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Breed Relations

( Originally Published 1912 )

A breed of live stock is not of itself an end but a means to an end. That end is the yielding of a product of maximum value at a minimum cost. The founders of our existing breeds did not set out with a purpose of establishing breeds of animals. Who would be more astonished to learn the number of white faced cattle in western America than would John Hewer? The makers of our breeds aimed in each case to raise such animals as would be more profitable under the conditions of rearing, feeding and selling, which prevailed in their respective localities. It was when their stock had demonstrated extraordinary merit in the eyes of the buyers that the increase was in demand for use as breeders on other farms and in other localities where the stockmen were not content to repeat for them-selves the slow and studied steps to improvement. With the broadening demand in their home countries and the active foreign trade, the registration of pedigrees. with its attendant features of good and evil became a necessity.

We are often prone to measure the ability of our present breeders by the resemblance of their stock to that of earlier masters of renown to whose work the lapse of time has given a clear perspective view. That standard is a false one. Those breeders achieved renown through seeing the peculiar needs of their times and localities. They produced such types and fixed such characters as progressing agriculture and evolving markets demanded, and the only fair way to appraise our present-day types is by considering the degree to which they satisfy the market and, what is of equal importance, the cost of their rearing and finishing in those sections to which their peculiar and distinctive features best adapt them. In many cases the most useful types of to-day are radically different from those of two decades ago. Evolution is continuous, both in our markets and in our systems of cropping and feeding. Since we cannot see far ahead we are safest in setting our standards fully abreast of the times and being thereby best prepared to make such modifications as the future may necessitate.

While all the users of draft horses require many fundamental points in common their varying classes of service and their dissimilar ideas of in dications of efficiency and durability give outlets for the array of good types represented in several breeds. While all dairy sections aim at the economical production of milk solids, the demand in some cases makes fat the paramount constituent, solids not fat in others, and in other instances natural color is emphasized. Some soils produce digestible animal nutrients more satisfactorily in coarse and bulky feeds than in concentrated forms. The first section necessitates the use of large strong cows developed for and adapted to such conditions. Thus even in milk production a variety of farm conditions and of consumer's demands require several sorts of animals. The same is true of beef cattle, sheep and swine. When we except wool, the demands the markets make on our meat-producing breeds are less varied than with dairy stock, though the range of conditions governing rearing and finishing is much wider.

In European countries there is much of uniformity in the stock of a particular locality. On each of the many types of soils subject to a common climate the farmers appear to have found what marketable articles they can produce especially, well. In some instances it is early lambs, in others mature muttons ; or again it may be baby beef, finished bullocks, or store or feeding stock. General agreement as to the object and method of the stockman has also resulted in agreement as to the type and breed of animal best adapted to the special requirements.

Fortunately or unfortunately our American importers seem to have been less unanimous than the Britons them-selves in their estimates of the proper spheres for the various breeds. One has pinned his faith and his reputation to one breed for his native locality, while his neighbor is equally assured that another breed is' peculiarly adapted to the same channel of usefulness. Recognizing the superiority of any breed over no breed, all have been eagerly received and opportunity and unstudied impressions have had more to do with choice of breeds than has conviction derived from acquaintance with the objects and requirements by which the breed-makers were guided in the selection of material for their accomplishment. Thus we have owners of different breeds of the same class of stock working toward a common end, and different owners of the same breed building on divergent lines. That individuality and strain are of greater importance than breed is nowhere so true as in America.

It seems reasonable to suppose that with our country becoming more fully occupied and our agricultural practices assuming a more stable aspect the time will come when the live stock in each community will be less varied within small areas that we now find it. On most of the farms located in the area of a single type of soil, and tributary to a few principal markets, we may expect that all animals entering into commerce will leave the farm at approximately the same age and in much the same condition. If such should be the case the methods of rearing and feeding within that vicinity will have more in common. Common interests will then have as their result the maintenance of a common type of animals especially well fitted to satisfy their particular markets and possessed of the qualities to render them especially profitable to their raisers. For the great variety of conditions found in so large a country as the United States many types are needed. Here capacity to mature quickly on forced feeding is paramount; there, a disposition to graze and be less dependent on feeding is more desirable, while again there will doubtless always be some sections that will not finish meat-producing stock but wish to raise what will breed most freely and satisfy distant farmers who are fatteners and not growers of stock.

