Tag: Breeding

What is a Composite Breed?
The Farm

What is a Composite Breed?

What is a Composite Breed?

Composite sheep; photo courtesy of USDA ARS

Composite breeds are growing in popularity across the United States. This trend seems to be the most advanced among beef cattle producers, but has gained some attention among sheep and goat breeders, as well. Read More

The Farm


Pick-a-ChickLooking for the best breed of chicken to raise this year? How about a heritage breed?

Heritage chicken breeds may not reach the egg or meat production levels of commercial hybrids, but they are often healthier and hardier, not to mention more attractive. For a free-range situation, heritage breeds can’t be beat.

The Livestock Conservancy has a very helpful and accurate chart to assist new poultry keepers in choosing the best breed for their circumstances. This chart displays key characteristics of each breed in an at-a-glance format: Read More

British and Continental Cattle Breeds
The Farm

British and Continental Cattle Breeds

British and Continental Cattle BreedsThere are many way to categorize cattle breeds—beef and dairy, standard and miniature, commercial and heritage, Bos taurus taurus and Bos taurus indicus. One classification that is frequently used to describe beef breeds is British versus Continental.

The names are rather self-explanatory. British breeds come from the United Kingdom, while Continental breeds come from Continental Europe. But there is more here than meets the eye. British and Continental breeds were developed under vastly different circumstances, giving each type unique characteristics suited to different applications.


British Breeds

America has long had an association with the British Isles, so it was only natural that British cattle breeds predominated on our shores for many years. The foundation of our British cattle population was imported beginning in the late 1700s. These importations continued well into the following century. The vast majority of beef herds in America today are still built on British breeds.

Examples of British breeds include:

While each breed is slightly different, most British breeds share the following characteristics:

  • Small size.
  • Hardiness in cold climates.
  • Early maturity.
  • Fertility.
  • Calving ease.
  • High percentage of waste at slaughter.
  • Marbled beef.
  • Meat tenderness.

British breeds have found niches in both commercial and alternative agriculture due to their adaptability. Although they dominate the industry sale barns, they are also typically the breeds of choice for grassfed beef production. A few of the breeds, such as the Devon, can be used as all-around homestead cattle, providing beef, milk, and draft power for small farms.


British and Continental Cattle BreedsContinental Breeds

Although experiments were made with Continental breeds in the early 1900s, they did not become popular in the United States until the late 1960s and early 1970s, hence their other name—”exotic breeds.” These cattle were costly and difficult to obtain at first, so the process of establishing an American population was expedited by upgrading imports with British cattle already living on our shores. Most Continental breeds were considered purebred after four or five generations of upgrading. They left their mark on the beef industry by promoting the breeding of large-framed cattle, but this trend has abated somewhat in recent years along with the use of Continental genetics.

Examples of Continental breeds include:

Continental breeds vary widely, but they tend to share a few traits:

  • Large size.
  • Late maturity.
  • Rapid weight gain on feed.
  • Large yield of beef.
  • Low percentage of waste at slaughter.
  • Lean beef.

While quite a few of the Continental breeds have potential as dual-purpose beef and dairy animals, they are rarely used in this way in America. One of the most important roles of Continental cattle in the United States is crossbreeding with British breeds to create more desirable beef animals.


British/Continental Crossbred Cattle

The most common goal in crossing British and Continental cattle is to produce beef calves that retain the marbling of the former type, but with the bigger, more muscular package associated with the latter type.

Unfortunately, introducing the positive traits of Continental cattle into a herd can also introduce negative characteristics. In particular, using a Continental bull on a British cow can lead to the conception of a calf far too large for the cow to give birth to unassisted.

These crossbred cattle need plenty of grain to reach their full potential, so they are more commonly found in the feedlot than in a grassfed operation.

An Introduction to Heritage Breeds
The Farm

An Introduction to Heritage Breeds

An Introduction to Heritage BreedsThinking about starting a farm with heritage breeds? If you are new to this topic, you may enjoy An Introduction to Heritage Breeds: Saving and Raising Rare-Breed Livestock and Poultry by The Livestock Conservancy.

This excellent beginner’s resource starts with the basics—defining breeds in general and heritage breeds in particular. It discusses the plight and importance of rare breeds, as well as the necessity to maintain genetic diversity within these breeds despite their falling numbers.

