by Sally Colby
There are a lot of reasons to develop a preference for one particular breed of livestock over another. The Roberts family says that one reason they chose Herefords is simply because they like them.
The Roberts’ Bofat Hill Farm in Chesterfield, MA, is home to about 25 head of Hereford cattle. Although the family started with commercial Herefords, they’ve recently started to upgrade their herd with the purchase of registered stock.
“We both had Herefords as kids,” said Amy Roberts as she prepared one of the family’s animals for the show ring at the Keystone International Livestock Expo (KILE). “We like their attitude and behavior.”
The Roberts have been attending the Big E for about six years because it’s close to them, and visited KILE last year to observe the Hereford show. This year, they brought four animals to exhibit at KILE. The Roberts’ son Harrison, who is six, was at the show helping to prepare cattle, and 12-year old son Oliver arrived in time to show.
Their farm includes 40 acres of pasture and they rent additional acreage for hay. Rick and Amy agree that it’s tough to run a cattle operation in New England without having to clear land.
“Most of our stock goes for beef,” said Amy. “We sell beef from our farm and also to a local farm stand in Southampton, MA. We’re also starting to market some of our animals for breeding.”
To ensure a year-round supply of beef, the cow herd is bred to calve throughout the year. “I want to make sure I always have a steer ready to go,” said Amy. “We use A.I. but it’s tricky for us since we both work off the farm and we might miss a heat.” In some cases, animals are synchronized to maintain appropriate calving intervals.
Amy says that although it’s hard to choose potential show calves when they’re newborns, she has found they can usually select show calves when they’re about four to five months of age. “We don’t have a lot of animals to choose from,” she said, “so we try to breed so that we have some decent animals for showing.”
After spending time on pasture, calves are weaned and finished on a concentrate ration that includes corn, 16 percent protein pellets and hay. When asked if their animals are grass-fed, Rick and Amy explain that the cattle spend part of their lives on pasture, and that they can produce a better-built, younger animal with higher quality meat by supplementing them with grain. “They mature a little earlier, and they finish earlier,” said Amy.
Like other small-scale producers in the northeast, the Roberts have found that processing can be a challenge. The slaughter facility they use is about two hours away, and the carcasses are cut and wrapped at a different facility. Although there are closer facilities, the Roberts are happy with the arrangement.
“They’re USDA-inspected, they package the meat the way we want it, and our label and pricing is on it,” said Amy as she described their processing procedure. “The store that sells our meat wants a uniform product — they want to be able to put consistent size packages out for customers.”
Rick added there’s a strong local demand for beef, and the outlet where they sell beef features a variety of other local products including fresh fruit and homemade preserves.
Because the Roberts are working toward improving their herd for both the show ring and meat, one breeding criteria is using sires that have won at large shows such as the National Western Stock Show in Denver. They also look at calving ease; especially for first-calf heifers.
“We talk with other Hereford breeders, look at their stock and calves, and try to see what other breeders are using,” said Amy. “For a while, there weren’t a lot of choices, but now it’s easier.”
Rick works off the farm in his own excavating business, and Amy works for the Department of Veterinary and Animal Science at the University of Massachusetts. The family is planning to return to Harrisburg this coming summer for the Junior National Hereford Expo held in July. The Roberts’ children, including daughter Julie, who is currently in college as a biology major, will have an opportunity to exhibit at that show.