How are Livestock Upgraded?

The term “upgrade” may sound a little strange at first when applied to livestock. How in the world can somebody upgrade a cow or a goat?

Upgrading refers to crossing two livestock breeds with a specific purpose in mind—improving one of the breeds.

For example, suppose you raise a rare breed of cattle. There are only a few specimens of the breed in America, and importing new livestock would be too costly and complicated for your small business. Because so few cattle are available to you, your herd is at serious risk for inbreeding, which can create health and reproductive weaknesses.

One thing you could do is upgrade your cattle. You would choose a more common breed with desirable characteristics and incorporate it into your herd in a controlled manner:

  1. Mate the rare breed (Breed A) to the common breed (Breed B). The offspring will be 1/2 pure Breed A.
  2. Mate the 1/2 pure cattle to 100% purebred members of Breed A. The offspring from this cross will be 3/4 pure.
  3. Mate the 3/4 pure animals to other purebreds. Now the offspring will be 7/8 pure.

Of course, this could go on and on and on. As the upgraded cattle get closer to being purebreds, they will increasingly resemble purebreds—without the inbreeding difficulties.

But prevention of inbreeding is not the only use of upgrading. If accompanied by careful culling and selection of breeding stock, upgrading can also introduce desirable characteristics (such as size, temperament, or meat or dairy qualities) into an established breed. Some livestock breeders also use upgrading to build herds specially adapted to their climate and pastures.

If you raise purebred livestock and are searching for options to solve problems in your herd or flock, you might want to look into upgrading. It could prove to be a valuable tool in your kit.