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Individual Excellence In Breeding Animals

( Originally Published 1912 )

Any measure of control over heredity attained by any breeder must be through the wisdom of his selection of the parents and ancestors of his stock. Care and feeding have their part and are indispensable as aids, but selection is the basis of the whole work. Whether the endeavor be to build up a herd or stud for the production of a uniformly superior class of animals for feeding for market, or to produce animals for others to breed from, selection is of fundamental importance. No haphazard unstudied procedure in selecting from the stock of others for a foundation, or indiscriminate culling of the increase of that foundation stock, can ever give satisfactory returns. It is not imperative that a person beginning the breeding of stock should anticipate and formulate a procedure for all possible contingencies, but the career of every breeder who has made himself known exhibits a quite clearly defined idea from the outset as to wherein his productions should differ from or accord with the various kinds and types to be found within his chosen breed. Later steps and plans may be decided upon in view of the outcome of earlier work, but for best results there must be the recognition of a standard toward which to work.

It might easily be possible to acquire a large or small aggregation of foundation females with each one a superior individual in herself but unlike each of the others. Perhaps the diversity of types is nowhere more noticeable than in draft horses. At one time a ringside spectator may see the highest premium awarded to a very wide low short-legged squarely built horse while in the succeeding ring preference may be given to a horse of more lofty appearance, rounder, neater, smoother, a less massive but more active kind. Both types are useful, feed well and sell well. Some users find the horse of the first type well qualified to perform the work placed upon him, while in another line of business the second type is more serviceable. One judge with an inclination toward one type may send the premiums to that class of animals, while another judge at another time would give honors to .the other. Complete agreement among authorities cannot be expected and is not desired. Both types are good property and fill their peculiar spheres of usefulness. The same holds true in other classes of stock. The type demanded by the cattle, hog, or sheep buyer is practically constant; but within each of the breeds of meat-producing stock there may be found types differing in size, rate of growth, rate of fattening, and grazing qualities, and consequently variously adapted to different sections of country or kinds of farming. The larger coarse later maturing and more rugged type may be more profitable to some men than the finer smaller and more rapidly maturing kind, and each in turn may stand first in the showring and each may be valuable and salable.

Whatever may be true of the judge when acting officially, from the view point of the man who is rearing stock for sale the situation is different. It is to his financial advantage to have his young stock as nearly uniform as possible in type both for feeding and for selling. The same feature is of additional value to him who sells breeding stock. With a band of females of mixed type no one male could sire the same class of offspring from dams of varying stamp. There may be some very good ones from the inharmonious matings and some rare lucky results, but uniformity of appearance and strong power of transmission cannot result from such procedure. Nor could much uniformity be looked for in the increase if the sire were of one type and the dams were all of one but a different type. The selection of and adherence to a type is a more vital matter than the selection of a breed.

It is the aim to insure the greatest possible amount of certainty regarding the outcome of every mating. Dealing with matters so imperfectly understood and so far from direct control it is not surprising that the unexpected should often happen. Because the unexpected may and does happen makes it all the more imperative that all possible means of insuring the desirable outcome be fully observed. The distinction among breeders lies not so much in the knowledge they possess as in the thoroughness and persistence with which they utilize all available information. If a prospective member of a breeding herd be of the type with which it has been decided to work, it remains to make a careful study of its conformation and all its individual characteristics. The shape of every part of the body, and every feature, such as disposition and digestion, is inherited. We do not believe that an animal accumulates contributions from its various parts and organs to form the germ cells, but we do consider that the germ cells are a growth from an unused portion of the germ plasm in the fertilized cell in which that animal had its origin. Every desirable or undesirable feature about the animal is represented in the germ plasm, but unless every portion of that material be so strongly charged with the representation of any specific character as to insure its presence in every germ cell then that character is quite likely to fail of transmission. Undesirable features have exactly the same opportunity to be passed to the off-spring as desirable ones, and the determination of what spermatozoon shall share in fertilization or what chromosomes shall be in the ovum is beyond direction. To preclude the possibilities of unwelcome characters in the offspring it is therefore essential that the parents' store of germ plasm be as nearly as possible free from possibilities for inferiority, and evidence as to this is to be had by making a thorough study of every part and feature. We have quite generally recognized and clearly defined ideas of good conformation in all types of animals. Fitness to wisely select breeding stock necessarily assumes a complete familiarity with at least the class of stock in question and some experience in comparing and forming opinions of considerable numbers of individuals. Study of an animal's fitness to become a member of a breeding herd should extend farther than the visible or external features of conformation. In meat-making animals many of the required points of structure are merely indications of the capacity for consuming feed and producing maximum gains therefrom. Facts and records regarding the animal's feeding and producing qualities are usually obtain-able and are many times more reliable as a basis of estimate than the most pleasing indications of the same capacities. With stock of which the usefulness may be made a matter of actual test, as is the case in dairy cattle, records of actual performance constitute the best possible evidence of individual merit, though age and various conditions affecting such a trial must be taken into account.

