Posts Tagged ‘selective breeding’

A Couple of Foxhounds, George Stubbs. 1792.

A Couple of Foxhounds. George Stubbs. 1792.

As strange as it may seem, the dog fancy’s sins began with the Enlightenment and stem from its rationalist, scientific values.

This may seem a bit of contradiction, but the best way to understand the dog world is that began with science but a science that largely ignores the modern concepts of population genetics. The modern science of population genetics says that closed registries that celebrate breeding only an elite within that closed off population are  a recipe for long-term disaster.

But that’s something we’ve only understood since the twentieth century. The beginning of the scientific dog breeding actually start at almost the same time as scientific selective breeding systems were starting to be used to improve livestock.

And this begins almost a century before the development of an institutionalized dog fancy.

It begins with advent of the English Agricultural Revolution in the middle part of the eighteenth century.  This was the era in which the manorial systems were replaced with fenced and walled off pastures and fields, and new techniques of crop rotation and selective breeding increased farm outputs.

The English Agricultural Revolution was important for the development of the Industrial Revolution, for now it became possible to feed large numbers of factory workers in the cities. And the Enclosure that came with the Agricultural Revolution displaced large numbers of people who readily moved into the cities to find work in factories.

Without the English Agricultural Revolution, there would have been no Industrial Revolution, and the rise of the British Empire in the nineteenth century probably never would have happened either.

But it is the part about selective breeding that affects dogs the most.

Now, before the eighteenth century people did selectively breed dogs and other domestic animals. However, it was not a systematic effort.  The world relied heavily upon types we would now call landraces, and selectively breeding landraces is a much slower going system.  Regional variants of the same basic animal develop in this system, which is why you have shaggy saluki-types in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan and smooth-coated ones on the Deccan Plateau. It also is why naturally bob-tailed collie-type sheepdogs were common parts of Wales but were virtually unknown in the North of England and the Scottish borders.

All domestic animals had pretty much followed this path for thousands of years, but systematic selective breeding of domestic animals would change all of that.

The most famous scientific selective breeder of the English Agricultural Revolution was Robert Bakewell of the Dishley Grange House in Leicestershire. Bakewell created improved strains sheep, beef cattle, and workhorses using a system that included a lot of inbreeding.

Bakewell lived before Mendel laid the foundations for modern genetics, and he lived long before there was even a concept of DNA.

All he pretty much knew was that if you selected for a trait and bred tightly for it, you would soon created a population that had those traits almost universally.

Understanding that one could do that with domestic animals meant that one could create new, greatly improved strains fairly rapidly using incestuous matings and rigorous selection.

The dog fancy’s roots are definitely out of Bakewell’s selective breeding notions, but I had always thought that it took quite some time before these ideas ever got applied to domestic dogs.

It turns out that I was wrong about that.

Only six miles from Dishley Grange is Quorn Hall, and at the same time Bakewell was doing his selective breeding experiments, a man named Hugo Meynell was working on producing the ultimate foxhound.

Contrary to what one might assume, foxhunting is not an ancient English custom. Indeed, the practice started in the seventeenth century and began to develop into its modern form in the eighteenth century. Before men rode to hounds in pursuit of the fox, they rode to hounds in pursuit of the deer. However, the violent political upheavals of the seventeenth century had resulted in deer becoming quite scarce in England.  Displaced people poached deer, and they soon were found only in a few parks and forests.

However, the English aristocracy wanted to run their hounds, and it wasn’t long before they switched their hounds from hunting deer to running an animal that most Europeans regarded as vermin. The red fox eats of a lot poultry. It also takes a lot of game birds that were kept for shooting purposes, and foxes do occasionally take the odd lamb.

So the deer hound packs were converted into foxhunting packs.

With the foxhound begins the modern Western concept of a breed.

Martin Wallen writes:

The first dog in the modern era intentionally bred following a scientific method was the English foxhound. This method proved so successful that it became the model throughout the nineteenth century as people developed increasing numbers of dog breeds. Significantly, the creation of the foxhound coincided with the fundamental shift in agriculture toward the understanding that animals and landscape formed an integrated system of resources capable of supplying human needs through methodical management and improvement. This same understanding of systems also began to examine what had hitherto appeared an incomprehensible variability among animals—especially dogs—as a parallel to the no-less-troubling variability among humans, and to arrange the varieties into taxonomies that grouped beings with similar qualities into categories that came to signify essential qualities in individuals (Cultural Critique, no. 70, Fall 2011, pg. 127-128).

