Foundation And Management Of A Breeding Business
( Originally Published 1912 )
The preceding pages have not dealt with the origination and perpetuation of new types or characters ; that phase of heredity is reserved for a later place. Discussion has been confined to those aspects of heredity most likely to suggest why things are as they are, and how existing types and characters of excellence may be rendered most nearly certain of reproduction. In a sense it may be truly said that breeding is entirely based upon the single principle of selection; that is, if selections are right the desired results must follow. Competent selection, however, has been shown to be dependent upon diverse considerations and may be said to necessitate the application of the further principles of judging, feeding and other requisites of development, and each of those in turn amounts to an independent study.
It is obvious that stock-raising cannot become an exact science. It consists of the handling of the hereditary material that does not lend itself to direct examination or to manipulation. The breeder's calling must be regarded as an art. Extensive studied experience may in part be substituted by study of allied sciences, yet the chief factor is the natural personal equipment of the artist or breeder. The use of tests and records at first blush may appear to give the work a mathematical aspect, yet as was shown, the only positive feature it introduces is the measure of individual functional capacity and leaves much else to be considered in mating.
An understanding of the relation of selection to breeding and of environment to selection does not suggest any procedures different from those of the best breeders. It does afford an appreciation of the necessity of unflagging attention to each detail in each animal's life. Although this is an asset that can only be fully acquired by actual experience a large measure of it may come as a result of a study that gives familiarity with the facts and a working appreciation of the practices of those who have succeeded. The personal qualification of first importance is an intelligent liking for the work. It is easy to allow the glare of the showring to convince one that he would enjoy the stockman's life, but a better test of inherent fondness is a close contact with the details of daily care, not so much of charges destined for showing as with the breeding stock and the young animals in the making. Such associations will not originate fondness for the work in persons talented altogether in other lines, but where there is natural inherent liking for animals the proper environment will develop useful and reliable leanings and opinions. With this fundamental equipment assured the would-be breeder is likely to apply himself in such a way as to reach a fair degree of efficiency in the special branches of his calling.
The first special branch is that of judging animals and judging pedigrees. Stock judging is so widely taught that practically anyone can receive the aid of the teaching of persons experienced, not only in judging but in the teaching of judging. Practice alone, however, can give real efficiency in judging. It is essential to recognize that the basis of judgment is the faculty of making a ready and fair decision upon each animal as an individual. One who has not rightfully acquired sufficient confidence in his own judgment to be ready to retain his opinions in the face of some opposition is still unprepared to render decisions of moment to himself or others. The attractiveness of the work lies in the fact that with most animals there can be no practical test of the correctness of any judgment. The only criterion is the opinion of others, and the safety of the calling lies in the fact that there is no one single standard of perfection and not all breeders can be pursuing a wrong ideal at one time. Ability to officiate in the show-ring is not a guarantee of ability to do all the judging a breeder must do. An important part . of a breeder's judging consists in passing upon the merits of animals he already owns or has raised and to properly estimate their merits in comparison with those owned and raised by others. The disposition to allow personal ownership to blind one to the defects of his stock, or to fail to recognize the merit in that of other breeders, is an insurmountable barrier to improvement.
The judging of pedigrees demands acquaintance with at least the more recent history of the breed handled. This requires application and a re tentive memory. One who has the natural interest in the work will find his memory capable of retaining a fair knowledge of pedigrees for at least one breed, even though lacking in other matters. A full knowledge of breed history, including the practices of the founders and improvers, their conditions and the demands made upon them, gives a breeder an intelligent understanding of and wholesome respect for his animals. It also gives a greater fitness to judge the future of his breed and its relation and his own relation to agricultural progress.
Feeding is a chief factor in environment. It constitutes a separate study which must be mastered and applied. An active interest in each phase of the work is also necessary in care and feeding to insure the proper observation of the peculiar wants of each individual and the adjustment of the environment to those peculiarities. Only the most judicious care and feeding can render possible any more than a rare chance realization of the possibilities the animals have inherited.
