Bovine Engineering and Consulting
Gearld Fry 193 Fry Rd. -  Rose Bud, AR   72137

Creating Predictable Paternal Bull Gene Pools for Grassfed Meat Production
by Gearld Fry

Breeding cattle for functional efficiency, predictability and the many different types and degrees of performance, production and quality of product is a very controversial issue among breeders, geneticists and the seekers of truth.

Many different schools of thought and practices have been offered over the past 30-40 years. Most of these have been tied to outcrossing and crossbreeding with a strong mix of EPDs stirred into almost all the breeding and selection practices.
Research at the university level has been completed with genetically, structurally and glandular inferior animals and with grain fed as an almost constant supplementary food source. Ignored has been the fact that grain supplementation alters the genetic function at cellular level.

Also, EPDs developed for grain supplemented genetics and have no value in the utilization of grass as the sole feed source.
One type of genetics (grain or grass) cannot meet the needs for all environments or food resources in any one country. How you feel about your position as a successful breeder of usable predictable bulls for grass or grain, your profit margin, quality of your product, your quality of life, and your family's life will probably determine how you respond to this article.

The following practices can shed some light about bulls and how they may potentially perform in your environment. The quality of meat product available from your commercial herd will determine the possibility of your participating in premium-priced markets.

My strong opinion is that the consumer is demanding a more natural and consistent food (protein) product from the cattle producers. The cattle industry (genetic providers) producers should take a look at providing a usable set of quality grass genetics (bulls) for that growing market.

North American seedstock breeders learned in the late forties and early fifties the benefits of using different maternal bloodline bulls' on his many different maternal female families each year. Some of these practices were born out of moving away from the dwarf animals they had created in the thirties and forties.

The seedstock breeder would use a bull on a group of cows for a year or two then change to a different sire to breed those cows too. He was constantly on the lookout for another herd bull to put with those females and was careful not to concentrate too many genes from a single sire or sire line in the progeny he produced.

He was constantly looking for a bull with high maternal trait EPDs - calving ease or milk EPDs - to produce a heavier weaning weight calf with more frame, large bone, etc. These maternal genetics produce the type of bull calf he could raise and sell to the commercial producers who was looking for a sire that was easy-calving and would wean heavier calves.

The seedstock provider using this method of breeding seldom ever had to be concerned about lining up gene pairs as all the breeding was being heterosis driven. Plus, the commercial market was becoming much more accepting of variation.
Heterosis breeding saves the breeder money as it prevents a heavy culling or throwaways and in most cases prevents the recessive genes from showing up in the calves produced. However, this method of breeding constantly changes the phenotypical structure of the cattle and heterosis change is most always genetically regressive, particularly in the bulls.
The predictability the commercial breeder needs is eliminated. With outcrossing of the many different female family lines, the seedstock breeder is receiving most of the heterosis (hybrid vigor) in his calves rather than this benefit accruing to his commercial customer.

In other words, the seedstock provider is robbing the commercial producer of the full effect of heterosis he would expect to gain from the purchase of a true purebred bull.

There is really no economic value to the seedstock breeder for extra pounds of gain as seedstock bulls are not sold by the pound and the practice is primarily used to cover genetic flaws in the progeny produced.  The outcrossing method requires the least amount of energy to recreate the herd but also produces the least amount of predictability. Outcrossing is the simplest form of breeding livestock and so is widely used by seedstock producers who should know better.

I know of many herds where the owner speaks of the fact that he has a closed herd. However, what he means by this is that he never brings in outside females.

He takes his replacements females from his own cow herd as they are very maternal. However, these maternal female gene pools are very dominating.

Unfortunately, the outside sires the owner is looking for to breed his cows to are the sons produced from the same type of breeding program. In other words, he is outcrossing his maternally dominant cows with a bull from another maternal herd.
When you hear a breeder following this program talk of his herd he always refers to the great maternal characteristics his herd has. I get bull sales catalogues from ranches across the country and am amazed at the fact that most seedstock operation will have as many as 10_30 herd sire references in their "closed" cow herds.

The number of breeders that produce their herd sires from their own cow herds is now extremely small. Most seedstock providers will use the winning bull of the Denver show, a bull with EPDs for single trait values - carcass, calving ease, milk, bone, frame, or color.

Alternatively they will use some highly advertised and promoted bull that people are familiar with for promotional purposes.
As they say, there’s no business like show business.

I must ask this question of these breeders. With this type of breeding program, how can one bull be better than any other ?
Even worse, the use of these strong maternal gene pools has turned the majority of our seedstock bulls into maternal, non-masculine, non-rugged males in both dairy and beef.

With little or no selection pressure for masculine, rugged, male characteristics; the bull has lost the proper testicular shape, size and length.

The strong maternal cow genetically dominates the male at conception because the bull has more maternal genetic (ovary, milk, narrow shoulders, fragility) characteristics than paternal and yields to the stronger cow.

The cow can and does produce daughters that replicate her, however these daughters are seldom better than their dam.
Even more seldom is a bull born that is as genetically usable as or better than the sire that produced him.

The absence of paternal genetic weakness in the bull continues on and on and allows the maternal cow a dominant position. Remember, the female was created as a partner and helpmate and not as a sole bearer of the total genetic burden.
Bulls produced from strong maternal genetics seldom have proper testicular development, shape and testosterone production. This greatly lowers the quality of semen and results in less pregnancies.

This is why I keep saying that 99% of our reproductive problems are coming from the MALE side of the equation.
The problem is not the cows. The problem is the bulls we are using.

Let’s look at the math involved in our current way of breeding.

The seedstock provider finds a great bull that reproduces to his satisfaction. He breeds his cows to this great bull and produces a bull calf from his cows. This bull calf is now genetically 50% of the great sire.

You buy this 50% bull and you breed it to your cows. The calves you get are only 25% of the great bull.
Twenty-five percent will make very little change in your highly maternal cow's calf crop because the same traits and characteristics of the great bull were not managed into the next generations.

There are two other cows involved in producing your calf, the mother of the bull calf and the mother of your calf. Using semen from the great bull into your cows could make a difference. Your calves would then be 50% of the great sire. This 50% carries much greater potential than 25% and is potentially the beginning of your gene pool.

No commercial producers should ever buy a bull without a thorough examination of his reproductive equipment as maternally caused defects are plainly visible. At SGF’s Grass and Genetics School, one of the things I teach attendees is how to conduct this visual exam.

We then go to the large Dixie National Livestock Show and let you visually appraise the breeding soundness of the show winners there. You will be surprised at how many highly advertised bulls have clear reproductive problems.

Once you see this all of what I have just recounted to you will be as plain as day.  And, as Allan Nation puts it, "You will never look at a bull the same way again."

Next month, we will continue to look at the only way out of our current mongrelized mess.

Gearld Fry
193 Fry Rd.
Rose Bud, AR   72137
Telephone - 501-454-3252



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