Amazing articles on just about every subject...

American Stock Breeding

( Originally Published 1912 )

In America the development of our animal husbandry has afforded a marked contrast to the course of events in other lands. Colonists from various European countries brought with them such stock as was most common to the section from which they emigrated. This gave us horses of Spanish and French blood, cattle and swine of Holland, Germany and contiguous territory. Also there came from Spain the progenitors of much of our stock of fine-wooled sheep. Some of the prominence of British breeds of stock must be attributed to the large number of British colonists, but for the chief part their strength of numbers and popularity has been earned on the basis of utility and adaptability to the requirements of the various agricultural parts of the country.

As early as 1750, Virginia gentlemen brought from England running horses for racing and breeding. There being no place to which they could go for pronounced speed at the trot, the American breeders early began the study and sifting of their horses of mixed blood with a view of perpetuating and intensifying the sources of excellence in trotting speed. Though the Thoroughbred was a prominent factor at the inception of the work and for some time afterward, the accomplishments are entirely accredited to American skill and enterprise.

It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that the Percheron horse of France made its entrance into America. The history of Shires dates from about the same time, while the Clydesdales invaded the field somewhat later. Our acquaintance with the Belgian is comparatively recent.

In the eighties the present type of the English Hackney obtained a foothold in America and was followed some years later by the French and German Coach breeds. Numerous horses of carriage type and characteristics have occurred among the trotting stock and the United States Government now maintains a stud for the purpose of so combining the blood of such horses as to perpetuate their carriage qualifications. The Government also supports an attempt to preserve the type of horses descended from the famous Morgan horse of Vermont.

In cattle we had numerous valuable shipments of Short-horns prior to 1820, and influential activities in importing Short-horns into Ohio began in 1833. The seventies saw the attention of British breeders centered upon America and some considerable exportations of Short-horn blood were made to England from America. Importations from abroad, though varying in extent with conditions, have been continuous and are still quite common. From 1875 to 1885 saw the rapid and hard-earned rise and spread of the Herefords and Angus, with the Galloway also making fast friends in sections to which its peculiar virtues commended it. In Herefords we have progressed to the point where we no longer feel the need of recourse to the foreign herds for aid in improvement, though importations of the other breeds mentioned are still common.

Our dairy breeds we have also brought from abroad and it is to the credit of America that her citizens have not been loath to profit by the results of the laborious efforts towards stock improvement in other lands. The breeds imported represent such combinations of characters of adaptability and special usefulness as to allow each part of the country and each class of production to have a breed at least fairly well suited to the peculiarities of the locality or demand.

It cannot be said that the breeds have been distributed, or are even now found, in such surroundings as their founders aimed to serve, but their career is yet so short that natural or reasonable distribution cannot now be expected. Selection and differences in ideals have produced types within breeds with many of the special features common to stock bearing another breed name. We have also established polled varieties of all but one of our imported horned breeds.

Spanish fine-wooled sheep were brought to America before the close of the eighteenth century and from their descendants we have produced an almost confusing number of so-called breeds or strains. These classes of Merinos exhibit as high efficiency in the art of breeding as is evidenced in the productions of any other part of the world. Since 1840 considerable numbers of the Rambouillet sheep of France have been brought in.

The English Leicester was known in America before the Revolutionary War, and several lots of the two other long-wooled breeds arrived subsequent to 183o. By the latter date the Southdown had also earned considerable popularity and the period between 186o and 1890 saw the establishment and wide distribution of the other down breeds, all of English origin.

Europe furnished America with no breeds of swine bred to the purpose of turning corn into lard, and we have, therefore, three leading American breeds distinguished only by such incidental characters as color and by differences in utility, due to variations in length of standing and the standards of the breeders. These breeds have been descended from imported European stocks which could hardly be said to have been highly improved except in the instance of the Berkshire. In 1835 the Berkshire was established in the section that was to be the birthplace of the Poland-China. This English breed is still imported in small numbers, but the Berkshire of the cornbelt is more useful to that section than is the stocks as bred in England. For what we need of York-shires and Tamworths we draw upon England still. It was in 1872 that the National Swine Breeders' Convention adopted the name Poland-China for the hogs that originated in southwestern Ohio and were meeting with much favor. It was several years later that the Chester White was deemed a breed and the Duroc-Jersey received its name from its assembled breeders in 1883. Other breeds of American origin have been produced and retained in restricted areas.

When it is considered that most breeds of live stock have had their residence in America for less than half a century it is no cause for surprise to learn that a large proportion of farm animals bear no evidence of relationship to any breed. Only in the older sections has agriculture taken on anything like a permanent aspect. In such localities depleted soils have emphasized the need of live stock. In a smaller country the dependence of such areas on stock farming would long ago have forced out of existence all but such animals as could show themselves possessed of practical superiorities over all less carefully bred stock. The influx of cheaply raised western stock to supply the population of the East has seriously disturbed the natural progress of agricultural affairs in the more densely peopled states. The western landowners and operators have had an exclusive interest in stock raising and have been in direct touch with the industry, both in the country and at market centers. It is therefore found that in our newer states in which crop-raising has not become general we have a higher average of domestic animals than in places where conditions demanded the best grades of stock but in which that stock could not be produced in competition with the operators of the new, cheap lands of western states.

