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BREEDING BETTER BEEF CATTLE

       Common beef cattle breeds were developed in the British Isles or Continental Europe. Characteristics became fixed due to physical isolation and selection by founding breeders. Selection was for color, horns, and other easily observable traits. Breed identity was fixed by line breeding or inbreeding to favorite animals.

       The first of these breeds to be utilized in the United States were the Shorthorn, Hereford, and Angus. Herd books were established in the founding countries and continued in the U.S. Breeder preference was influenced by fads and a perception that a beef animal should look like a box to have a lot of beef. These cattle did improve the beef characteristics when crossed on native longhorn types which had descended from cattle brought in by Spanish explorers. In the 1940s and 50s the fad was for small, compact, very fat, thick animals. Selection for these qualities resulted in slow growing small animals and the preferred phenotype led to increasing the frequency of the mutation causing dwarfism in the homozygous condition.

       The dwarf problem created somewhat of a panic in some purebred herds. Groups of known carrier females were assembled to test bulls for the trait. If a bull sired ten normal calves from carrier cows, he was considered free. This was very expensive and slow though effective in screening herd bulls. An interest in making the cattle grow faster to a larger end point favored different selection after this experience as well. Larger animals were sought within the breeds and even some larger animals of other breeds were used to infuse genes for more growth into the British breeds.

       The predominant Hereford breed made most U.S. beef cattle red with a white face. Herefords were well adapted to most areas of the U.S. but again the fad of a clear white face and pink skin was a genetic error as these cattle are susceptible to eye problems such as pink-eye and cancer-eye. Also the white color of the underline and udder was a problem with reflective sun or snow burn. The preferred commercial breeding method practiced was upgrading to a nearly purebred cattle herd.
An area where no straight British breed was well adapted was the Gulf coastal prairie of Texas as well as Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. A different system was used in this hot, humid area as the British types just could not survive for long. Besides the heat and insects, the grass in these areas was of a poor quality and needed proper supplementation, particularly with phosphorus in the proper ratio with calcium.

       Zebu cattle types were brought from India and Pakistan where they were used as beasts of burden or for milk. The American Brahman breed was developed in the early 20th century from these cattle. Some breeding bulls were also imported from Brazil where they developed several special breeds of Zebu cattle that became the main types of beef cattle for Brazil. The King Ranch made a breed called Santa Gertrudis from Zebu cattle and Shorthorns. Possibly the cattle also had a little influence from Africaner. Other American breed composites such as Beefmasters and Brangus were developed to meet the special needs of the coastal prairie.
Brahman and Brahman crosses were able to thrive in these areas and in the 1950s, calves weighing around 300 to 400 pounds were marketed right off the cows as slaughter calves. By getting calves to market early, the cows could breed back more easily. Ranchers tried to keep British breed bulls to get the crossbred calves and also used bulls of Beefmaster, Santa Gertrudis, and Brangus breeding. The American breed bulls lasted longer than the Hereford or Shorthorn but many had sheath or prepuce problems. Their calves were not as desireable for the market.

       In the 1940s and 50s while I was in high school and college, I spent summers with my great uncle, Stanley “Boots” Kubela, who raised commercial cattle in Matagorda County and also developed a herd of registered Red Brahmans. Uncle Boots and veterinarian, Dr. H.H. Payne, were my mentors and influenced my philosophy of animal breeding. Dr. Payne used to come out for the cow and calf workings and he would select a commercial bull calf or two out of 1000 calves to not castrate for herd bulls for his own herd. He had a very productive herd.

       The Brahman influenced cows showed cattlemen and scientists the benefits of crossbreeding or heterosis. These adapted cows not only tolerated the heat and insects, they lived productively for a longer time. They calved easily and ate plants that other cattle did not. As the markets changed over time and almost all calves spent time in a feedlot before marketing, the cattle that showed Brahman influence met resistance in the market. Disposition could be a problem, the cattle had horns, and the meat got a reputation for being tough and did not usually have marbling to reach the higher grades. The American breeds of Santa Gertrudis and Beefmaster were developed using breeding programs similar to the British breeds. That is they used line breeding to try to set type and make the cattle uniform. Visual selection and shows were the main factors influencing selection.

       I started trying to make better beef cattle in the 1960s. Some new tools were available such as frozen bull semen. The more progressive seedstock breeders started using actual data for selection instead of just visual appraisal. Performance Registry encouraged the use of performance data. This organization was the forerunner of the Beef Improvement Federation. The new American Simmental Association and the Red Angus Association required that breeders submit some weaning weight data as well as birth and yearling data where possible. Both of these associations allowed the use of artificial insemination in the registered cattle. The progressive founders of ASA were very open with the rules as most breeding was done by AI in the early days. I bought semen from the Simmental bull, Bismark, and used it on my Brahman X Hereford cows. I had been using AI and crossbreeding to produce market ready beef for a local packer. After the birth of these first Simmental sired calves, I decided that rather than breeding up to purebred Simmental, I would make a new composite type using the crossbred cows I had and using the best imported bulls as they became available.

