Introduction

As I have studied the philosophies and accomplishments of many of the world’s greatest stockmen I have learned the common denominator was their desire to produce an animal that was extremely functional in its environment. Grasping their thought processes for selection, management and breeding practices have been both mentally challenging and rewarding for me. While not always blatantly apparent, I came to understand that in order to produce cattle with the genetic ability to exhibit and recreate the correct body type ultimately requires the right nutrition, even prior to conception.

Sometimes it takes reading between the lines to get the true message, but what these great stockmen knew was that proper nutrition started in the womb and then came in the form of rich high butterfat milk for the nursing calf. This rich milk not only grew a healthy robust calf but it gave the farmer the means to have cream and make cheese to sell. Producing quality meat wasn’t their primary goal yet was the natural consequence.

It became clear to me that all these great stockmen had a symbiotic relationship with their livestock. This close relationship gave them an understanding of the production and reproduction potential of each of their cows and bulls and the management requirements needed to maintain a high level of performance in their environments and available forages.

Growing up on a dairy farm and then having my own dairy herd and later a cow/calf beef operation, I never heard about having a symbiosis with my animals. I wasn’t taught about selecting bulls and replacement heifers for their ability to produce high fat milk and certainly not from an all forage diet. It was all about science and high-energy inputs for high production. To keep getting these peeks into those earlier times, which prospered without the use of science and technology, was a new joy to me. It has been one of the most intriguing and steep learning curves I have ever encountered.

Like so many, I was heavily influenced by the industrial agri-business backed, university promoted livestock production teachings and philosophies. I had to deprogram myself from the selection, breeding and management tactics that had been instilled in me from my neighbors, peers and County Extension Agents.

The wisdom these great stockmen had is no comparison to what a university degree represents. I view what they’ve done, the cattle they have created, the protocols they have established and the books they wrote as legacies that have weathered the overwhelming influence of modern livestock production. They had a knowledge and understanding for managing their herds from a paternal dominance point of view that is virtually unheard of today.

I have spent countless hundreds of hours in my and other’s pastures, observing animals while studying what these great stockmen/teachers have accomplished and wrote about. I was truly enlightened by the selection and breeding methods they employed to create the genetic traits required for a particular need or environment on their forage-based production systems.

This path to understanding the relationship between genetic function, nutrition, and management – to selecting for the genetic traits in order to develop the correct phenotype for grass is rewarding yet at times painful. The more I learn the more I realize how much there is still to know. I am humbled and so grateful for the legacy these great stockmen have left for you and for me.

This information is so old that it has become new again and yet my study is never completed. I believe it is our responsibility to grasp these legacies, enhance and expound upon them for the future generations to come.

Remember that animal needs and requirements and what we can expect from them is directly tied to their environment, our management of them and the nutrition available to them. Environment and nutrition are often changing, several times a year for many and we must be wise enough to adapt our management as needed to meet what our cattle demand for maximum performance.

It can be very challenging at times to know the best approach for managing our grasses and our cattle that are at different stages of development. My goal is to get you in tune with your own unique ecosystem that is your farm or ranch and learn to recognize what your cattle represent, both phenotypically (what you actually see) and genetically (what is unseen in their DNA). This leads to true integrity and sustainability.

While I believe anyone can raise cattle for or in a feedlot and end up with pounds of product, this fossil fuel dependent model is not sustainable. Heck it’s not even fun anymore. Take away the grain and the typical feedlot animal falls apart.

Good abundant nutrition from our grasses is what our cattle must have. This trumps any management tool for the selection and breeding decisions we make. What I need you to understand, above all else, is that without good abundant nutrition from conception (preferably sooner – when the gametes are developing in the cow and bull) to maturity, about 20 months of age, the animal’s genotype and phenotype is misrepresented. Attempting to make breeding decisions based on genetic ability becomes a crapshoot because this animal’s potential is never fully expressed. It’s no longer a matter of what you see is what you get.

Not to confuse you, but another issue is that good nutrition can camouflage inferior genes. So while an animal can look great that doesn’t mean it will produce great progeny. I get into this later on. We must strive for good genes that have all the opportunity to show through if we are to create cattle that are predictable, repeatable and quite valuable for both the grass-fed beef & seed stock market.