Breeding is a many-sided profession. A man may have and do all that has been suggested and yet fail of accomplishment through poor salesmanship. Ordinarily speaking, a breeding enterprise once launched must be its own financial support. New males and additional females must be of distinctly high class and will cost proportionately. Their purchase price must be raised by the sale of a part of the increase. No matter how well bred and how well developed the increase may be, some skill is required to dispose of it advantageously. The principles of selling live stock are exactly the same as those of selling any other commodity. The production of a high-class article is the first step. Then it must be brought to the attention of the people for whom it is best suited. Advertising through the press, the show and through sales must all be studied. The buyer having been reached, it must he recognized that the treatment accorded him is sure to be either a good or bad advertisement. The disposition to fairly recognize the interests of the buyer on every point is the basis of satisfactory dealing. The raiser of market stock has the great advantage over the breeder of pure breeds in being able to sell wholesale at actual values at any time. In either case, however, the, buyers usually seek the seller when the highest class of stuff is wanted and of necessity permit him to make the* prices; with inferior stuff the reverse is true.
The chief personal qualification of a breeder has not yet been touched upon. It may be spoken of as the courage of convictions. No matter how complete may be the knowledge of what should he done, unless there is a practical faith of sufficient strength to carry the information into execution, no result can be obtained. Of breeding it is as true as of other professions that the number who have fallen because they failed to do what they knew should be done is much greater than of those who fell short of the top through not knowing what to do.
Opportunities for profit and distinction sometimes attract men with large financial resources to the profession of breeding. But these may lack the true stockman's personal inheritance. The early failure of such men is cited by the uninitiated as illustrating the caprices of the calling. On the other hand it is a fact that much of the most valuable service to the stock-breeding world has been and is being per-formed by men whose large means were accumulated in mercantile lines. Undoubtedly the financial standing of such breeders is of prime assistance in enabling them to bring together animals whose mating produces merit not before attained; matings which would have been impossible to persons of more modest fortune. An equally vital factor is found in their business training. Such men have already demonstrated their business capacities in accumulating the means they choose to employ in breeding. The business principles of doing everything at the right time and undertaking nothing that cannot be thoroughly done are as productive of returns in stock-breeding as in any other field. It is not necessary to minimize the artistic side of breeding in order to emphasize the dependence of the proceeds and continuation of the work upon the observance of the best principles that govern production and sale in all lines. Use of poor materials and indifference or lack of study in their combination may yield an occasional chance article of value, but such a system can lead only to disappointment.
Conservative procedure in establishing a breeding enterprise will avoid many serious handicaps to its continuation. Location has much to do with breeding, with rearing and with selling. So far as the selling is concerned the prospective trade in the immediate vicinity is really of secondary importance. Though it may be less true in the future than it is now it is a fact that a large proportion of buyers of breeding stock are more appreciative of animals reared in remote parts. Facilities for selling afforded by a given location may be chiefly considered with regard to ease of access for buyers, convenience of shipping and proximity of other breeders.
More important still is the matter of securing a location that will allow at lowest cost the environment to which the breed has been accustomed and for which it is calculated. Even though no dependence is to be laid upon the demands of the immediate vicinity, yet it would be overweighting the venture to attempt to produce stock for other sections under conditions not naturally favor-able. Over-enthusiasm with the thought of what it is hoped to produce sometimes hinders the wisest choice of location. If selection be right and the- surroundings fail to furnish the requisites for development, so far as feed is concerned, reliance can still be had on purchased materials. Purchased dry fodder, grains and by-products may be as well for the animal as similar home-raised feeds but cannot supplement rich pastures and fresh green fodders in the fullest and most economical development of any class of stock. A small percentage of outstanding animals sell at a price out of all comparison with their cost, but the majority, even including some of the really useful ones, find their market at a figure not very far from their cost under reasonable conditions. In other words, the margin of profit in the majority of instances is not a very wide one. If a record be kept of all items of expense in producing any animal it will be found that the outlay for feed exceeds any other item. The difference between cost of purchased and home-raised feeds may easily amount to as much as the difference between a profitable and a losing selling price on the animal, even if it were possible to secure the same development as might be had with crops always ready at hand and in most desirable condition for feeding.
It is rather exceptional, however, that a breeding enterprise is planned before the consideration of a location. In a majority of instances a breeding enterprise evolves from a desire to secure a product of greatest value from pasture or feeds available under a fixed set of conditions. The conditions being already set, they must govern the selection of the class of animals to be dealt with. In America to-day one sees leading breeds of draft horses and of beef cattle competing with each other for popular favor in counties where the conditions are uniform, the systems of rearing similar, and all raisers catering to the same market; there is apparently no recognition that each breed is a product of selection for the special requirements of peculiar sections. When one also witnesses adherents of the same breed diftering with each other as to which particular type should be preferred he may well be confused. It is necessary to understand that while pronounced features of utility are uniformly characteristic of breeds, yet peculiar and inexplicable personal likings have caused persons aiming to fill the same want to select different breeds, and the raiser of one breed may be selecting and feeding for a standard very different from the one that inspires another adherent of the same breed. It is not sufficient to know the characteristics, history and accustomed environment of the breed in its home surroundings ; the same study must apply to the separate strains within the breed.
The most practical method of becoming a seller of breeding stock is to commence by breeding for the market. Practically all the founders of existing breeds were at first in this position, but since at present registered animals must be descended from other registered animals, some such stock must be included in any herd that is not expected to continue to supply regular market trade. Such added pure-breds should of course be of sufficiently high order of merit to give promise of improving the rest of the herd. The price at which they may be bought however must be in proportion to the value of the excellence they can impart to their progeny.
In draft horses and meat-producing breeds of stock the real feeding and marketing of all male increase show conclusively which are the most profitable dams and they can be retained as proved individuals together with their female increase, which in their turn may be like-wise required to prove their right to be retained. Such selection, based only upon demonstrated merit, renders possible the accumulation in course of time of a band of females of highest value. It necessitates of course the use of only such sires as promise to improve the best that has already been attained, and it implies the immediate elimination of any whose get are not superior to the dams. Such management, while not the fastest route of entry into the breeding fraternity, may be very fruitful both of financial reward and of experience, and it certainly gives the best possible foundation.
When it is planned to enter immediately upon the scheme of selling the young stock as breeders, the selection of the foundation stock is a test of actual faith in the principies and standards. Animals that are at least fully equal to what might be procured under the plan just discussed should be chosen and will of course come at high prices. The best is none too good to start with and should be insisted upon even if funds demand restriction of purchases to a single individual. The fact that an animal is priced high is not a guarantee of merit, nor is a low price proof of inferiority. Unless the beginner is sufficiently experienced to be able to procure a fair return for his expenditures purchasing had better be postponed. Young breeders of limited means are sometimes counseled to select a number of animals of ordinary merit in preference to a smaller number of superior ones of equal value. The assumption is that experience can be acquired with less risk of loss and improvement can be effected subsequently. If it planned to place such stock in commercial herds and offer nothing for sale for breeding purposes, the counsel is well given. If, however, the immediate increase is to be retained or offered for sale as breeders, acceptance of such advice is a step toward disappointment and failure. The difficulty of disposing of the offspring of mediocre parents and the meagreness of the profits they return are very unlikely to encourage the subsequent addition of really good individuals. The common character of such stock and the lack of interest they in-spire are almost sure to result in lack of the care and opportunity they especially need and which would be more readily accorded to more attractive and more highly prized individuals. In the desire to multiply numbers worthy and unworthy produce are likely to be retained and the enlargement of numbers is the chief if not the only direction in which progress is effected.
"The best is the cheapest" is a thoroughly practical maxim. The offspring of the female of common individuality or common ancestry, or both, requires as much expenditure of care and feed to bring it to a salable age and condition as does an outstanding good one, and it is in turn sought only by those with whom a low price is a primary consideration.
It is true that lack of pronounced merit in foundation females can be largely counterbalanced by extraordinary excellence of the male with which they are mated, but real conservatism would favor a small equipment with the basis of success laid on all sides, rather than a more extensive but unbalanced plan of which one part is expected to atone for the other, instead of placing reliance on each. "Not how many but how good" is no more applicable at any point than in the laying of the foundation. Though it will of course not be feasible to purchase any number or even a few females of the highest approach to perfection, uniformity of type among what are procured must first of all be insisted upon. Such defects in conformation as really cannot be avoided must find their counteracting force in the male. Obviously; then, it is desirable to postpone the purchase of a male until the females are on hand for comparison and study. It is a severe test of any sire to be called upon to stamp his excellence on the offspring of females which even though they be uniform in type are gathered from different sources and represent different lines of breeding. Only an impressive animal, strong where the females are weak and with unusually good ancestry, can be relied upon to meet such requirements, and as is commonly said he should first be selected and then purchased.