       From my observations and including travels to South America and Mexico I expected that growth in beef cattle would be in the warmer parts of the world and so heat tolerance would be needed. Robert Kleberg and A.O. Rhoad, the geneticist that worked with him in developing the Santa Gertrudis at the King Ranch got many traits right such as the slick red hair coat for reflection of the sun’s rays. They were successful in developing a new breed that had a uniform type, but they also fixed some characteristics with inbreeding that proved detrimental in the long run. The pendulous sheath of the founder bull, Monkey, is present in most bulls even today as well as some reproductive problems such as vagina or uterus prolapse in females. The linebreeding that made uniformity also narrowed the gene pool so that fixed trait problems were nearly impossible to select out.

       I got acquainted with Dr. Ray Woodward, a prominent beef cattle researcher in Montana when he went to work for ABS as the beef cattle director. At the same time that Dr. Woodward was hired by ABS, my husband, Dr. G.L. Artecona went to work for ABS as a foreign representative. Dr. Woodward was responsible for the line breeding experiments with Hereford cattle that produced the famous Line 1 Herefords. Some of the other lines were used in the ABS early bull line up as well. Although the Line 1 cattle survived the close breeding and contributed to the Hereford gene pool, most of the other lines ran into genetic factors that eliminated them. Dr. Woodward was a big help to me through the years as I could call him for answers to questions that I had. He also selected many of the first European Simmental bulls that came to the American continent or their semen was imported.

       I also need to mention that the founder of ABS was Rockefeller Prentice. His father was E. Parmalee Prentice, an innovative and progressive animal breeder and author of the books, Breeding Better Dairy Cattle, and Hunger and History.

       My philosophy of animal breeding was coming together and here are the basics
1. If desired traits are not in the gene pool at a level that can be selected, then put the traits into the gene pool from another source. One example is the polled trait. Another could be tenderness.
2. Select only for useful, functional traits as selecting for frivolous traits such as length of ear and clear white face just retards progress in selection for the important things.
3. EPD numbers are very helpful but some physical traits are not included in the numbers so selection using only the numbers leads to problems. Beef cattle should have and raise a calf every year without assistance from people. Regular reproduction is much more important than any other trait. In order for a cow to perform as needed, she must be of a size and physical type to be well adapted to her environment. Structural traits with feet, udder, teats, coat color and hair type are important for lasting productive ability. In bulls, the sheath structure and prepuce control are traits often not considered important in selection but neglect of this can lead to severe problems.
4. Traits for improved meat quality become important after the important reproduction traits are secure.
5. Since heterosis is beneficial in the important reproductive area, inbreeding should be avoided for the most part. Since rotational crossbreeding is difficult to manage, a composite program is preferred.
6. There are many new tools available to animal breeders today but some of them are already being misused. I think it is a mistake to use a heifer in an embryo program before she has proven to actually be a good cow. DNA tests can avoid some of the progeny testing for genetic defects that were used in the past so this testing is valuable. DNA testing is not the total answer, only one new tool to use in breeding better cattle. DNA markers are especially useful for traits such as tenderness that are hard to measure.
7. Disposition is important for ease of handling but beef cows need to have good mothering instinct and be protective of a newborn calf. Calves need to have the vigor to get up and suckle quickly.

       Shows and fads seem to be a continuing part of the beef cattle industry. Although 4H and FFA projects can be valuable for teaching young people important lessons, the win at any cost philosophy has spoiled some of the good. Show calf production is a separate entity and not really related to commercial beef production. Black color preference started when many grand champion steers failed to grade when harvested. Also the black color masked faults and made for a smooth looking animal. The big change for black came when the American Angus Association initiated the Certified Angus Beef program, part of which depended on the animals’ coat color. Even though black cattle are not “better” in any way, and they are poorer for heat tolerance, the fad right now in the industry is, “they bring more if they are black.”

       There is still disagreement between breeders that focus on the commercial industry and those that enjoy breeding for show using preferred family lines. All cattle can and do make beef. The industry has tools to use to make the cattle more productive and sustainable in various environments but quite a bit of cattle production is on land being used for hunting or other recreational activities. There really is no cattle production profit motive in some cases. This leads to the business of buying “misfit” cattle and grouping and working them so that they do make a profit for the stocker or feeder. Much like the fighting bull business of Spain and Mexico, the raising of special bulls for the rodeo bull riding events has become a specialized business.

       Breeding cattle as a hobby or for show can be fun but expensive and eventually they are made into beef. After you make cattle sound and well adapted to your area of production, there are modern tools to help make the beef production more efficient and the product more desirable to the consumer. This has always been my goal and the challenges have been and still are exciting.


Awards


Beef Improvement Federation Pioneer Award 2012

Pro Simbrah Award, Villahermosa, Tabasco, Mexico 2012
   

Cowgirl Hall of Fame induction 2011

World Simmental Federation Golden Book Award 2009

 

Using ASA tools to provide genetic SOLUTIONS to better beef cattle.

  Ana Hudson • 325-212-1117
Edgar Artecana • 214-957-8707

RX Ranch, 8330 W. Fm 1692, Miles, TX 76861
ana@rxsimbrah.com

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