Let me start here with a story.

It takes place on September 17, 2010 at the Gourmet Grass-fed Beef School held at the Kendall Shrock Farm in Tampico, Illinois. The crowd was gathered around the pen waiting for the next animal to come in. As part of the learning experience folks had the opportunity to view animals and listen to my evaluation of each one, pointing out both desirable and undesirable physical traits and how they relate to functional performance on grass.

In come what appeared to be a nice little black baldy cow and her rather new, red calf. I believe most saw this not-too-tall cow as pretty nice. She was a decent frame size, she looked balanced and had great condition. Her calf seemed small but it was young.

Then came my words,” Do you want the good news first or the bad news first?” I’d say I had everyone’s full attention at that point. “This cow is very good phenotypically but not genetically”, I said. I could see the crowd pondering – Why? What does he mean? Stay tuned for the rest of the story.

What is phenotype?

Phenotype is the physical characteristics of an animal expressed according to the genetic material it received from both its parents at the point of conception. It is an animal’s rump length, shoulder width, coat color, heart girth, bone structure, neck length, head shape, muscle build, etc. It is the femininity, masculinity, balance or perhaps the grotesqueness that the eye beholds. Full genetic expression is only achieved through abundant nutrition during 3 critical periods – uterine (womb), as a nursing calf and post weaning to maturity.

Only a cow that has the ability to produce 4% or higher butterfat milk will provide optimum nutrition in her womb for her developing fetus. Assuming that she is receiving good forages and minerals, she continues to provide that same required level of nutrition to her nursing calf enabling all of its biological systems to develop fully and properly. A calf must be allowed to nurse 10 months or more unless the pregnant mother cow weans it sooner and she will naturally wean it if given the opportunity. Think of all the stress that can be avoided. Seeing her older calf nurse when she freshens for the next one is the rare exception, not the rule.

The period from weaning to maturity is just as critical if we are to realize the full potential of our cattle. Abundant high quality pasture or forage must be available to our growing heifers and bulls. Wintertime poses its challenges and some folks aren’t able to keep feed in front of their cattle all the time. Keep a close eye on your animals’ body condition and you will know if your limiting intake too much.

The best-case scenario is when cattle are conceived, reared and developed to maturity on the same pastures and in the same environment. In this situation there should be no setbacks caused by the stress and diverted energies associated with adaptation periods.

Severe hardships, stress, sickness, and especially inadequate nutrition at anytime during these three phases will have unintended consequences. I know there are some who believe that cattle shouldn’t be pampered in anyway and if they can’t make it through some hard times then they aren’t worth having. I understand that philosophy, but when you’re in the business of producing a gourmet product one must manage their genetic program to the utmost degree. And to know your genetics you’ve got to manage for full expression of both good and bad traits. By the way it is the animals (male and female) that have the ability to produce high butterfat milk and have been raised by mothers that produce high butterfat milk who don’t get stressed or sick and will bounce back from changing conditions, but I still recommend limiting those challenges to those animals that have completed those 3 stages of growth and development.

After many years of observing countless numbers of animals during their pre-weaning and puberty stages under many different management conditions, I have come to the conclusion that most animals have the genetic potential for developing the correct body type (wide shoulders, deep chest, etc.) to effectively utilize grass and turn it into $. It is the following management practices that hinders, stops, or even reverses that genetic potential from being physically manifested.

Breeding heifers as long yearlings, this is more detrimental to those females that do not have the genetic ability to produce high fat milk that coincides with high uterine nutrition.

Moving to a different environment (changes in pasture, pasture mates, weather, or management) at some point during the 3 phases of growth and development.

  • Breeding out of synch with nature, thus calving out of synch with nature.
  • Weaning early or before the calf has had the proper nutrition to develop a fully functioning digestive and glandular system.
  • Inadequate or inferior nutrition before maturity is reached.

Any one of these situations can cause a permanent change in phenotype, which alters the animal’s functionality, longevity or its ability to monetize our grass.

I believe nature demands that the young calf is to nurse its mother through the first winter of its life in order for it to have a healthy functioning endocrine (gland) system. The endocrine system is all about hormone production and an animal, or even a person for that matter, cannot have a healthy gut or proper body development without all the correct types and amounts of hormones.

For the process to continue, calves go from mother’s milk to high-energy grass in the spring. For as much as we try, humans cannot create a supplement that contains all the nutritional components with their specific benefits that are found in mother’s milk or God’s grass.

Most structural defects in cattle are the result of improper nutrition during one or more of the 3 critical stages of development. When you see physical defects it can always be related to the glandular system malfunctioning. The result is low performance and reproductive issues which isn’t always identified and can be more prominent in bulls than females.

When I am looking at an animal’s phenotype and want something that can utilize grass I look at shoulder width in comparison to rump length. I look at heart girth and compare it to the total length (poll to tail head) of the animal. To me these are the first indicators of proper body development. When I see narrow shoulders or shoulder blades that are regressed below the spine or a small heart girth I know that sometime in that animal’s developing phases there were nutrition shortfalls.

A cow with these physical traits looses weight when lactating. A bull will loose body condition rapidly when put to work breeding cows. This weight loss leads to inferior semen quality and in more severe cases sterility. In either case the animal may have come from high performance genetic lines but mismanagement caused malnourishment at a critical stage that resulted in poor gland development and thus physical imbalances. If nutrition is restricted during this window of glandular development the functionality of that animal is altered for the rest of its life but not genetically.

Other indicators of true genetic expression being inhibited by nutritional deficiency are protruding hook or pin bones (so called dairy look), or ribs and any part of the spine that protrudes up above the muscle mass. Splayed front or back feet can be established during the first three months of gestation if there are nutrition issues.

The bony structure exhibited by dairy cows is referred to as the dairy look. The malnourishment that causes this phenotype comes from taking a calf away from mother and putting it on a powdered milk diet. The fact that the mother-cow was a low milk fat producing cow (>4%) only exacerbates the problem.

Mothers with low fat milk, not allowing calves to stay on their mothers the first winter, and poor pastures at weaning are all counterproductive for proper endocrine gland and body development in our livestock. Only mother’s high quality milk and quality pastures can and will develop a functional gland system required for proper body development and performance.

I realize much of this sounds very impractical for the dairyman. Even some small changes in management such as selecting replacements and herd sires for high butterfat milk, letting calves nurse (if even only once a day) for 6 to nine months, waiting a little longer to breed those heifers, and for certain making sure those young heifers have the best grass to eat will make a tremendous difference in the health of the calves and in their performance as cows.

Above anything else phenotype or body type determines the return that animal can give from consuming your grass. A wide and deep symmetrical body gives the highest return because that animal can effectively utilize 70% of what it eats. A narrow, shallow bodied animal cuts that utilization factor down to 50%. This type of animal is fragile and always ends up being high maintenance costing you more in either higher feed bills, health care bills or both.

It would be mind boggling to know the amount of profit the livestock industry as a whole looses each year due to the misguided management practices listed above.

Narrow shoulders, a deficit in the heart girth and other physical imperfections observed in the bull is generally the result of him being born of a mother that was a low fat milk producer and/or being weaned at 5-7 months of age. Our pastures and barns are full of these kinds of bulls and is the major reason why 30% of America’s cows have more than a 12 month calving interval.

Ruggedness and masculinity in the bull are expressed as wide shoulders and a large hump or crest on his neck. These features are the result of testosterone production. Testosterone is the male hormone produced by the testicles, which are an integral part of his endocrine system. Semen quality and quantity are dependent on his level of testosterone production. The health and vitality of his endocrine system is dependant on the nutrition he got in the womb all the way through calf hood and puberty.

Bulls that don’t get adequate nutrition via high butterfat (the terms butterfat and fat mean the same thing) milk as calves and then nutrient dense forages may, when put into production fail to get some cows pregnant and less than 80% the first 21 days of the breeding season – and certainly not any more with each season that follows, time dosent make them better. I’m talking about a breeding cowherd of 50-60 animals per bull. If a mature bull isn’t able to perform at that level (the average bull in today’s herds won’t get 80% of a herd of 20 settled in the first 21 days) then he is either genetically inferior or has suffered from malnutrition or both.

Genotype

Is the genetic makeup of an animal in reference to a single trait, a set of traits, or an entire complex of traits. Phenotype is the physical expression of the genes so the inherited traits that one can see or measure are referred to as genetic expression. Selecting for genetic traits and what we assume is genetic expression is more complicated than selecting animals for merely what can be seen.

Phenotype has more to do with nutrition or lack of it. What a friend of mine likes to say is that genes set the limit and nutrition determines if you get there. Milk quality is a genetic issue whether it’s selected for or happens by chance.

While phenotype or body type can be selected for with a level of accuracy, selecting for genetic traits requires knowledge of many different trait characteristics and how they interact, respond to environment and management and are manifest in the physical body.

Physical characteristics including hair color, body structure, feet, legs, mobility, bone shape and size, testicle and udder confirmation, and milk quality can be evaluated and measured by the observer. Genetic trait selection requires a more in depth knowledge and understanding of many different trait characteristics, including the body’s glandular expressions, which are governed by hormone production.

Evaluating hair swirls, hair coat, body development presentations, and also feet, legs, travel, foot placement, bone shape and size, testicle conformation, udder conformation, milk volume and it’s quality – are indicators of potential production, performance, reproduction and quality of product – which is first determined by the animal’s genetic make-up but only able to be realized if the interaction with nutrition and environment permit expression.

Herd management and more importantly herd improvement involves judicial selection and careful breeding of your animals. Having an understanding of both phenotype and genetics is necessary to guide the process. Single trait selection should be avoided and nutrition will make or break your program.

If for whatever reason animals don’t get the proper nutrition at one of the 3 critical stages, they can never reach their full genetic potential and develop into the type of cattle that can give you the highest return from your grass.

In my “Vision For Herd Improvement” I discuss 5 categories of animal attributes (herd purity, grass utilization, quality of product, muscle mass and reproduction) that are to be present in the individual animal selected for breeding purposes. Unfortunately the majority of cows or bulls will not possess the complete desired genetic package that has been given the opportunity to be fully expressed in their phenotype. Unless you know the history of performance in an animal’s pedigree, going back several generations, it is very challenging to choose seed stock merely on what you see in front of you. But often times in the beginning of a breeding program that is all one has to go on.

Most cows do express some traits that can be considered useful. Using lower quality or crossbred cows requires a prepotent bull with proven ancestry to make real progress and this can take several generations to set those desirable traits.

I prefer to work with the top 5-10% of a herd. This is where I find the cows that express many of the traits needed for a successful gourmet grass-fed beef genetic improvement program. It’s best to concentrate on this group to create your foundation herd.

I can’t emphasize it enough how important it is to have, as a top selection criterion, the ability or your animals to produce high butterfat milk (4% or more). Learn to assess both females and males for this trait. Without this level it becomes nearly impossible to develop a truly functionally efficient grass-fed herd.

The intention behind your selection and breeding program should be to cause each of the desired traits to become more concentrated or homozygous with each generation. Using a line-bred bull to begin the genetic rebuilding program will put you 4-5 generations ahead with the first calf crop. An out crossed bull will give you too much variability when consistency and repeatability is what we’re shooting for.

If your breeding program isn’t geared towards producing your own herd sires you will never take full advantage of the genetics in your females. Unless you intend to continuously AI using proven bulls from similar ancestral backgrounds, you have to create your own bull to control your genetics. Using bulls from outside your herd reintroduces heterosis with each new mating.

Setting those traits (eliminating heterosis) becomes most important for the cows when we’re talking about creating producers of high butterfat milk. It comes back again to having that level of nourishment before the functionality of any trait can exist and beproliferated.

Out crossing (not cross breeding) can have its purpose but only to bring in a desired trait that is lacking in the herd. It should only be used on very limited basis and I always recommend bringing in new blood with a female, not a bull. Bringing in a new bull will only chip away at any consistency you have established.

It has already been stated that an animal’s inheritance by virtue of the parental genetic material is complete and set at the instance of conception. But as F.R. Marshall states: Environment is more powerful then heredity because when extra care and feed are withheld from the young, the development that characterized the parents is not secured. In the same line of reasoning heredity is held to be secondary to environment because seeming lowbred animals reach unusual development under favorable opportunities.

The word “acquired” is used as opposed to “inherited’ and anything acquired must therefore be the result of environment. Is there such a thing as acquired character when the most the environment can do is foster the development of something that was, in the beginning, already present? The real value here to the livestock producer is to understand the transmission of development acquired as the result of environment.

F. R. Marshall further substantiates my experience and claims about nutrition. He writes: The nourishment of the offspring prior to birth may have just as strong an influence upon the final development as that furnished after it enters upon a separate existence. Any meagerness of the feeding during pre-natal days impairs and restricts the development of all organs.

Referring to feeding the young he states: Often before it is realized, the days in which growth is possible have passed and a reliable knowledge of what was the animal’s inheritance is impossible because no test was made of his capacities to respond to the demands which the builders of the ancestry sought to serve.

A sound-breeding program that ultimately yields favorable results is a balancing act. Think of it as the three legged stool. In order to have a stable outcome it requires equal weight placed on genetics, nutrition, and environment (management). If any one of the three is ignored, neglected or receives more emphasis, the stool is unreliable, or in other words, there is no stable foundation from which to make wise herd improvement breeding decisions.

Great bulls have their origin from great cows. I am referring to those cows that are genetically designed to give high butterfat milk. They are the ones with abundant uterine nutrition.

Environment most assuredly effects reproductive ability in both sexes. When a cow is moved, either as part of a herd or singularly, to another environment (soils, weather, water, management) that is significantly different from what her system is accustomed to, it is not uncommon for her to skip a calf.

A bull also suffers consequences from such a move. For him it becomes a matter of his semen quality being greatly reduced for a period of time. He may succumb to foot and leg problems causing his desire to copulate to diminish. Knowing these things enables the good manager to take precautionary steps that can offset most downturns.

While there may be a loss of productivity and body condition due to environment changes, a bull’s genetic traits are still in tact and able to be passed on to the next generation with the matting’s that do occur.

In earlier times it was necessity for all cows to produce high butterfat milk from a grass diet. Those that didn’t have this genetic trait produced inferior calves and soon both calf and cow became beef for the table.

Then came the overabundance of corn and other grains and the focus became quantity. Supply exceeded demand; milk fat was skimmed off for other products and eventually vilified for reasons too complex to discuss here. Selecting dairy cattle for milk fat production become secondary for the majority and totally disregarded for beef cattle. This has caused untold consequences to the health and productivity to our cattle and also the human end consumers of those meat and milk products.

I am encouraged by the growing awareness of the health promoting properties of grass-fed meat and milk by an increasing number of consumers. Even a segment of the scientific community is on the side of understanding and documenting the importance of “good fats” in the human diet. It may still be an uphill struggle but I believe the demand for milk fat production is gaining ground and more people are becoming knowledgeable about selecting for this trait.

The only way I know of to build consistency into a herd for the desired genetic traits is to make those traits homozygous in your gene pool. This requires close breeding such as line breeding or inbreeding. To most this is considered taboo and is to be avoided at all times. I totally disagree. For the serious student learning about animal evaluation, selection, and how to make wise breeding decisions and is unafraid of the potential for some inferior traits coming through, Line breeding or Inbreeding has its role in this process.

Again I refer to F.R. Marshall who in his book “Breeding Farm Animals” writes: Breeding is entirely based upon the single principle of selection: that is, if selections are right the desired results must follow. Competent selection is dependant upon further principles of judging, feeding and other requisites of development. The breeder’s call must be regarded as an art.

In regards to inbreeding he writes: We may say of the cases that have resulted unfavorably that we should look not to the kinship of blood but to the kinship of defects. Similarly we may say of the successes of inbreeding, they are attributable, not to the kinship of blood but to the kinship of superiority.

