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A NEW BREED OR JUST CROSSBREEDING?
By Professor Emeritus Richard Gradwohl
The key to development of a new breed of cattle is strict control of sire and dam within a preplanned written breeding program. Notice I use the words preplanned and written. This means it should be well conceived and well thought out. I had a person call a few days ago wanting to register a new breed of miniature cattle. I asked if they had developed a breeding program outline? Answer - No. I asked if a sire or sires had been chosen for the new breed? Answer - No. I asked if a method of evaluating potential dams had been developed? Answer - No. I asked if they were going to linebreed to increase the herd? Answer - What's that? I asked if they were going to allow any inbreeding? Answer - Why not. I asked if they had chosen an appropriate name for the new breed? Answer - No. I asked what the appearance of the new breed was going to be? Answer - Whatever it is. I asked how are you going to cull animals? Answer - None.
These answers are typical of the complete misunderstanding and lack of knowledge concerning breed development. I suggested that they were just crossbreeding which was a world apart from developing a new breed. I also suggested that when they had some animals on the ground they might want to consider registering them in the open breeds category. The MCBR Open Breeds is not a category of registered breeds, the only requirement is the height standard. The development of a breed of miniature cattle requires patience, experience and a positive explanation to all of the above questions. A breeding program means standards and rules have been determined against which future animals are compared and measured. A breed is defined as "A group of animals with similar characteristics from a common background that reproduces itself similarly within an acceptable range of standards". The breeding program is an outline of the plan showing how you intend to get where you want to go. It allows a certain amount of flexibility within standards so that individual breeders can make appropriate choices as to the characteristics they want to emphasize. Culling needs to take place if animals do not fall within the acceptable range of standards.
Developing a new breed of cattle can take years. The first cross is like the first step in a long process. What you are trying to accomplish is the focusing of genetics so that there is the prepotency to reproduce similarly within an acceptable range of standards. Those that develop the standards and determine the acceptable range can put an animal within or out of that range. What is a cull can be a subjective decision. The Dexter breed for example can reproduce short or long legged animals. Sometimes you can breed short to short and get tall. Other times you might breed tall to tall and get short legged animals. Most of the time the progeny resemble the parents but when the progeny do not resemble the parents is it still a Dexter or a cull? What are the acceptable standards and what is the range of acceptability. If there is no agreement regarding these questions, then is the Dexter really a breed. The registry says that if a registered Dexter is bred to a registered Dexter then it's a Dexter. I guess that solves the problem, or does it?
To a large extent it all depends on your breeding goals. Cattle shows give ribbons out to those animals that are thought to be on the high end of the range of acceptable standards. But is that just a matter of a judge's perception? It seems what one judge says is most desirable is not necessarily the same as what the next cattle judge might say. I've been the show route and received a first place blue ribbon and at the next show a third place ribbon in competition with pretty much the same animals but with a different judge. Is there the perfect breed and the prefect animal? You bet!! and of course I own both. Of course that is just my opinion.
Breed development is not easy but it sure is interesting and a lot of fun. To tell you the truth I've been breeding cattle for 35 years with a lot of success but frankly I feel I'm just starting to learn a few things. When you are dealing with nature and trying to influence genetics nothing is for sure. As an example, I had a fellow call me the other day to buy some miniature cattle. He wanted me to guarantee that every animal would be under 42" at three years of age. Of course I couldn't make such a guarantee. He said he had a fellow in Texas who would make that guarantee in writing. I replied "buy all you can but be sure and have your attorney read his guarantee first".