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Cattle Breeding

( Originally Published 1912 )

Improved cattle were brought from Europe to America in the latter part of the eighteenth century. There have been periods of depression when scant progress was made, yet on the whole advancement has been steady and any one of the leading breeds could continue to go forward without further importation. The Short-horn was strongly entrenched in most parts of the country before its rivals appeared. American-bred Bates Short-horns were purchased by English breeders in the seventies. The opening of the range trade in the late seventies diverted attention from the deep-milking beef cow then so widely distributed on central and eastern farms. The ranges furnished feeding cattle more cheaply than they could be produced under the best systems of farming. The only opportunity for the breeder was to furnish bulls for the western steer-raiser. That trade discriminated against heavy-milking qualities. It also prized the ruggedness and heavy-fleshing qualities of the type of Short-horn then being brought from Scotland and the Bates era closed with the beginning of the Scotch boom.

The western trend of population has now removed some of the economic advantage enjoyed by the ranch man in the cheapness of his land, and a return to farm breeding is certain. The early maturity and heavy fleshing of the Scotch type are even more valuable than formerly, but strict economy in producing beef on high-priced lands is reviving the demand for milking qualities in the dams of steers that are to be fed out by the men who breed them. British farm conditions are very similar to those that exist in much of the territory where Short-horns are most numerous in America. The British standard has included the qualities needed in America and our breeders have continued to resort to the older herds over the water for herd bulls and for occasional females though the need for these is declining as time goes on.

The popularity of the Hereford with the range trade in the eighties had much to do with stimulating the change of type of Short-horns. The Hereford had always been bred for grazing purposes and was little affected by the transfer to the grass lands of the West. Importations were numerous in the eighties, but in the nineties it became apparent that our own breeders were more successful in improving the weaknesses of the Hereford than were the friends of the breed in England. Since then there has been scant need for importing and it is admitted that this breed has been improved in this country more than any other imported breed of cattle. Hereford interests have not been hampered by any color craze, and family names have always been less considered than tangible merit in nearby ancestors. The early-maturing feature has been fixed in them also and their easy-fattening qualities have added to their popularity among feeders of young cattle, though the same feature has worked against them to some extent when the feeding periods have been of longer duration.

The Angus has less numerous advocates among the ranch men than have the two breeds referred to but the prices Angus steers command from cornbelt feeders win them very ardent advocates. The coming of this breed followed closely after that of the Hereford and it is strongest in sections where cattle feeding is carried on extensively. The peculiar advantage of this breed is shown in its wonderful record of winnings in block tests and in competitions for prizes for finished bullocks. The Galloway enjoys almost undisputed sway under climatic conditions resembling those of its native home in south-western Scotland. The enterprise of its breeders is bringing this breed the appreciation that is its due.

A few factors have operated upon all breeds alike during the last two decades. The changing tastes and style of living of our population make themselves felt upon the markets through the purveyors of meats.

As a result the live-cattle weight of greatest popularity has steadily declined. The other factor that has operated in the same direction is the demand for early maturity. The greater economy of production in young animals has been more and more appreciated as meat-producing lands advance in value and require the most economical utilization of the crops produced. The result has been that the modern beef type is practically the same in all breeds. So long as only the really good individuals are considered the breed means comparatively little. There is still however a wide divergence along the lines of inherent tendencies that have much to do with adaptability.

It has been true in all stock breeding that breeders as a class are inclined to go to extremes. Since the majority of all the breeds have come to be of the smaller more early-maturing stamp, a question arises as to the effect of continued breeding from stock in which size and weight have often been overlooked in emphasizing smoothness of build and fleshing. The relations of gains to feed consumed is the fundamental factor in meat production. Breeding for the market alone may work to the detriment of the producer and create a gap between the breeder and his patrons, the raisers of beef. Maximum gains consist of the products of growth and fattening. Growth is less pronounced in small animals at all ages and the relation to size cannot safely be ignored in efforts to combine the highest value of the product with the greatest economy of production.

It is commonly admitted that cows bred especially for milk production yield larger amounts of human food in proportion for feed consumed than do beef cattle.This suggests that dairying must inevitably supplant beef-making. Recent years have seen a great expansion of dairy interests. Many lands whose owners were forced out of beef-raising by the range supplies and were unsuccessful in speculative feeding operations have become badly run clown. There has been a great increase of consumption of milk and butter proportional to the growth of population. Supplies could come only from the lands located near the markets for dairy products. Dairy animals are now established on many lands that had carried little stock since beef-making was relinquished.

It is important to recognize the fact that the relation of product to feed is more easily studied in feeding for milk than when meat is a marketable product. Partly for this reason and partly because beef-raising has been regarded as the business of cheap lands, the feeding of beef animals has not been made so scientific as has the work of the dairyman. The individualities of animals have not been so highly regarded nor so closely studied by those engaged in meat production. There is probably less variability in productive capacity among animals bred in beef lines than exists in milking stock. The abandonment of wholesale methods will decrease the difference that has seemed to exist between the possible returns from these two classes of cattle.

