A Breeder’s Philosophy

Geordie Soutar (right) of ForFar
Scotland and I discuss the remarkable
native Aberdeen Angus which he
brought back from near extinction.

Thank you Dr. Bonsma!

Dr. Jan Bonsma devoted his life to identifying the criteria for choosing optimally adaptable cattle. Here is what he has to say:

If a heifer, for reasons of endocrine imbalance, fails to mature at the appropriate moment, many things happen to inform a cattleman that she should be culled. Since the ossification of bones depends upon hormonal balance, growth continues. She will become long-legged and tall. The long bones become longer and thinner. The breast bone continues to grow and jut forward. The lower jaw will continue to grow and become overdeveloped. The head will become large and long. The shoulder blades will become heavier boned. Her brisket will become full and just downward. The folds of her dewlap will disappear as the brisket fills. Her hair will become coarse and will not shed according to a natural pattern. She will attract flies. Lumps of fat will appear on her shoulders. She will become "buffalo humped". Lumps of fat will also appear on her hip bones, in front of her udder, below her vulva, in her brisket, above her shoulders and on her cheeks. She may below like a steer. Since in a dysfunctional animal the anterior part of the body continues to grow, she will appear overdeveloped and muscular in the front half of her body. She will always be a sub-fertile cow. And since calving problems, arthritis, cystic ovaries, retained placentas and indistinct signs of estrus are all inherited endocrine weaknesses, it becomes important for the cattleman to learn to recognize signs of infertility.

What does the American Angus Association have to say about these problems? Are there EPD'S to promote balanced cattle? Or have weaning weights dependant on excessive milk production created a national herd of coarse cattle that are tall, long-legged, shallow of girth and milk heavily—all signs of sub-fertility? A breed association has to be more than a candy store.

When is the last time you looked at the dam of a bull before buying him? Had you ever wondered about high-ratioing cows in terms of poor endocrine systems? Do "super" bulls make "super" cows? What does the "top one percent" mean in terms of what those genetics will do to create sub-fertility? And if you are wanting to create an optimal herd of cattle that matches your environment, where do you go to make a start? Jan Bonsma says that hormonal balance creates appropriate phenotype. Does not the responsible breeding of cattle depend upon working in a closed herd to cull for that phenotype?

This year 96% of our cows caught on the first heat.