After a look at how different farming systems call for vastly different breeds, An Introduction to Heritage Breeds moves on to considerations of importance to new farmers, helping them honestly assess what species of livestock will best fit their needs and circumstances. Factors to weigh include:

  • Handling ease.
  • Noise and odor level.
  • Shelter and space requirements.
  • Zoning restrictions.
  • Daily food and water requirements.
  • Predator control.
  • Products.
  • Processing and transportation.
  • Potential markets.
  • Breed associations and other resources.

Next comes information on getting started with heritage breeds:

  • Choosing a breed.
  • Providing for the basic needs of your livestock.
  • Setting realistic goals for your project.
  • Setting up a system of animal identification and record-keeping.
  • Planning to market your livestock or livestock products.

Maintaining a heritage breed requires close attention to the principles of genetics and selection, particularly when the breed is teetering on the brink of extinction. An Introduction to Heritage Breeds provides an overview of this process in nontechnical terms. It also demonstrates that rare breeds can be maintained and promoted through breeding projects with very different emphases:

  • Performance and exhibition.
  • Production only.
  • Production and breed conservation combined.
  • Rescue of rare breeds or bloodlines.

The book closes with a look at how breed associations can either help or hurt a rare breed.

While An Introduction to Heritage Breeds is not a comprehensive guide to breeds, it does provide numerous breed snapshots, distilling the most essential facts about the distinctive characteristics of many breeds.

If you are serious about working with heritage breeds, you will quickly outgrow this resource. We recommend supplementing it with resources specific to your chosen species, including a guide to care, a guide to breeding and genetics, and a breed encyclopedia. If you can find any works written entirely about your breed, make it a point to add those to your bookshelf, as well.

An Introduction to Heritage Breeds is exactly what the title suggests—an introduction, concise and clear enough for a reader with no prior experience with animals.


Helpful Resources

Cattle BreedsCattle Breeds
Our own guide to the history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons of cattle breeds, including some heritage breeds.

Horse & Donkey BreedsHorse & Donkey Breeds
Our own guide to the history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons of horse and donkey breeds, including some heritage breeds.

What is a Landrace Breed?
The Farm

What is a Landrace Breed?

What is a Landrace Breed?

Florida Cracker cattle

A landrace is a group of genetically related animals unique to a given geographical area. Landraces come about over time as animals within the area interbreed for many generations with relatively little outside influence. The fact that all of the animals within the population descend from the same set of ancestors, whether those ancestors came from one source or many, creates a certain level of genetic uniformity. This makes it possible for an observer to distinguish each landrace from other breeds and landraces. Read More

Milk Production in Beef Cattle
The Farm

Milk Production in Beef Cattle

Milk Production in Beef CattleIf you have been searching for the right beef cattle breed for your new farm, you undoubtedly have come across plenty of promotional literature published by breed organizations. This material usually includes long lists of the benefits of the breed in question, such as calving ease, rapid weight gain, or meat tenderness.

One characteristic commonly touted is a cow’s milk production. This may give you pause if you are not looking for dual-purpose cattle. After all, what difference does it make if a beef breed is noted for milk production?


Benefits of High Milk Production in Beef Cattle

By producing plenty of milk, a beef cow is producing plenty of food for her calf. The more food the calf has access to at an early age, the heavier the calf will be by weaning time. A study conducted by Oklahoma State shows that the extra milk can translate into as much as 30 extra pounds of calf weaning weight. All other factors being equal, heavier calves tend to bring better prices at sale time.


Drawbacks of High Milk Production in Beef Cattle

All this said, there are reasons why some beef producers still look for more moderate levels of milk production in their cows. When nutrient inputs are limited, cows will channel their energy into three basic directions:

  1. Body maintenance.
  2. Lactation.
  3. Reproduction.

Each of these functions represents a separate “level.” Only if the demands of one “level” are met will surplus energy be channeled into the next level. So lactation will only occur after the body’s basic maintenance needs are met, and the cow will only breed again after she has met her energy requirements for lactation.

Not surprisingly, cows that are heavy milkers need plenty of energy. They require large feed inputs to output all the milk they are capable of producing, and only once their nutrient needs for lactation are met will they be ready to breed again. Heavy-milking cows rarely thrive in a low-input, grass-based system. They tend to form the lowest tier of the herd, the ones that always breed back late. Oklahoma State research shows that heavy-milking cows also tend to have poorer body condition than their lower-milking counterparts.


Choosing the Right Cows For You

As you can see, when considering beef cows based on their milk production, you have to strike a delicate balance. Higher milk production means a heavier, more valuable calf, but it also means a less reliable, more expensive cow.

If you are looking at a grass-based system, you may simply not have the option of using heavy-milking beef cows. If you are planning on providing some supplemental feed, then you will have to count the cost.

Estimates of the dry matter intake of different cows in early lactation are as follows:

  • Cows that produce 10 pounds of milk per day: 26.5 pounds of dry matter per day.
  • Cows that produce 20 pounds of milk per day: 29.0 pounds of dry matter per day.
  • Cows that produce 30 pounds of milk per day: 31.5 pounds of dry matter per day.

Do you have access to an abundant supply of cheap feed? That may decide whether a heavy-milking cow will be an asset or an expense in your system. Keep in mind, however, that you can maintain more low-milk-production cows than heavy-milking cows on the same amount of feed.

Do the math!

What are Scurs
The Farm

What are Scurs?

What are Scurs

Merino sheep clipped to display small scur (dark spot near right ear)

Scurs are horny growths that give some livestock owners concern.  When a scurred animal is young, it may look for all the world like it will grow up to have horns.  Fortunately, this is not the case.

Cattle, sheep, and goats can all develop scurs.  In goats, however, scurs are actually true horns that have been damaged in a bad disbudding job.  In cattle and sheep, scurs are merely inherited growths.  The difference can be felt in mature animals; horns are firmly attached to the skull, while scurs are fairly loose.


Inherited Scurs

Sheep and cattle have a pair of genes that control scurs, represented as Sc for scurs and sc for no scurs.  Scur genes interact with the genes for polling or hornlessness (represented by P for polled and p for horned).  Horned animals with two p genes cannot display scurs, simply because they are horned.  In animals with one P gene and one p gene, males will be scurred if they have at least one Sc gene, while females will only display scurs if they have two Sc genes.  Animals with two P genes will only display scurs if they have two Sc genes.

In addition to the Sc gene, Rambouillet sheep have a similar scurring gene called Sr.  In this breed, both rams and ewes have scurs if they have at least one copy of the Sr gene.

Finally, Suffolk sheep, normally polled, may appear to have scurs.  In this breed, the scurs are actually true horns that have been stunted by interaction with other genes.


Acquired Scurs

There is no definitive evidence that goats inherit scurs.  Instead, scurs on goats appear to be the result of incompletely removing horn buds during disbudding.  If any horn tissue is left alive and in place, it will grow back in the form of a scur.  Bucks, in particular, are prone to scurs due to the influence of hormones.

To avoid this problem, make sure the disbudding iron is thoroughly heated before use.  Disbudding should be done at a young age, while the iron can easily fit around the horn buds.


Removing Scurs

While not all scurs are a problem, some certainly do cause difficulties for both the animal and the owner:

  • In sheep and goats, scurs can curl around and dig their way into the skull if left unchecked.
  • Male animals with scurs tend to break them off while fighting, creating an ugly, bloody mess that is prone to infection.
  • In cattle, scurs reduce the value of an animal, based on the partly erroneous belief that a scurred animal always carries the gene for horned offspring.
  • Scurs may disqualify an animal from the show ring.

Scurs can be banded to cut off the blood supply.  They will eventually fall off, only causing discomfort the last few days.

Small scurs can also be cut off.  This can be painful, however, and care must be taken to seal off the blood vessels with a hot iron.

If you don’t mind routinely trimming scurs, you can also settle for a temporary solution.  Use a wire saw to remove a small part of the scur, making sure that you do not remove enough to cause bleeding.  Goats with small scurs may keep them ground down themselves if provided with a rough, sturdy surface to rub on.  Just bear in mind that the scurs will continue to grow back.

In sheep and cattle, the prevalence of scurs can be reduced in the flock or herd through selective breeding.  This is done by culling all scurred animals.  If the scurred animal is a female, both of her parents can safely be culled, as well, since they both carry the gene.  Note, however, that the culling process will be more complex in Rambouillet sheep, as both the Sc and the Sr genes must be eliminated.  Also, not all Rambouillet sheep that have produced a scurred ewe can be culled, since the ewe might have inherited the Sr gene from only one parent.

Of course, breeders must keep in mind that they may be sacrificing more valuable traits by eliminating scurred livestock.

Get Ready for October 2016
The Lifestyle

Get Ready for October 2016

Get Ready for October 2016October is just around the corner! Are you ready to start a business, explore nature, and live by faith?

  1. Start and run your own small farm business.
  2. Find out how livestock are upgraded.
  3. Explore options for super-small-scale farms.
  4. Identify the wildflowers and grasses of Kansas.
  5. Love God with all your mind.
  6. Save money on seeds.
  7. See the stars.
  8. Understand the importance of the 100th meridian in history.
  9. Ground that wayward chicken.
  10. Discover the key to living by faith.
The Changing Face of American Agriculture: Part 3
The Farm

The Changing Face of American Agriculture: Part 3

The Changing Face of American Agriculture: Part 3High Tech

Many involved in agriculture, commercial or entrepreneurial, feel that technology will shape the future.