The general adoption of dairy farming in older parts of the world is evidence that this kind of cattle husbandry must ultimately prevail. In such countries the labor question has a vastly different aspect from that which it presents in America. The eating of meat will continue so long as it can be purchased at prices within reach of the bulk of the population. Its production is less dependent upon the labor factor than is that of milk. Scientifically conducted beef-making will offer rewards to careful breeding and studied feeding for an indefinite number of years. There are considerable stretches of country in the United States and Canada that can be utilized successfully in rearing feeders and stockers under a system that requires of a cow only that she shall rear a calf each year. Most of the cattle must be raised in the grain-producing areas however, and all of the fattening must be done there. Breeders who expect to find an outlet for their surplus stock among farmers of these valuable lands must recognize the fact that the need is for a profitable beef type of animal with sufficient milking capacity in the cows to enable them to raise two calves each year or to allow the owners to sell the milk of one-half the herd while the other half raises all the calves.

In Great Britain experience has shown that commercial beef-raising and the work of the breeder do not combine satisfactorily. The fattening and marketing of less valuable animals is no hindrance to a breeder's work, but when the main interest is in the market stock the details of rearing and selling breeding stock are not likely to be fully looked after. Unless that is done, the returns from sales of animals for breeding purposes are likely to include less profit than those from stock sold for slaughter. The discrimination likely to be exercised by future buyers of breeding animals will demand the full exercise of the breeders' skill while he who chooses to breed for the market will be the gainer by paying fair prices for the bulls he needs.

The breeding of dairy cattle is comparatively free from disturbing elements. The principal variation is in the strength of demand for the more meritorious stock. The superiority of the improved animal lies almost altogether in her greater economy of production. Cost of production is usually inversely proportional to the amount of production. There is but little difference in the value of the solids produced by improved and by scrub cows. The breeds differ among themselves mainly in the pro-portion of solids to the whole amount of milk yielded and in adaptability of the solids to various uses. The animals themselves differ in adaptability to conditions, chiefly in relation to the amounts of roughages and concentrates that they can most profitably utilize.

Public competitions and so-called breed tests such as have been conducted at expositions are apparently planned to test the relative efficiencies of the breeds entered. Such trials stimulate interest and encourage study of breeding, feeding and management. As competitions they serve to test the skill of the various feeders. It is doubtful if any other branch of the feeder's work is carried on so successfully in America as is the feeding for milk production. Few of the records made in the native homes of the breeds are comparable with those found in the Advanced Register and in the Register or Merit. Most of the high producers trace through several generations of American-bred stock. Jersey breeders import more largely than do the workers with other breeds. The Island cattle are highly bred in producing lines, but much of their popularity is due to their attractiveness of form and symmetry which have often been ignored by American breeders in basing their selections solely on features indicating producing capacity.

There is no need for speculation as to the future place of the dairy cow and but little occasion for discussion regarding the type of the future. The most useful and the most highly prized animals will always be those that produce most largely and most economically. There seems but little to be desired in realization of greater possibilities though doubtless records still more astonishing will be made. Adoption of the plan of reporting records of the feed consumed at the same time the milk and butter yield is reported will facilitate closer study of economy of production. The accomplishment most to be hoped for is the fixing of the qualities of the record-makers so as to raise the average records of the breeds. In selections for this purpose the cows' records as producers and breeders and the bulls' records as sires of tested daughters are of extreme value. Yearly records are much more useful in this connection than those covering shorter periods. Some breeders, among them many successful ones, assert that in breeding for production the records may safely be made the sole guide in selection. In such a study we feel the weight of the handicap of ignorance regarding external evidences of digestives power and milk secretion.

The relation of form to function is very imperfectly understood though it is known that certain physical qualities are uniformly characteristic of proved cows. Breeding only by the aid of records may often suggest combinations of blood lines in each of which there is carried a fault that limits capacity for production. Breeding by records alone will give results for a time, but the highest achievement in utility must regard both form and measurements of function as a basis for selection.

Although the milk-giving function is undeveloped in the males there is no question as to a bull's capacity for transmitting the dairy qualities of the females that contributed to his inheritance. Some successful breeders consider the record of the paternal grandam to be of greater moment in determining the capacity of the offspring than is that of the immediate dam. If this idea can be substantiated by test records it would suggest an extra strength of inheritance through the males of the dairy breeds, not necessarily because they are males but because more carefully selected and more strongly bred than is usually the case with the females of the herd.

It is impossible to disregard the possibility of impairment of vigor in the offspring carried by cows that are at the same time being stimulated to their highest milking capacity. If the foetus is not more than three or four months old when the testing of the dam is discontinued there need be no serious result. If it is older and the dam responds to feeding by an unusual yield of milk it is more than probable that the offspring will be weaker than it would have been if the needs for foetal development had been given primary consideration in adjusting the ration.

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