The greatest uniformity in farming and feeding practices may give each breed full possession of its special area as it has in England where the breeds were developed to answer recognized needs. Should there be such a condition it might greatly reduce some items of expense of production ; instead of neighborly rivalry and disagreement as to the best means of reaching a common purpose such as now obtains through the variety of types and breeds in the same locality, there might be partnerships and co-operation in the purchase and use of sires and nearer markets for surplus breeding stock. Of recent years a good deal has been done in Wisconsin and Michigan in the organization of community breeding societies. A number of breeders in a community pledge themselves to adopt the same breed of cattle.

They thereby insure the production of a sufficiently large number of surplus stock to attract buyers to them when making purchases. Even if members of the society are breeding only for the market the advantages and economies resulting from the cooperative purchase and use of the best sires the breed affords amply justify the maintenance of the society.

Our state and national and international live stock fairs and expositions are our greatest educational factors in animal husbandry. Their first service is to fully ac-quaint people with the common requirements of all acceptable market animals. Of necessity the making of awards must relate more to merit of the finished product than to evidences of value in the making of large and economical gains. This is true even in the breeding classes, because the former is more easily discernible than the latter and its requirements are largely common to animals produced in all sections. Then too, should a judge attempt to exercise his opinion to indicate which class of animals is most profitable to their raisers, he must have in mind some particular set of conditions and system of rearing. In a local show a well qualified judge might properly follow such a course; but in a ring of exhibits gathered from a half-dozen or more states he would do justice to only a fraction of the exhibitors and on-lookers.

The value of exhibiting for purposes of education and stimulation is especially shown by our breeders of trotting horses and dairy cattle. Breeders of these classes of stock recognize clearly that actual tests of merit in comparison with unvarying standards—the watch and the scales—while not the sole guides are nevertheless much more useful than comparison with ideals of one, two or three men, be they ever so capable and experienced. In spite of the fact that showring awards in these breeds are of only secondary importance to the breeders in their selections, the promotion of interest and study resulting from the shows give such events a position of greatest importance among the many methods for the advancement of animal husbandry. The data afforded breeders of speed horses and dairy stock are chiefly valuable as showing which individuals and combination of strains breed high efficiency with the greatest regularity. Records alone cannot dictate how animals should be mated. Breeders of draft horses and of meat-producing stock recognize the desirability of some form of advanced registry or means of measuring and recording the merit of individuals and their offspring. Manifestly no test can be conducted with meat animals that will permit of their subsequent use as breeders. It is conceivable that tests may be provided to show the amount and cost of gains of breeding cattle, sheep or swine, but such tests can at best be only suggestive. For those who will use them properly and not over-estimate them, year books based upon show awards such as are now being prepared by some breed associations are of assistance to breeders in studying the achievements of representatives of various blood lines.

It is not to be expected that a very large percentage of our farm animals will ever be registered. Indeed if all animals now bearing recorded pedigrees were actually capable of ef fecting improvement upon the best of the unregistered flocks and herds, the breeders would be more highly regarded and more freely patronized than they now are. Animals with recorded pedigrees are manifestly intended by their own ers for breeding purposes rather than for immediate commercial uses. Such pure-bred stocks are valuable and can be maintained only as they can and do exert an elevating influence upon herds of which the increase is de-signed for market rather than for further breeding use. In view of these apparent relations it would seem altogether natural that we should expect in the future, not so much a large extension of the practice of registration as the attainment of a much higher degree of actual merit all through the registered animals of herds and flocks designed to serve as sources of improving material. With the realization of such a condition the business of rearing commercial stock will doubtless be more sharply differentiated from the breeding business than it now is and the patronage of the breeders will be more general as well as more discriminating.

The production of market stock by the crossing of distinct breeds is not uncommon in England and some sections of America may find justification for making pure crosses. It cannot be denied that for the most part the cross-breeding now practiced results mainly in loss and disappointment. This is due largely to indiscriminate and purposeless crossing. The basis of most of the unstudied practice of crossing breeds is the hope of combining desirable - features of both parents while at the same time excluding the less valuable qualities. Crossing is fully as likely to result in a combination of the objectionable features of both sides to the exclusion of the good. It is a very suggestive fact that in only one instance, namely, the Oxford Down sheep, has a new and useful breed resulted from a union of two other distinct breeds. The uncertainties attaching to the offspring of cross-bred parents may doubtless be explained by the principle of Mendel's law as discussed in Chapter XVI.

