The Genetic Nuts and Bolts of Building a Productive and Consistent Herd/flock
I want to build a herd of docile cattle that maximize my profit and
minimizes my inputs. How do I go about it? Suppose I have
an existing herd that has been managed for years, using the
conventional breeding techniques generally recommended by university
systems for the past 30 years, and I want to create a consistent herd
that has consistency in its output. How do I go about it?
These are valid questions that we will attempt to answer.
By Dr. Robert Wilson
How to choose what breeding program is right for you.
a breeding program can be a daunting task, and there is no shortage of
opinions out there to “guide” you along. The problem is, that
without a clear and well thought out plan of breeding and genetic
forethought to further the end result of the cattle, we lose time,
money and precious genetic resources with little improvement in the
To help avoid making that all to often repeated
mistake, we have come up with a guide to help you the producer, see the
results you desire in a timeframe that is acceptable to both your
lifetime and your pocketbook.
First, we must begin with formulating the final objective.
are the features of the cattle that you are desiring? Every
cattle producer must educate himself to proper animal husbandry.
Gearld Fry spent the last 30-40 years of his life educating the public,
literally around the world, as to the proper, practical ways to select
and view animals. Start by reading his cattle measurement and
selection articles, guidelines and pictures available on bovineengineering.com If you have not done so, order Gearld’s books on Reproduction and Animal Health, and Reproduction - Low Maintenance -Linear Measuring.
Based on all the wealth of information Gearld has given to us, write
down the phenotype of the animal that you are trying to obtain and
maintain. That is the end goal! Of course, we can
re-evaluate that goal as we go along but we must have that ideal in
mind as we try to move along our genetic herd building program.
Go back to it frequently to make sure that we do not lose sight of
where we are going. It will help with decisions we will need to
make later on.
Separate out the cows.
to research, most herds of Cattle have at least 10% of good
foundational females. Go through the herd and select those
females according to all that you have learned from the education phase
of your process. Divide them along their distinctive phenotypical
characteristics. When you are finished you should have 3-4
different “lines” of cattle that are very similar phenotypically and
are from your best females. These will be your foundational
female lines. This is exactly how most all of the famous purebred
herds of cattle were formed. For example:
Angus herd was first started by Hugo Watson when he selected the best
polled native black cattle from his herd. He then worked to
create a superior bull. Eventually, he had created several female
lines that were paternally dominant genetically. He started with
some great foundational cows. “Old Granny”, born in
1824, lived to be 35 years old and had close to 29
offspring. She did not die of natural causes. She was
struck by lightning. That is the kind of cow we need in our herds.
Gearld had this to say about setting up the cow lines based on phenotype:
ideal method of success in putting a program together of this nature is
to recognize the 3-4 top female bloodlines in your herd or flock,
including their daughters. You would A I breed each of them to the same
recommended bull. When the progeny heifers are ready for service they
would be breed to another recommended bull of the same bloodline, never
outcross. The cows and daughters would continue to be bred in the same
way. You will be surprised at the quality of a few of the bull calves
from these early mating. Use all you possibly can to begin the
concentrated gene pools. You will use them. In time, the entire herd of
females that exist revolves around these 3-4 female lines. They are the
blessing with genetics that was given to us in the creation. The
production, the reproduction, the level of maintenance, the body
condition, and the calving difficulties – all the issues that used to
destroy us are no longer an issue. The cows become your servant instead
of you serving them. I haven't said much about longevity which is the
highest economic indicator of a top female line.
some point, you have to segregate the females, especially at breeding
time, for proper genetic mating. Let us name the female blood lines A,
B, C and D. If a usable bull calf is born in group A he would be used
in B C D never back to his direct kin. If born in D he would be used in
A B C, again never on his direct kin (etc.). This way you would most
likely not back yourself in a corner.
Maybe you and your
neighbor or neighbors would want to work together in an undertaking
such as this. Each of you takes the best females bloodlines for the
elite mating (including daughters). You may want to make a common herd
with these females. You would start the herd with small numbers. What
will be surprising is how big a percent of daughters from the beginning
females will stay in the elite herd. What also will be surprising is
how many sons are born from those elite females that will be usable
herd sires. It also reveals to you how many bulls you may have
castrated before you knew how to evaluate a bull – those are bulls you
did not pay somebody hard-earned or borrowed money for. You have no
more than the cost of keeping a cow for a year against the bull. You
must remember, I recommend leaving the calves with mom for 10 months
given the grass supply is adequate. Also, the type of cow I am
describing will get fat and refuse to maintain a pregnancy if she isn't
kept busy giving milk and a baby in the incubator 10 out of each 12
months.” Gearld Fry Genetics and Gene Pools
Obtain the semen you are going to use from a Superior Bull.
semen from a bull that is a superb bull and that is free from
defects. There are several bulls like this, in a couple of
different breeds, still available. In fact, there are a couple
that have never been released before as Gearld was saving them for his
own program with the Old World Black cattle that he and I
developed. For a bull to be genetic defect free, he would have to
have been genetically tested by DNA probes for each of the defects that
are currently known or (like they did before the advent of the DNA
probe) he would be bred back to 35 of his own daughters, and if there
were no defects then he would be 99.7 percent defect free. We did
it the old-fashioned way.