Among animals equally pleasing in build and apparently similar in efficiency of their special functions there often exists a marked variation in their power of transmitting their characteristics. Though such variation may frequently be due to differences in lineage yet certain features of individuality are found to be quite uniformly associated with power of transmission or prepotency. Prepotency in untested breeders is evidenced by that combination of physical attributes that gives to any animal a pronounced individualism, or as breeders term it, character. It is not easy to analyze character into its component parts, but since it is so closely associated with prepotency an explanation of the term as used in stock-breeding is very desirable. Character, or the appearance of strong individualism, is contributed to by three things : style, high development of the appearances associated with sex, and that robustness and vigor of expression that can only be present where perfect health and spirits are coexistent.

Style as related to prepotency is allied more with breeding than with individuality. Its presence argues an inheritance from the animals produced by the fore-most breeders who have always sought to combine attractiveness with utility. Appearances associated with sex, masculinity or femininity are often regarded as the main evidence of prepotency. We cannot recognize degrees in sex, but as in the case of a male the full development of the neck and front and the frontal bones of the face, though only secondary sexual qualities them-selves, manifest the activity and full vigor of the functional organs with which they are connected. Likewise in the female the neatness of the heck and refinement of the features of the face, and the gentle disposition, all evidence the assertion of the female tendencies that have much to do with the young, both before and after birth. The robustness and vigor of expression read in the countenance and mainly in the eyes, and also reflected in boldness of movement, are probably the most directly associated with prepotency of all the things that may be regarded as contributing to character. The appearance and manifestation of maximum vigor and vitality can only be present where all organs of the body that have to do with digestion, circulation, respiration and the nervous system that controls all continuously perform their full work. This maximum efficiency of all organs makes up constitution and is indicated nowhere else so satisfactorily as in the expression of the countenance and in the general bearing, behavior and carriage.

The presence of this condition, the complete health and nourishment of the body, insures the highest vigor, vitality and activity of the germ ells. It cannot change the make-up of the germ plasm, but it may control its strength and power and thus give a much higher degree of prepotency than would be possible if the animal had been naturally weak or listless and low in physical vigor. The qualities that make up constitution and are therefore so closely akin to this character are inherent ones, represented in the germ plasm reserved in the parent for reproductive purposes, and therefore they may enter into the heredity of the off-spring just the same as any other feature of the individual's physique. When possessed of such inheritance the offspring is imbued with the functional capacities that will enable it to withstand retarding and debilitating influences and, what is more important, to make the maximum response to careful and liberal feeding. The power to produce in proportion to the wisdom and liberality of the feeding is the fundamental distinction between improved and natural animals.

Sires of proved worth are often retained in active service until they reach an advanced age. So long as they remain in good physical condition and there is no noticeable decline in their impress upon their get there is no reason for regarding age as a factor in prepotency. When continued in service after the beginning of physical decline there is also a decline in the character of their progeny, showing again the relation to prepotency of an unimpaired individuality, and showing also the necessity of judging vigor by actual appearances rather than by the number of years through which the animal has passed.

Distinctive breed features such as color, shape of face or ear, or set of horn, are also a part of individuality as distinguished from pedigree. These features, commonly referred to as fancy points, while of no immediate usefulness are of consider-able assistance in the selection of breeding stock. In the first place their presence is helpful because by the uninitiated they are regarded as trademarks, guaranteeing the presence of those special qualities on which rests the value and popularity of the particular breed they adorn. Where found apart from tangible evidences of actual utility they of course avail but little. It must be borne in mind, however, that it has ever been the object of the intelligent and far-seeing breeders to fix upon their stock such distinctive and attractive features as will commend them to the public and also appeal to and please the searchers after qualities of utility. In some instances selection has been based more on fancy than on utility points, to the great detriment of the latter, but when found combined with proof or indications of real merit these fancy points serve as evidence of inheritance from the herds of the more discerning breeders and add assurance to the inheritance of and power to transmit the practical essentials.

According to the view of heredity pervading this discussion of individuality there is no possible means of a parent's transmitting to its progeny the effects of accidents or injuries. Exception must be made, however, to those abnormal conditions resulting from an inherited tendency toward such conditions. We do not believe that the germ cells carry representative material derived from each part of the parent body, but we do believe that the offspring will resemble the parent because they have a common source, and to be satisfied that the source is a good one we demand that the parent present high individual excellence as a proof thereof.

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