Marshall discusses the intensification of both defects and useful qualities when continued close breeding is practiced, but neither type trait can be intensified if it wasn’t already there in the first place. Success or failure with inbreeding is then clearly dependent upon selection.

Some advocates of inbreeding would seem to suggest that selection be based solely on descent. So long as animals are individually adapted to each other and there is no common weakness in their lineage, a degree of common relationship is not a detriment but and advantage. Line breeding (defined as the mating of two individuals identical to the extent of 25% and no more than 50% of their blood) permits concentration of type by selection from numerous descendents of a good individual and may retain the best features of that individual without concentration of the blood that may cause some minor weakness to be intensified into serious ones.

I want to emphasize that quality traits including tender meat, low connective tissue, and high butterfat milk are considered maternal characteristics and must be managed so that they are incorporated into the genetic make-up of our herd sires. Those paternal line bred herd sires having these quality traits via their mothers can then effectively pass on these desired traits throughout the entire herd.

This is progressive management and is not that difficult to understand or put into practice. The better job you can do at selecting for the desired genetic traits, the more consistent your herd becomes. Grass utilization increases, meat and milk quality is build right in. Animals are low maintenance and the consequence is a successful, sustainable farming operation.

I see many animals that are properly nourished by their mothers’ ability to produce rich milk and have developed the correct body types for grass utilization, however because the mothers were heterozygous (having recessive genes and unable to breed true) they often times did not pass on those desired traits onto their offspring. Therefore these offspring were well suited for utilizing grass and finishing into quality grass-fed beef but not for herd replacements. When used as herd replacements their performance is inconsistent and their only saving grace is to use a correct prepotent bull.

You can learn how to evaluate individual animals for their value as replacements or future herd sires before they reach maturity. I routinely make these determinations on newborn calves on up to weanlings. Granted I have accumulated the experience and wisdom to be confident in my determinations, but you can reach that same level of expertise with time and practice. I recommend you visit www.bovineengineering.com and read through the FHIP pages.

As Paul Harvey used to say on his radio program, “And now page two, the rest of the story”.

Back to the School last September. I didn’t know it at the time but the 3 gentlemen that went out to the field to pick the cattle that would be used for the evaluation lesson had chosen a female that seemed perfect for correct body type. I guess they wanted to have some fun believing there wouldn’t be anything I could say that would condemn this female and her calf.

It didn’t take me long to make my first statements about “Good news” and “Bad news”.

What I saw was a cow that was indeed a perfect specimen for efficiently utilizing grass for beef production. Her mother must have given her a great start with high butterfat milk for her to have the body structure and gland system I observed. She had a hearth girth that was at least 3” larger than her top line measurement. Her rump width was a minimum 44% or perhaps closer to 48% as wide as her rump height. She had a perfect set of shoulders and at least a 70% body depth ratio to her shoulder height. She was very correct phenotypically and I can see why those guys thought what they did.

As I assessed her genetic ability the news wasn’t positive. The small scrawny calf was my first clue but I continued to look at her. Her adrenal hair swirl was located in back of her shoulder blades towards the chine bone. This indicated to me that she was a low fat milk producer. You want to see the adrenal swirl right on the shoulders or even better further up towards or on the neck.

Looking at her escutcheon or “milk mirror” I saw the portion referred to as the handle had long course hair. The opposite, very fine almost invisible hair, is the indicator of quality milk. Her udder was covered with hair just like the rest of the skin around it. Udders that produce the highest quality of milk are always bald or any hair that is present is so short and fine you can barely see it.

There was such a contrast between the cow’s body type and what I saw in her calf. He looked like a doggie. I could see he was undernourished and his pot gut told me he was trying to nibble at grass to satisfy his hunger. The hair on his entire body was longer then normal – another sign of malnourishment.

This calf born form this very fit cow was 25 lbs lighter then he should have been for his age and frame size. He didn’t get the proper uterine nutrition and now wasn’t getting the high quality milk needed for proper glandular and physical development. Trying to raise and finish him on grass probably would not be profitable.

The black baldy cow was a product of a mother who had the genetic ability to produce high quality milk, which is why she developed the body type that she had. Unfortunately as a result of cross breeding she did not inherit the same trait. Cross breeding can work if all the resulting progeny are destined for the dinner table. These animals are called terminal crosses. The black baldy cow is perfect for this scenario because she will be an efficient grazier. She had the body type that we want to see on our foundation cows BUT because of her heterosis her value as seed stock is removed. Unpredictability has no place in a herd improvement program.

Summary

High uterine nutrition exists only in cows with 4% milk fat and higher. Uterine nutrition is a maternal genetic trait, a maternal genetic trait that must be managed in the genetic makeup of our herd bulls through the breeding management so it can be deposited in each succeeding generation of females that produce the future herd sires.

The first three months of the pregnancy is the period of time the endocrine system develops (pituitary, thyroid, thymus, adrenal, pancreas, kidneys and gonads testicles & ovaries) and these determine hormone and enzyme production that governs bone density, bone size, muscle mass, udder and testicle development. Body development progresses during the remaining months of pregnancy. Abundant uterine nutrition during gestation is a must and without it you will have an altered low producer who is a high maintenance animal for the rest of its life.

Take Home Messages – Repeated for Emphasis

All possible inherited traits are determined at the point of conception. Selection and pairing of quality animals is essential for any herd improvement to be achieved.

You don’t always see what you get and visa versa. A genetically superior animal can become a fragile high maintenance animal if it lacks complete nourishment during critical phases of development or experienced bad management. A genetically inferior animal that has been given liberal feeding and top-notch management will respond favorably as evidenced in good body condition and vibrant constitution. The true test for an animal’s genetic ability is revealed in its offspring.

Make it a point to select for the genetic trait of high butterfat milk. This is the first step in assuring the foundation for good health, vitality and reaching full genetic potential.

Poor nutrition alters genetic expression and creates animals that are week, susceptible to disease and slow adapters to change.

Strive to create and use your own bulls for herd sires. This is the only way to know his lineage and responses to management and what traits you are establishing in your gene pool.

Closing Remarks

If you’re skeptical about practicing inbreeding or line breeding to create your own herd sire, go to a reputable breeder that you trust that does and when you feel it necessary to replace your herd sire, go back to that same breeder and purchase a bull from the same paternal line. If your management and environment are much different from where your bull came from, expect setbacks during his adjustment/adapting period. You’ll make greater improvements faster if you use your own bulls as herd sires, but many are still unable to understand or practice this.

I truly understand that we all have many things demanding our time and energy and for many the learning curve to understand all that is necessary to make wise livestock breeding decisions seems too vertical and daunting. I think it important to note that the intention of my instruction is for the production of gourmet grass-fed beef. The perfect scenario to accomplish this is having fertile soils, abundant nutrient dense grass, good water, a temperate climate, wise management and worthy capable genetics. I don’t know of anyone who can claim to have all of these. Pay attention to all of those factors; work at improving those that you can. Focus your attention on the top three – correct genetics, good nutrition and managing appropriately for your environment. These are basic requirements and without them the work towards herd improvement will be difficult and frustrating.

My point is that we all live in different environments and manage our cattle differently. So if you live in an arid climate and keep your cows out on open range or you live a mountainous region with an overabundance of rainfall or you have deep high organic matter soils and intensively graze, whatever the case may be, work with the cows that rise to the top for your particular situation. These are the foundation animals to start your breeding program. Learn how to evaluate each individual animal for its merits or deficits. Select the best to breed to a prepotent close-bred bull having the best combination of physical and genetic characteristics for gourmet grass-fed beef production. Pay close attention to animal responses to your feeding program and make adjustments to ensure each fetus/calf/weanling/adolescent gets the best nutrition you can provide and see what happens. You will want to use your own bulls because you’ll realize you won’t find one from someone else that will work better. I guarantee you’ll have fun and enjoy the journey.

“The farther you have to go to be among your contemporaries, the farther ahead you are.”

If you wish to discuss this further, contact me.

Gearld Fry
501-454-3252
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