The Internet continues to evolve into the driving force in agriculture. Cutting-edge agripreneurs rely on the Internet to market their produce, but even commodity markets are coming to accept this technology as the norm. Buying beef cattle through video auctions streamed online is a common practice nowadays.

Likewise, QR codes for smartphone users will increase in prevalence. Large food manufacturers hope to use these codes to set the minds of consumers at ease about the way their food is grown. Whether or not the QR code will become the primary method of tracking the progress of food from farm to table remains up in the air, however, since the tool has not gained universal acceptance among consumers.

Software will only increase in its capabilities to monitor all aspects of farming. Crop growers may use tracking software to follow the movements of their entire farm fleet. Pork growers suggest that artificial intelligence will be used to forestall production problems of all sorts, including disease outbreaks. Meanwhile, agripreneurs already use logistics software to enhance their competitive edge.

Massive amounts of data are collected in modern agriculture. As researchers and inventors find new ways to quantify conditions in the field, companies will process the data into a variety of charts, graphs, maps, and documents designed to help producers make smart decisions throughout the growing season. Because this work will be so resource-intensive, every farmer’s data will likely end up on the cloud.

Precision planting promises to be a continued focus in commodity farming. Every aspect of the planting process will be computerized to enhance the yield of each individual row in the field. The ability of planters to place seeds at the desired depth and spacing will continue to improve over the next few years. And as the planter moves through the field, it will be collecting a wealth of data that will be processed into decision-making tools to help the farmer push his yields ever higher.

Biotechnology still looks to have a major place in creating the food supply of the future. Pork producers predict that feed crops will be genetically engineered to meet the specific needs of specific animals. Cloning of livestock may become widespread to produce the uniform animals that commodity markets demand. Gene editing may reduce the use of chemical drugs for pest and parasite control. Crops of all types will continue to be engineered for increased yields. However, while biotechnology will continue to bring commodities closer and closer to conventional market specifications, it will increasingly place commercial agriculture at odds with consumers.

Meanwhile, continuing advancements in LED lighting are making growing food indoors possible. LED lights are highly efficient, but they can also be tuned to specific wavelengths to promote better plant growth.


The Changing Face of American AgricultureResearch and Development

Sustainable farming practices are increasingly getting a share of the research money.

Major cities across the country, and even the world, are turning to intensive farming techniques to grow quality foods efficiently. Hydroponics, aeroponics, vertical farming, and indoor gardening are offering ways to grow more in less space. Hoop houses and tunnels are currently hot topics in agricultural research due to their potential to make local food available year-round, even sparking an interest in states that are typically slow to accept alternative farming practices.

Crop scientists will continue to breed new plant varieties. Whereas in the past they have focused on breeding plants for resistance to insects and disease, the future may see them breeding plants that can cope with nonliving threats, such as drought and extreme heat.

Since much of modern conventional agriculture is geared toward growing ethanol, any breakthroughs in biofuel research will be extremely significant. Current research is examining the use of switchgrass as fuel, raising the possibility of converting countless acres of farmland back to grassland. Another energy alternative is that of harvesting crops twice—once for the grain and a second time for stubble to be used as biofuel.

And, one of these days, the man driving the tractor may be a thing of the past, according to grain research experts. He may be replaced with a fleet of fully automated precision farm vehicles. This equipment will be able to navigate using satellites and will even identify and spray weeds with minimal human interference. Currently, the major challenge is designing machinery that can recognize and avoid hitting people, animals, and other objects in the field.


Helpful Resource

How Vermont’s GMO Labeling Law Affects You
Includes information on the pros and cons of various food labeling methods, as well as public sentiment on biotechnology.

Get Ready for September 2016
The Lifestyle

Get Ready for September 2016

Get Ready for September 2016Are you ready for fall?  Spend a little time watching the birds, caring for the animals, and stocking the pantry.

  1. Invest in a dog owner’s home veterinary handbook.
  2. Feed your backyard birds.
  3. Discover why people built round barns.
  4. Stock up for the winter.
  5. Learn about pH.
  6. Weigh the pros and cons of draft animals.
  7. Explore the K-State weather data library.
  8. Open up the breeding toolbox.
  9. Find out how to raise chickens.
  10. Do the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way.