Lessons from Historical Agriculture: #3 – On Breeding Livestock

Pearls of Wisdom from old books on breeding of livestock:

Stock Breeding by Manly Miles, MD. First printed in 1878.

Quote: Interpretation:
“Beauty in the form and proportions of his [Robert Bakewell’s] animals was always made to contribute to the development of useful characters.” What we see as pleasing to the eye is such because balance and function are inherently beautiful. For example, the straight back and strong legs on Bakewell’s Leicester sheep provided a strong foundation for the sheep to thrive.

Other quotes from the book:

“The animal that converts the largest amount of food into animal products of the best quality, with the least possible waste of material, would be the most valuable.”

Image result for robert bakewell leicester sheep

“The principles that guide the breeder of pure-bred stock are likewise applicable to the improvement of the common stock of the farm.

It is not to be expected that all persons will be equally successful in producing animals of extraordinary merit, but it is, nevertheless, true that a careful study of the principles of the art, which are easily understood, will enable the farmer to make improvements in his stock that will add largely to his profits.”

American Dairying by L.B. Arnold, A.M. First printed in 1876.

Quote: Interpretation:
“What breed of cows is best depends on where and what they are wanted for…While adapting the kind of stock to his location, the dairyman should not omit to procure animals whose former habits and fare have been as nearly as possible like those they are to receive at his hands. The less change in habits of milch cows the better.” Different breeds of animals meet different needs.

I need cream, therefore I own Jersey cows!!

Another quote from the book:

“The oft quoted adage, “like produces like,” has a significance beyond visible qualities. It takes in also, constitutional qualities. Two animals unalike in this respect, though alike in all others, will not stamp the same peculiarities upon their progeny. The first appearance of a characteristic does not fix it permanently in the constitution of the individual, or, in other words, in the blood, and not being fixed, it is easily lost when circumstances do not contribute to its continuance.

By continuing it through successive generations it becomes permanent, and the longer and more frequently it is transmitted the better it is established in the blood, and the more difficult is it to be bred out or dropped out by a loss of vigor or prepotency in the parents.”

The Fundamentals of Livestock Judging and Selection by Robert S. Curtis, B.S.A. First printed in 1920.

Quote: Interpretation:
“The purpose of the dairy animal, and therefore the fundamental factors in judging, are strikingly different from any other farm animal. .. As the dairy animal gives off the products of food digestion, absorption and assimilation, daily the natural result would be an animal with the sparse, open conformation such as the dairy animal possesses. The block animals [beef & horses], which accumulate the products of the manufactured food, assume an entirely different form… We have, therefore, the two distinct types, one eliminating from the body through the mammary system and the other accumulating the products in the bone and muscular tissues, the former being represented in the dairy animal and the latter in the block animal.” The shape and appearance of a dairy animal should be judged wholly separate from the shape and appearance of a beef animal.

Likewise, the care and management of dairy cattle should be considered completely new or different and should not be compared to beef cattle.

Wedge vs block animals.jpgAs usual, I’ve learned some new terminology and enjoyed reading other’s perspectives on breeding philosophies, some of which provide me with some “food for thought” as our farm continues to breed animals. Though these books were written a century or so ago, therein still contains insight and acknowledgement of continual need for improvement!


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