The advance of each of the breeds toward a higher place in the estimation of the agricultural public has been a steady one but much slower than it should have been. American breeders of note have not been wanting nor has there been an absence of raisers of superior market stock to set an example for their neighbors struggling with inferior work and feeding stock and declining crop yields. The non-agricultural character of a large pro-portion of the settlers of our lands and their refusal to recognize the need of conserving the fertility of the virgin soils has checked the general adoption of a studied system of stock-farming such as obtains in older, prosperous countries. The existence of other hindering factors such as unsteady values and transportation difficulties must also be recognized.

The native animal exists as a product of proved excellence for withstanding natural conditions. When there is a demand for animals that can utilize and respond to artificial care and feeding and give returns proportionate thereto, the animals produced by artificial selection are appreciated. The improved stock enlarges its domains and adds to the ranks of its devotees not so much through the force of the arguments of its supporters as through the victories won wherever a really good animal is fairly pitted against a native with no inherent possibilities of making response to studied care and feeding.

With the great early appreciation of the imported breeds there was a demand larger than could be fully supplied with such creditable representatives as would be qualified to worst the native. Possession of certificates of registry was too often looked upon as a guarantee of the desired excellence. Many descendants of registered parents had in themselves none of the practical qualifications that the times demanded. The too frequent sales of such stock and the extent to which it was retained for breeding hindered the proper regard of the more meritorious animals and thus, in a measure, those who claimed to be friends of advancement really exerted an influence in the other way. To a considerable extent present-day progress is retarded by the indiscriminate propagation of registered animals, not so much' through the injury resulting from their dissemination as by misrepresentation to persons not familiar with the breeds and with what really improved stock actually stands for and can accomplish.

An officer of the Bureau of Animal Industry. estimates that of all horses in the United States 1.02 per cent are registered. For dairy cattle the percentage is given as 1.07, beef cattle 1.05, sheep o.46 and swine 0.45. It would be of great interest if we could know what proportion of the farm animals of the British Islands are entered in books of record, be-cause there the conquest of the scrub was assured long ago and there is a minimum of animals that are the result of no plan and exhibit no peculiar usefulness.

Percentages of registration, however, are a crude guide to the status of animal husbandry. Registration figures show the number of animals that have been produced for the express purpose of use as parents of other animals which in turn may be designed either for production of still other breeds or for service or slaughter. Many animals of pronounced merit and of carefully selected lineage are never registered and may be superior to some whose lineage is a matter of official record. This applies especially to swine, for although the percentage mentioned is a small one it is well known that but few animals reaching our markets fail to show strong infusions of the blood of the improved types.

Such statistics as are available in a few states show that the majority of the stallions that are siring colts are not of recorded stock. Though this class may include some useful sires it is well known that many, even of those with pedigrees, are not fitted for the service they are allowed to perform.

Actual tests of numerous representative herds of dairy cows in two states show that a large proportion of cows kept are incapable of returning any profit to their owners. One-fourth of the cows kept in one case yield less-than one-half the butter fat secured from the better one-fourth of the herd. It is only necessary to scan the rank and file of offerings of any classes of stock at our market centers to realize that while every section may have some representatives of breeds resulting from improvement, still much of the stock reared is nearer to the type of the native than to that which the market most highly appreciates. Even though the future should permit the cheap-selling grades to be produced at a profit, it is assured that there will be a more general appreciation of the higher classes of stock, not only because of their higher market value, but also on the basis of their more ready response to skillful care and feeding.

To encourage horsemen to raise such animals as are most profitable, several states have-enacted legislation to prohibit stallions of inferior character standing for public service. It is not the owner of the stallion who is at fault in standing an unsound or low-bred horse so much as it is the fault of the mare owner who elects that the horse he rears shall inherit such inferiority. The stigma placed upon the low-class horse which the state refuses to license is the most effective accomplishment of such laws.

The United States Government allows entrance from other countries, free of duty, of all registered animals intended for breeding purposes. The Government also does special service in some sections to encourage the keeping of better classes of farm animals and, in addition to its endeavors to develop types of horses, it is working with the western sheep interests to produce a type of sheep with the qualifications most needed on the range.

It sometimes appears that men have already accomplished most of what can be done in breeding farm animals. Considering the very wide adherence of the majority of stock farmers to unimproved types and the fact that the future will make it imperative that there be reared only such animals as are peculiarly fitted for special purposes, it becomes apparent that the distribution of the products of the breeders' art has only begun. If every unregistered and inferior sire, retaining the grades that are known to be good breeders, could be eliminated from any one of our states, the supply of registered and superior ones would be entirely inadequate to meet the demands.

The foundation of American animal husbandry hasbeen well laid and the work of its perfection is making sure and steady progress, but the extent of past accomplishments is but a fraction of what remains to be done. The average of excellence of stock reared for breeding purposes must be greatly raised. This is to be done largely by the elimination of the undesirable individuals, but the class of showyard merit is certain to be modified to meet the changes needed by the market and by the varying vicissitudes of rearing under different conditions.

As conditions exist today very considerable numbers of American-bred animals are being shipped to other countries and it is impossible to make any reasonable forecast of the extent of such trade in the future. There is need of the services of every one who has the qualifications that enable a man to improve his animals, and every one with the capacity to serve in any branch of the industry is assured of remuneration fully commensurate with what he has to offer.

Home | More Articles | Email: