many thanks are extended to the French Hereford Association for hosting the 16th European Hereford Conference & extending a warm welcome to all attendees and to Chloe, the in-house translator for being more than patient.