There are an estimated 100-million beef and dairy cows and calves of all breeds in America. What is more significant than numbers for a true student of Devon breeding is the average value of the animals produced each year and what they contribute to the quality of meat and milk production. Accurate statistics covering that point are not easily come by.

It is well-known, however, even by those considered leaders of the livestock industry that most animals produced today are of inferior quality. The cost of producing these inferior animals can be as great (or even greater) than the cost of producing a superior animal. The inferior animal returns less profit to the producer because of today’s typical input costs and the added expense of treating disease, low fertility and poor production. We have been trying to force an answer to all these problems with money.

Only when the finished product is offered for sale the breeder may realize the importance of producing animals of superior quality. For example, the owner of a low producing dairy herd may be forced out of business for economic reasons while a neighbor with a high producing herd with cows that efficiently convert a natural diet into energy and production will prosper.

The family dairy generally does not have the luxury of the large mega-dairies, whose investors generally have multiple sources of income. Today’s small beef producer also survives only because he or other members of the family are supporting the enterprise with a job in town. The result is a non-profitable situation which has been a detriment to the quality of the beef industry. There is no pressure to create quality because the small farm is forced to compete with the large in production terms of pounds, tons and bushels. Quality has been eliminated as a standard.

If the grape growers and wine processors managed in this manner there would be no wine industry. They have their specific soil, grapes and environment for the production of fine wine. The grape producer carries a refractometer at all times. The vineyards product is tested and graded right through the moment it winds up on the customer’s table.

The beef and dairy industries should have such standards as well; however, there are only a few livestock producers still living with the knowledge and wisdom to breed and manage under rigid standards.

The reason for this paper is to cause the producers of beef and milk to consider the attitude, knowledge and experience they employ at selection and breeding time. And that attitude is key. The consumer has no control and not much information about his food. It is our responsibility to protect the American family; not the government’s! Remember, though we have let them down, consumers still trust us

Breeding our Devon is the purpose of this study. I will be dealing with four main topics: (1) selecting for purity, (2) utilization of grass, (3)quality of the meat and milk and (4) muscle mass.

My hope is that Devon producers reading these words will keep in mind that our goal should be to deserve the trust of our consumers.

If you are in the Devon business for profit alone, these lessons do not apply to you. If you want to be better than the average breeder, and then get on this fine food journey and help set the standards for the others to follow. I also hope the commercial breeder will pay heed, because he is the one who uses our bulls and the one who puts 99% of the meat on the grocery shelf.

The art of breeding Devon for profit

Suppose you gain an extra 25 pounds of weight and you decide to shed the extra pounds. You check out information on the web, at the library or consult a nearby diet center. You will indeed be rewarded in your search by a number of systems that will probably help you if you stick to the guidelines. However the most important part of this endeavor is that you have had a change of heart. If you are to be successful in losing weight, 99% of your success comes from within yourself. You don’t need to spend money to do something that has always been in your control. What has been missing is simple self control.

Breeding fine livestock is no different; you fashion a plan and then carry it out. Breeding and selecting productive cattle that produce high quality food begins and ends with a change of attitude. You may need to attend some classes or maybe read some old books to gain knowledge and insight. But sadly the information you need to create fine meat and milk is not available on the web or at a university. It has not been practiced or taught in our lifetime.

The art of breeding began with the domestication of animals very early in history. Through long centuries of slow progress, the breeds of cows were gradually improved through selection for quality milk (butterfat) to better meet the nutritional requirements of man. Faced with different environments, a number of breeds were developed that were suited for a particular place and purpose.

A good example of one of the earliest improvements in animal breeding is the Arabian horse. Because their way of life required a horse of speed and stamina, Arabs by careful selection developed a breed far in advance of their wild ancestors. Undoubtedly, the Arabian horse was begun as a dream and then became a passion in the mind of a small group of people.

The French farmer of old was in need of a horse possessing great strength and stamina for pulling implements of tillage that would be better suited than the animals he then had. Through careful selection and breeding he created what we know as the modern Percheron. The excellent qualities for heavy work this horse possesses were not new, they were contained within the old breeds, but the improvement came in selecting and blending those qualities in a form to meet the demands of modern agriculture.

The wild cow gave just enough milk to raise her calf and, after a few months of lactating, she would cease production. Today the undulant family nurse their young for 3 to 4 months. But if you were to domesticate the deer or elk and use wise selection and breeding methods, within a few generations they would give milk just like the modern cow.

Today, in what we like to call “modern times”, there is more need for a better grass efficient Devon than at any time in the past 60 years. And yes, there is even a great economic advantage for those who decide to breed fine Devon.

Because of the new demands of the marketplace, there are many people out there who claim to offer grass genetics just because they don’t use supplements. Be careful about falling for the trap of smooth talking salesmen who have learned the proper language and only want your money. If a breeder you are considering is not introducing you to a genetic concentration management program, be cautious. Cattle that have not been genetically selected for a particular body type, shape or form or for utilizing grass for a period of 12 to 20 years and possess those four characteristics required for consistency that I listed earlier, cannot be said to have true pure grass genetics.

The breeder who has selected for the four characteristics and does specific line breeding within his own herd may be producing bulls that will stamp their progeny. That is known as “prepotency”.

You know that when an Arabian or Percheron stallion is bred to a thoroughbred mare or a quarter horse mare or any other breed, the resulting colt will have many more or the stallion’s features and characteristics then the mare’s. The same is true if you use a Quarter horse or Thoroughbred stallion on the Arabian or Percheron mare. The genetics are so concentrated in the Percheron and Arabian that they dominate what the progeny represents.

The exact same thing holds true when breeding Devon. We must create a focused genetic pool in the herd bull so his is the dominant force in the breeding program. We have come to a time in history that demands change; that dictates that inputs must cease. Without prepotent Devon bulls developed to historic standards we will be left with Devon meat and milk that is no different than anything else in the supermarket.

As a result of modern breeding and management practices, man has created livestock that is not suited to meet our grass needs. We are left with a supplemental-type animal, a “production only” animal with a non-functional gland system, delivering meat and milk unfit for human consumption.

Thankfully, our full-blood Devon have not been reduced to this low status. When fed on the herbage of our pastures and used for the table, the studies confirm we can still produce HIL meat and milk.

But the North American Devon Association needs to act now to protect this heritage. NADA should develop standards that address the four most important issues facing the breeders of Devon and our livestock industry. Those standards can be summed up in four categories and with a number of sub-categories:

Breed Purity=full-blood Devon only; heterosis free.
Utilization of grass into energy for production.
Quality of meat and milk=genetics for milk-fat.
Muscle mass=carcass cut-out=profitable.

My hope is you will consider how fortunate we are to have inherited a breed that through the ages has been selected and bred specifically and only to produce quality meat and milk on grass without any compromise to boost production. The genetics are still there but they must be focused and nurtured.

My hope is that you develop in your heart a dedication to produce only quality food for you and your neighbor.

My hope is that NADA will lead in this pursuit and support the effort with clear and measurable standards and with a serious program of education.

In coming weeks, I’ll be fleshing out the four key categories that are the basis for “The Art of Breeding Devon”.

If you wish to discuss this further, contact me.

Gearld Fry