Explanation of the Breeding Programme. And How and Why it Works.
In 1962 Dr Ch’ang (TS) and I set up the Angus Breeding programme in the Pinebank herd. In the beginning we kept all our existing sires for the following year and added our best rising 2 year bull to the sires. The exercise was as much a demonstration to me about what would happen, as it was to begin the programme. The herds best bull came out on top thus proving the saying “that any animal is only as good as the average of its progeny so its best progeny is better than its sire”
I then continued to use our own best 2year old bulls. We were seeking our herd’s pattern of growth, (all bulls grow at different periods) and looking for recessive genes that might residual in the herd.
At this stage we were selecting for growth, the heritability of which is slightly higher for 2year olds than for yearlings. Not because the heritability alters ,but because you have more information to calculate it from. At this stage we had no idea that we would eventually be using yearling bulls.
We had already moved into the Bulmar effect, which was problem No1, with its resulting deteriorating effect on performance.
After two years on my own I was approached individually by three other breeders who wanted access to the programme. It was decided that we should all look over each others cattle and have a meeting with TS at my place. I agreed to involve the other herds for two reasons. Firstly because the bigger the population the faster the programme goes because the variation is higher. Secondly to achieve a political force in the Angus Association. At this stage our programme was being treated as a joke but 800 registered cows would make a real impact in the Association.
During the viewing of each breeder’s sires, we noted there was a bull in the Tupurupuru herd with high performance that look quite different!
The other three members decided they had to have the right not to use such a bull if they wished. After T.S. had addressed the group the three new members voiced their concern. I said, we use the Tupurupuru bull and will use any bull if its performance is high, regardless of its appearance, as long as it is physically sound. Anyone who was not prepared to do so could leave right now. No one left.
In the begining T.S.said he had no idea what was going to appear because what we were doing nobody had ever done before. This was incorrect as we both knew about the No1. Hereford line at Miles City, Montana which had been closed since 1935, I believe.
After the herd had been closed for 10 years we came across problem No2.
All animals have many genes not all of which are exhibited in its phenotype , when you close a herd and concentrate genetic material , then those genes that have not been exhibited begin to show. Angus cattle in N.Z have always had trouble with feet, it is one of the major causes of culling. In our Pinebank herd we never considered we had a foot problem, but in the closed herd, bad feet began to appear.
It got steadily worse until approx 80% of our sale bulls went out with bad feet. I rang T.S. about this problem pointing out that I could not continue at this level. He said “ Hang on in there, you will go over the top”. We did and the next year we had no bad feet and have had very few since. Our bulls feet are guaranteed and we very seldom have to replace any.
After about 10 years we had overcome the Bulmar effect, and the bad feet and we were on our way.
We had been selecting for growth which is a highly heritable trait, and so progress can be quite rapid. At the same time T.S. suggested I should begin mating yearling heifers. It was no use having this mob of females running around being unproductive, when they could rear a calf. Up to this time, it was not normal practise, in fact we were told that it could not be done successfully. But TS pointed out that the industry would eventually demand it, and we should be ahead of demand. I began mating yearling heifers, but I was the only one in the group to do so. I would be surprised if there was anyone else in New Zealand mating them at that time.
Mating yearling heifers and selecting for growth do not go together. Because as your cattle begin to grow faster, birth weights increase. Birth weights and fast growth are highly correlated.
An American Scientist who turned up at this stage told me that doing this would result in dystokia (calving problems). That was when I began weighing at birth to see what was happening to birth weights. He was right.
I was pulling calves all day and losing many heifers and calves. This was obviously not going to work. Research told me the major part of foetal growth was in the last week to calving, so I dropped their feed to maintenance.
This is detrimental to the successful management of calving yearling heifers as body weight must be retained up to calving and then the heifers must be fed to the absolute maximum while they are lactating. This is necessary to get them back in calf and this is important as it is no use getting a calf out of heifers if they are dry the following year.
Selecting for low birth weights resulted in a lessening of 600day weights. Then we discovered there were some bulls who could have low birth weights and still have high 600 day weights, so we began using them. On examining their data later, we found it was due to shortened gestation. This is quite an important economic characteristic. In the beef herds it makes the calving much more successful and brings the cow back in season earlier, and in the dairy industry, it gives them extra milking time.
2012 has begun very well for us in our district. Every time the grass has begun to dry off, turn to stalk and begin to seed, we have had a very good warm rain. Grass is every where and the stock are doing very well. This is on top of a lift in prices.
The economics of any enterprise is the multitude of products it produces and the number of markets those products go to. In New Zealand we produce on the standard farm about 8 products. Four in cattle and four in sheep. This gives us that flexability to move to the best market in any one year. Our biggest problem is the cost of getting our products to markets, and what is worse, a government that has never discovered agriculture and treats us as its private bank. Just keeps loading us with costs and then complains when the price of food rises.
This Newsletter is an explanation of the meaning of the saying:
There is no end to the improvement in anything biological. It will slow down but it will go on
What happens in a programme like ours is that as the average rises, so does the top by the same amount ,thus keeping the variation the same. This means that if we have variation and the top is + 50 kilos above and the average of the sires that we select is +30 and we are selecting for growth, then we should in that year make a gain of +15.
But because of our multifactor selection we would be lucky to make +2.
The fact that there is no end to the improvement is because with the millions of genes involved there are endless combinations.
There are no two people in the world that are identical just the same as there no two cows or bulls or anything biological for that matter; I do not know about identical twins? I must find out but in those that I know there some minor differences which to me would indicate that their codes have some minor differences.
The big problem is going to be for future generations of my family to keep the programme going in its entirety. Interestingly, it is much easier to run the programme than it is to go out and purchase bulls. William has never been through the hassle that that creates and the number of times that you make a mistake, by buying a completely unsuitable bull. And then you are stuck with it, especially if it cost you a lot which they frequently do!
Just to run through how we select our sires each year. We use four bulls per 100 cows and as we have about 300 cows we require about 12 bulls. We use this number of bulls not because our bulls are of low fertility but because every year we want to make sure that we hit the best bull.
These bulls are then put out with randomised cows but no halfsibs or mothers or close relations. This is to prevent inbreeding as much as possible.
So we select the top 20 bulls on ‘beefplan records’. Then we go through the bulls for physical soundness. Then we go through them for temperment. Then for anything that we do not like we throw them out. We always have room for a bull that attracts our attention for some reason and that we consider to be worth a try.
These bulls are yearlings so they are observed closely when they go out , to see how long it takes for a bull to begin working.
Each bull is carefully progeny tested. Having been doing this since 1965 we have a good idea how a bull is performing as soon as we begin weighing his calves.
If a bull is good, we use a number of his sons. If he is not good we do not want to know about him. Remembering that each son is out of a different cow.
We are into Summer and so far we are having a wonderful season, long may it last!
Whereas it is usually becoming dry at this time of year, we have had rain storms at regular intervals right through wth the resulting growth in green grass. Not only that but the bottom has remained so the grass remains at high quality.
There has been some flooding in Australia and in other district in New Zealand but we have missed out and are just having a little colder season than normal and a lot wetter. Results are that all the stock are in good condition which will mean good conceptions this year.
How do grassbred cattle handle dry-lots?
This has been a frequently asked question and it occupies many breeders minds. Has selection for dry-lot changed the enzymes in the gut of cattle and made them different to those cattle selected for total grass production?
We have had two chances to look at just this exercises. I shall explain to you in both instances what occurred
The first one occurred in the mid 1980’s when we sent semen from a bull of ours to America to take part in a progeny test against the top growth bulls in the States at that time. The idea then was to test a top bull from each country against American cattle to get some idea where each country’s performance lay.
Although we paid $5000 for our bull being tested, at no time was I informed about any other countrys bulls being involved. I understood that commercial heifers had been purchased to be used and were randomised to each bull.
This is what you would expect if the test was to have any scientific credence.
I had been informed, by the then Secretary, that all bulls coming into the States had their raw data automatically penalise 20% before entering their recording program.
American data has no penalty entering New Zealand’s program.
Maybe. if this test had a scientific input, our bulls data maynot have been penalisedI never ever received any written information. All I got was telephoned results at the end of each period, calving, weaning preparation for dry-lot, then silence. I have been unable to get any information since. But this is what I do know.
The stud herd that ran the trial calved his herd and the experimental herd inside.
Remember that I do not know whether any other country’s bulls were involved or just ours. I only know about our bull’s behaviour.
They pulled just as many calves from our bull as any other bull. We had never pulled a calf from our bull, which indicates to me that they pulled the calves too early, but that is reasonable since it was an experiment, and they wished to get as many live calves as possible representing each bull.Our bull kept right up with the other bulls, in fact was in the middle at weaning.
Retained his place at yearling, much to everyone’s surprise, and was now approaching dry-lot.
I anticipated that when our bull’s progeny was on drylot they would fall behind as there had been no selection applied for this characteristic. The other sires had many generations of selection on grain.Since then the data and contacts have disappeared. I believe that the American Angus Assn. has a copy but they will not give me the data so I can only believe that our bull began to grow very fast and was the heaviest.
What I do know, is that our bull came out in the top 2% of his years bulls for carcase analysis.So bulls selected on grass alone can and do perform on drylot.Our bull was Waigroup 1/80 and he went on to do very well in Australia and we still have semen from him in store . Every now and again we use him just to run a check on how the performance is going in the Waigroup herds He is well behind now.We also were involved in an experiment with Virgina Polytechnic Institute and State University Blacksburg 24061, in 1987 with Dr Bill Hohenbocken. He ran an experiment with his genetics degree students to see if there was any difference in the gut of bulls that had been selected for grass production as opposed to those bulls selected for dry-lot.My next Newsletter will cover this experiment.