In some of our more numerous breeds we have two or more distinct types bred to different standards and for different special uses. Such types while similar in many external characteristics have very dissimilar hereditary tendencies, and while recorded in the same book have had their rise and whole course of ancestry with little or nothing in common. Such types within breeds can be mated only with the results attaching to the mating of distinct breeds. There are however some material advantages to be de-rived from the intelligent crossing of breeds. Cross-bred animals often have a vigor and a robustness greater than characterized either parent. This enhanced vigor gives greater and more rapid growth and therefore permits a considerable economy in the production of a market carcass. The value and uniformity of particular crosses can be ascertained only by tests.

Other advantages are found in the greater prolificacy and better nursing qualities of the females of some breeds which when crossed give progeny of satisfactory character and at a lower cost than is common in the stock of the sire. In order to secure the benefits of cross-breeding without the possible losses it is necessary to proceed only' in the light of careful experience and to keep the parent stock pure. The demand for good pure-bred females to be used as dams of cross-bred market animals may in the future absorb considerable numbers of the breeders' surplus females. Lowered vitality in dams of market stock may as often be remedied by carefully chosen males of the same breed as by those of a different breed.

It is impossible to foresee the ultimate development of our domestic animals. It sometimes seems that perfection is well-nigh attained. The foregoing discussions have shown, however, that perfection of animal form and qualities is a relative matter. The most nearly perfect animal is the one that best performs what is desired. In as much as what is desired will continue to change as it has always done, the standard is a shifting one, and since it is impossible to know what will be required of future races of animals, conjecture as to their character is of no avail. Many individual animals do certainly approach very close to present day perfection. Such successes of the breeder's art give encouragement and point the way for owners of mediocre stock, and through their own kindred and offspring the good animals facilitate the elevation of the general stock to a higher level. It seems that the most useful work for the breeder now lies more in the production of sufficient numbers of representatives of best existing types rather than in the modification of the stamp of our champions.

The idea sometimes finds expression that improvement can be carried too far for real utility, that the types held at higher levels lead artificial lives and lose the robustness and regularity of reproduction so essential in commercial stock. Cases can be cited to show that herds and flocks bred closely to their breeders' ideals have become too delicate and too low in rate of reproduction to commend them to a place in even the best farm practice. Such so-called improvement has been best illustrated in the passing type of light-boned and undersized swine, though similar conditions have been evidenced in other classes of stock and give rise to the idea of over-improvement. The term mis-improvement is more nearly correct. Such stocks may have made steady progress toward the standards of their breeders, but it is evident that the ideal of those breeders was not a practical animal and can-not therefore be considered as strictly high-class from an agricultural standpoint. Perfection is too likely to be regarded as residing in the animal form alone. Real perfection embraces conformation and all that is apparent to the eye, but no less it includes those qualities of adaptability to the animal's real work which may mean either spirit and ease of movement, good feeding and digestive powers, or grazing disposition. And in all cases it must include that vitality and constitutional vigor without which there can be neither economy of increase nor certainty of reproduction.

In the grading up of native animals it has seemed desirable to eliminate some of the qualities intensified by nature's careful selection for the sole purpose of fecundity and adaptability to natural surroundings. In so doing chief emphasis has been laid upon those features and qualities chiefly demanded by artificial environment, and only after the loss of much of the native regularity of reproduction and foraging capacity have those qualities been fully appreciated. Artificial selection can produce and perpetuate the animals needed for artificial demand with just as much safety and certainty as natural selection has operated to fulfill nature's requirements. The task is a more complex one however, and can only be met by making our selections on a very broad basis, one that includes all useful natural and produced features. There is full assurance that a selection that recognizes fertility and constitutional vigor can improve and intensify those qualities just as surely as selection has controlled the set of the pastern or the turn of the ear.

Achievement of the object of such selection calls for indefinite time, pains and experience. The future of our breed rests with our breeders as a body. No one works for himself alone; each one either retards or accelerates the rate of progress toward the highest usefulness of man's servant companions, the farm animals.

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