Posts Tagged ‘Aberdeem-Angus’

Herefords are often being bred into black Angus strains to produce black baldies, which have many of the Angus's beef characteristics but have fewer problems associated with an inbreeding depression than purebred black Angus.

The most numerous beef cattle in the United States are Aberdeen-Angus cattle. A huge portion of these cattle are registered as black Angus, but there are red Angus in the country as well.  These cattle have had their lovely marbled beef heavily marketed, and it’s not unusual to go to a fine restaurant in the United States and see that a hamburger or steak cut comes from “Angus beef.” Even McDonald’s sells “Angus burgers.”

But it was not always this way.

Hereford cattle of various strains were the dominant breed in the United States.

But for a variety of reasons this breed fell from favor.

It’s still very common in the United States, and its worldwide population is still going strong.

But Angus beef is what is selling well.

Now, these two beef cattle breeds don’t have that much in common. Herefords are relatively large cattle with fairly large heads. Angus cattle tend to be smaller and possess smaller heads in proportion to their body size.

About the only thing these two cattle have in common are that they both originated on the island of Great Britain.

If we were dealing with dog breeds and another dog breed wound up supplanting another, as was the case of the Labrador retriever when it replaced the flat-coated retriever the main trial and shoot retriever in the UK during the Interwar Period, the losing breed often falls from favor pretty dramatically. Flat-coated retrievers almost died out during the Second World War, while Labradors are perhaps the most common breed dog in the world.

The same fate has not befallen the Hereford.

Not at all.

Unlike dog people, the notion of keeping breeds in isolated populations for many, many generations is a foreign concept in livestock husbandry.

“Purebreds” are kept, though this term means something quite different from what dog people mean when they use the term.

Virtually all livestock breeds exist within an open registry system. Foreign blood from another breed can be brought in, and after the initial cross, the descendants that are produced after being bred back to one of the constituent breeds of the cross for several generations can be registered as purebred.

This makes a lot of sense if one is producing livestock to market.

Heterosis is not a mythical creature that animal rights activists use to bludgeon purebred dog breeders with.

It has real market consequences.

Hereford cattle, as a secondary breed, have proven useful in programs that are designed to produce Angus beef.

The F1 cross between a black Angus and a Hereford is called a “black baldie” (“black baldy” is an alternative spelling). It will have the Hereford parent’s dominant white face and the black Angus parent’s black coat.

The crossbreeds are much more productive than their purebred counterparts. According to an article in the February 2009 issue of the  the American Hereford Association’s publication, The Whiteface, crossbred cows generate $100 more per year than their purebred counterparts.

The reason is simple:  heterosis has real world market effects.

The outcross to a Hereford ends the problems with fertility. which includes reductions in mothering skills and ease of birth,that have been associated with the inbreeding depression that occurs when cattle are bred within a closed gene pool.

Cattle people have studied the effects of heterosis in these breeds since the 1960’s, and they have found that crossbreeding has very real benefits. It is now generally suggested that beef producers try to keep their stock about 20 percent outcrossed to maintain a balance between Angus breed characteristics and the benefits of greater genetic diversity.

These are accepted fact.

In another article in that same issue of The Whitefacea rancher did a comparative study of black baldies and purebred Angus calves, taking into account the amount of money spent on each group and how much profit their carcasses produced. Although the pure Angus calves had higher graded beef than the baldies, the baldies had much lower input cost to maintain them. Further, they still had high enough quality carcasses to generate more than enough profit to best the purebreds.

Dogs have been bred in closed registry systems for a fairly long time, and there is a shibboleth among dog breeders that heterosis doesn’t exist when two dog breeds are crossed.

This is nonsense. It is a shibboleth and nothing more. Crossbreeding reduces the effects of the inbreeding depression that exist in virtually all of these closed registry breeds to a certain extent, and it also reshuffles the genetic deck against the likelihood that a dog will be homozygous for deleterious recessives or that it will inherit certain genetic combinations that predispose it for certain diseases.

These are facts.

But unfortunately, these facts contradict the religious dogma of the blood purity cult that is the modern dog fancy. Many of these people parrot the line that you need to breed closely so you can bring out all the bad genes and cull them.

You cannot do that.

If genes were inherited one at a time, you might be able to, but they are inherited in clusters. Trying to breed out one disease almost always guarantees that another one that you didn’t even know about will be doubled down upon. Not a single dog breed has been made significantly more  healthy by operating under these breeding systems. The literature I’ve seen shows that if there is any improvement in terms of longevity, it is marginal. I laughed pretty hard when I came across a site bragging about how Von Willebrand’s disease had been significantly reduced in Scottish terriers, a breed that has seen a significant increase in cancer and a dramatically shortened average lifespan over exactly the same time period.

We expect a lot from our dogs.

I would argue that we expect much more from a dog than we do our hamburgers.

If we expect more from them, maybe we ought to see how the beef producers are getting the best out of their animals to see how we might be able to make things a little better for dogs.

But if we do something like that, we have to drop the dogma.  We might have to call into question the systems that claim to be protecting purebred dogs. We may have to say that the experts of the past were wrong. We may have to accept that they actually put the dogs down a path of ruin, even though we like to laud them in official kennel club and breed publications. This is akin to accepting that Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were great men, even though they owned slaves.

This is pretty hard to do.

But virtually every dog breed could stand a bit more genetic diversity, and they are not going to get it in a closed registry system.

The system is a junker. We need something else.

And some of these breeds need it soon.

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One should also read these posts by Jess (Cynoanarchist) and Chris (Borderwars)

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