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Hereford Dies at Smithsonian’s National Zoo

  • Hereford Rose stands outside the Kids' Farm barn on a snowy January day. Rose's face is turned toward the camera but to the side so her left eye is not showing.

Kids’ Farm keepers at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute are mourning the loss of Rose—a 19-year-old female Hereford who was humanely euthanized July 25. Keepers had been monitoring Rose closely for several weeks after noticing a persistent cough and a reduction in her activity, mobility and appetite. A veterinary exam revealed that she had fluid in her chest and lesions on her lungs. Zoo veterinarians treated Rose’s discomfort with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications. Unfortunately, her condition did not improve, and animal care staff made the decision to humanely euthanize Rose. The median life expectancy for female Hereford cows is about 18 years. A final pathology report will provide more information in the coming weeks.   

Keepers fondly remember Rose for her sweet and independent personality. Although she was the eldest of the herd, she seemed to enjoy frolicking in the grass with the younger heifers—a 3-year-old Hereford named Willow and a 4-year-old Holstein named Magnolia. Rose was affectionate toward keepers when they brushed her. Often, she would lift her head up so they could scratch under her chin and dewlap. Rose and Magnolia could often be found resting together in the barnyard and grooming one another.

Cattle are referred to as cows colloquially, although the term “cow” specifically describes an adult female who has birthed a calf. Along with Angus and Polled cattle, Hereford cattle are among the most common breed of beef cattle. North America is home to more than 60 breeds of beef cattle, which have been bred and selected primarily for the production of meat. Compared to dairy cattle, beef cattle have shorter legs and stockier bodies. Fully grown, Hereford cattle weigh up to 1,500 pounds.

The Kids’ Farm is home to various farm animals, including cattle, donkeys, goats, alpacas, chickens, koi fish and catfish. Designed for children ages 3 to 8, the exhibit provides many urban and suburban children an interactive learning experience with animals. Zoo visitors can see heifers Willow and Magnolia at the Kids’ Farm. Keeper chats and animal demonstrations take place at the Kids’ Farm every day at 10:30 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., weather permitting.

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Photo credit: Nikki Maticic, Smithsonian’s National Zoo