On this point, I must caution
you. Superb bulls are rare these days. Follow all of the
guidelines for selecting the bulls or obtain semen from someone that
you trust to have done that. Again, refer to the educational
books, articles, and videos that Gearld has put together. Just
like Hugo Watson, the founder of the Angus, only registered about 30 or
so animals in 35 years, the same is true today as we begin to select
those outstanding genetics. Our advantage over Hugo is that there
are some people like Gearld and others who have been doing this for
many years ahead of you and laid down the foundation that you can build
What is the difference in how the cattle are bred and why does it matter?
are three terms that are generally used when referring to most genetic
breeding programs. Those terms are: Inbreeding, Line-breeding,
and out-crossing. It must be admitted that there is a vigorous
debate as to the fully accepted definition of each of these terms, but
for the sake of this article we will limit it to the accepted
Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition, as it stands today, and discuss
these three systems and their interrelation to what is recommended to
build and maintain a successful, healthy and productive herd or flock.
First the definitions:
the interbreeding of closely related individuals especially to preserve
and fix desirable characters of and to eliminate unfavorable characters
from a stock.
Linebreeding: the interbreeding of individuals within a particular line of descent usually to perpetuate desirable characters.
Outcrossing: the interbreeding of individuals or stocks that are relatively unrelated
me just say that the goal of the breeding program is to get to the
point in which you are Linebreeding and carefully monitoring the lines
so that they are constantly improving or maintaining the ideal that you
set in the beginning. Never lose sight of that ideal!
get there is another story all-together. Because you are
selecting the best cow lines that you have and it is presumed that you
do not have a superior bull, it is necessary to buy the semen from a
superior bull and introduce him into the herd. This becomes an
outcross. If you have semen from 3 superior bulls that are
closely related then you are very fortunate!! If not then you can
still do it with one but it will require closer inbreeding and quicker
expressions of those unfavorable traits that will have to be eaten or
Breed all the cow lines to the Superior bull you have chosen. Let’s use two paths to take. First is the Ideal:
You have 2 or 3 superior bulls. Father, Brother, Son.
the father to all of the original cows in the Female lines. (Continue
to do so with those females until a superior bull is developed from one
of the lines)
- Breed the Son to all of
the heifers that are selectable for phenotype and selection
guidelines. This is a half-sibling mating and is one of the most
powerful matings that there is for bringing out the most desirable
phenotype qualities. Well planned and thought out inbreeding promotes
an increase in prepotency, which is the ability of an individual to
consistently pass on its characteristics. This prepotency results from
the increase in homozygosity. Since an inbred individual will have more
homozygous gene pairs than a non-inbred individual, there are fewer
possible gene combinations for the sperm or egg cells. As a result, the
offspring should be more similar to each other.
you would like to increase the ability to develop a paternally sound
bull quickly then you can breed some of the heifers to the uncle.
The breeding coefficient is the same for half-siblings and is a very
- Continue this
cycle using the three bulls. Take notice of how they each express
their genetics with the cattle they are put with.
- Remember that your goal is to develop your own Superior bulls and keep developing them in each of the selected lines.
this scenario, your inbreeding coefficient is about 1/8th.
When you get a high inbreeding coefficient you will strongly effect
prepotency (ability of an individual or strain to transmit its
characters to offspring because of homozygosity for numerous dominant
genes) which will fix the phenotype (good or bad) but will adversely
affect the reproductive efficiency as there is a reproductive
depressive effect with a very high inbreeding coefficient. Note
the inbreeding coefficient chart.
you are ready for a true linebreeding program as Gearld
recommends. “At any point, you have segregated the females,
especially at breeding time for proper genetic mating. Let us name the
female blood lines A, B, C and D. If a usable bull calf is born in
group A he would be used in B C D never back to his direct kin. If born
in D he would be used in A B C again never on his direct kin (etc.).
This way you would most likely not back yourself in a corner.” Gearld
Inbreeding coefficient by Sewall Wright
You only have 1 superior bull available in the breed that you desire.
- Breed all the cows in the cow lines to the superior bull and continue to do so until you have a superior bull of your own.
he is known to be genetic defect free then breed him to his daughters
as well, if not then save the best bull and breed him to the daughters
that have made the phenotype and selection guidelines.
the second generation save the best bull and breed him to all of his
siblings that have made the phenotype and selection guidelines.
this time you should be close to developing a superior bull. Many
bulls will look good but won’t be superior at this point.
- Follow the linebreeding guidelines described above in point 7.
must be stressed that you can’t have a soft heart when it comes to
selecting the best cattle. Be objective, measure, look, feel and
know the animals well, then make the decision that will best advance
your program to the goals you set in the beginning.
these things in mind, we can get back to producing consistent products
that are healthy and that please our creator as we love our neighbors.