The Hereford Cattle Society has become the first to work to prove its breed’s sustainable merits to the wider beef industry, retailers, food industry and the consumer.

The news comes during Great British Beef Week (23-30 April), is a project connected to the UK Cattle Sustainability Platform and the European Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.

Hereford cattle are renowned for their ability to grow and finish off grass. With the environment becoming increasingly important for every stage of the beef supply chain, the society is seeking to cement some of the benefits of the breed.

Working with beef and sheep specialist, Dr Liz Genever, members are recording the efficiency of their breeding females and therefore environmental impact to confirm the benefits of Hereford cattle when compared to industry averages. Just shy of 2000 cows are being assessed for fertility, calf survival and growth rates to weaning.

In addition, carbon audits are being carried out to gauge the carbon footprint across its membership and commercial systems utilising the breed. Soil organic matter levels are also being taken into account, and therefore carbon storage. This information will then be benchmarked against the industry to confirm the benefits Herefords bring to a system.

A review of genetic trends is being conducted with the aim of providing guidance for members who are performance recording on areas of focus to ensure the Hereford dam becomes even more suited to future beef production.

In conjunction with Dawn Meats, information is also being gathered from finishing suppliers who provide Hereford-sired cattle for various retailers.

Phil Allman, chairman of Hereford Cattle Society, said: “The society is undertaking a number of projects to help the society pull all the evidence of sustainable production together and help producers move to the next level.

“The society’s council is acutely aware of the shift in perception of eating beef and the environmental connotations which are now attached to red meat.

“In any sector, whether food or other, if a brand is not addressing its sustainability credentials in some way, it will be left behind as consumers’ priorities change. As a society, we are not willing for that to happen to Hereford Beef and are pleased to be able to work with Dr Liz Genever to put some hard-and-fast facts behind what we has known about the Hereford breed for decades.”

He continued: “Sustainability is all about the planet but also profit and people. If we can prove Herefords and Hereford crosses are a more profitable animal due to an increased margin, this will give many producers the confidence they need to further invest in the breed. When it comes to people, the docile temperament of Herefords is undisputed, providing a safer working environment for stockmen and abattoirs. With the largest section of the herd book being for the poll strain, this also brings an added benefit in terms of health and safety, along with animal welfare, with dehorning not required.

“The Hereford is both prolific and efficient at turning forage into a high-quality source of protein, therefore bringing human health benefits due to a higher level of omega-3 than cattle fed on concentrates. As a natural grazing animal, the Hereford can also play an important role in carbon sequestration by utilising a mainly grass-based diet, helping to build soil fertility, capture CO2 and encourage wildlife.

“Whether accurate or not, the continual pressure from the UK media to eat less meat cannot be ignored. We are working towards positioning Hereford Beef as a sustainable option. If people are eating less beef, we want to make sure it is Hereford,” said Mr Allman.