The use of any unproved sire is somewhat of an experiment and the greatest danger lies in failing to recognize and admit that such a one is not leaving offspring as good as they might reasonably be expected to be. The best values are sometimes offered in successful sires owned by men who insist on changing to avoid in-breeding, or to avoid keeping two males. If a well preserved though aged male that has proved good is obtainable, no objections can be raised to justify passing over such a one for the most promising young and untested individual. It is in the selection of a second sire that greatest difficulties are likely to arise. Even though the first should be satisfactory, his progeny are soon ready to be mated and unless the number of females on hand justifies the maintenance of two sires a new one is necessary. Undue haste is often exercised in disposing of the old sire. If he has been successful in improving upon the merit of the females he may well be retained until the experimental stage of his successor's. career is passed. The trouble and expense of maintenance is but small in comparison to what is gained, and the-e is the further advantage of adding to the number of females of the same breeding. This similarity of breeding of the females renders the selection of a later sire much more simple than it is when he must be mated with females of varied inheritance. The selection of the second sire is more difficult than that of the first because he must be suited both to the remaining original females and to their offspring. If these latter are an improvement upon their dams, as they should have been if retained, then the second sire must be of considerably higher character than his predecessor. It is not a wise procedure to make the experiment of mating all the females to even the most promising young male. He should be procured some time before he will be most needed and mated with older females whose breeding qualities are known. This affords a means of detecting objectionable features in his get without allowing him to mar the entire increase of a breeding season. Many a breeder has brought his herd into prominence through the merits of a single phenomenal sire. The possession of such a phenomenon is in considerable degree attributable to good for-tune, for not even the most discerning can positively say that this or that unproved male will beget progeny uniformly of extraordinary merit. Nevertheless he who is most assiduously in search of and determined to procure a herd-header of unusual rank, and who has the faith that will prompt him to secure possession of the nearest approach to his standard, is the one to whom the good fortune of the phenomenal sire is most likely to fall.
Even if no serious mistakes are made in selecting sires or in culling of female increase, it takes a good many generations to reach a satisfactory degree of uniformity in the excellence of an entire herd. Not all can have an inheritance of unmixed good, and the weaker ones must be weeded out as they appear. A sire may leave some undesirable character in some of his get which it may be deemed wise to retain for other reasons, or some of the more valuable families may be less prolific than is necessary to enable their increase to dominate the whole herd. With continued progress new and higher standards come to be held. Perfection or even a close approach to it in every individual animal is not to be expected, and though it were attained, there must still be variation in the abilities of those animals to reproduce their excellence. A breeder may be said to have achieved a measurable degree of control over heredity and to have earned distinction when the most of the animals he rears can be relied upon to elevate the herds of his contemporaries.
Such a height is not likely to be reached without considerable showyard fame attaching to the herd, though the estimation accorded the stock by those who have found it a dependable source of desirable qualities is of even more moment than ribbons won in competitions where individuality alone must govern. Such uniform excellence and prepotency can not be expected within the second or the third generation from even the choicest band of females brought to gether from different localities and which must necessarily be dissimilar in breeding. It is when the fentale ancestors have been for many generations under the immediate direction of a man who is capable and actively interested that the possibilities of selection appear to the best advantage, and the greater the length of time such condition has obtained the greater the possibilities. The real foundation herd must be bred. Such a history allows the owner or manager to have within his own memory a personal acquaintance with each ancestor of likely influence. It enables him to know fully all inherent tendencies and to dictate the matings with the greatest possible measure of assurance. Mistakes are sure to be made and reverses experienced and these must be corrected and overcome. Though much may be accomplished in one or two decades, even the most capable breeders will find the fruits of their selection becoming more and more apparent in proportion to the number of years of unremitting vigilance and application. In this lies the most important real advantage of European breeders. Their herds in many instances have been handed from fathers to sons, who have continued selection toward the same ideal until the hereditary material has been freed from all serious impurities and represents a degree of strength and purity that insures the highest degree of excellence and prepotency.
The animals of an old herd have pedigrees in which the owner appears almost to the exclusion of other breeders; in fact he has constructed the pedigrees of his animals and in proportion as he has succeeded and has earned the confidence and respect of his fraternity the succeeding breeders will prize the results of his labors.