Wallen points out that Meynell used Bakewell’s system of “scientific breeding” to produce the hounds:

The “science” that men like Meynell… and Bakewell put to use involved restricted breeding between closely related individuals and destruction of animals that did not clearly manifest the desired qualities. Just as Bakewell judged his animals with an ideal measure of rapid meat production (Overton, 165; Pawson, v), Meynell evaluated his hounds against the conceptual ideal, the telos of “foxhound,” characterized as “fine noses and stout runners,” the canine element vital to the success of hunting foxes in the modern countryside (Hawkes, 4; Vyner, 15). Although Meynell and the others did not set out to create a “breed,” they plainly intended to create an improved hound that would serve a single purpose they valued within the institutional framework that cast animals as resources. Instead of adapting their activities to available hounds, they created a distinctly modern hound that facilitated their sport. Toward that end, they regulated their hounds’ sexual activities and life cycles, segregating serviceable individuals into a group delineated by recognizable and consistently reproduced qualities. The segregation is actualized in the pedigree granting inclusion to the hounds conforming to the standard, and excluding those that do not. (John Hawkes, Whipper-in—or the man who controlled the pack—for Meynell, clarifies what “exclusion” would have meant when he recounts that “in the spring of the year, [Meynell] broke in his Hounds . . . and he drafted them according to their defects” [7]; “to draft” a dog means to kill it.) With such power of judgment, these privileged men created an actual breed that would reliably and consistently pass on its qualities to future generations, and that would only ever act and look in defined and expected ways (pg. 137).

Meynell’s entire outlook of foxhounds and foxhunting was heavily informed by the Enlightenment, and his ideas about breeding and training foxhounds appeared in a pamphlet called The Meynellian Science:  or Fox-hunting upon System.  It was written by his whipper-in, the aforementioned John Hawkes. The idea that hounds could be rapidly improved as cattle could be definitely caught on.

Over the next century, breed improvement programs of this nature would run deep into the world of dogs. The zeitgeist of improvement through consanguinity and ruthless culling is still very much a part of the world of dogs today.

Never mind that this is running in direct contradiction with what we now know about population genetics. Too many dog breeders think they just inbreed and select their way out of problems that are actually the result of a closed registry breeding system that celebrates breeding from an elite.

The modern concepts of conservation breeding require conserving as many genes as possible and allowing outcrosses to other breeds. Virtually every dog breed in the closed registry system is in need of some sort of conservation breeding program, including many breeds that exist in large numbers.

This is not say that Hugo Meynell and Robert Bakewell were bad people. They simply didn’t know what we do now, and their methods were good science for their day.

Modern science says that we’re causing lots of problems by holding onto the old science, and if dog breeding today were as concerned with keeping breeding current with contemporary science as Bakewell and Meynell were, modern fanciers would be changing their ways.

But the dog fancy isn’t changing.

As the nineteenth century progressed, dog shows became more important than the actual function of the dogs. The same methods that were used to produce the superior foxhound were used to produce the deformed bulldog.

It’s currently being use to produce the freakish creatures that now comprise the “exotic” strains of American bully.

Inbreeding depression issues are rampant in the world of purebred dogs, as are the rise in inherited diseases, but all we get are complaints about dog food and blame-shifting to the puppy millers.

The system we have put dogs into is simply wrong for them.

The Meynellian Science of Breed Improvement goes on and on.

And the only “improvement” being a sort of ironic gesture of what was once the most modern way of animal husbandry.

Our modern Western concept of  a “dog breed” began with foxhounds, not with dog shows. And there is no other animal in the UK that is more associated with the establishment than the foxhound. It was a creature bred by the elite to hunt an ennobled quarry. Where once the Anglo-Saxon and Normans had run the deer through forests, now came the red-coated hunters on horseback in pursuit of the little red dog with the black stockings. The fox became an ersatz deer, and the foxhound became the symbol of the English conquest of nature, which it exemplified through its improvement through “scientific breeding” and the simple fact that it was used to kill a wild dog that never knew any master.

The foxhound and the foxhunter are now reviled in their native country. The fox is given greater nobility in a nation without wolves or any other wild canids that now cannot be killed. Foxhunting is now under a rather porous ban, which may change with the Conservatives winning big in last week’s general election.

The policy toward the both animals has changed as the symbols have been manipulated and shifted in the public conscience.

As the dog fancy continues to crumble in North America, it is possible that we might be able to set a new course. Maybe we’ll reject the Meynellian science for some real science, and do what is right for the dogs. Conserve the populations, not preserve them as closed off entities.

This is not a call to end all purebred dogs. To say so is nothing but engaging in igniting a strawman. It is simply a call for better breed mangement strategies that look beyond closed registries and contests that reward breeding only from elite dogs.

We must have a concept of a breed that is better than the eighteenth and nineteenth century one.

Because that concept is not serving the dogs well.

It’s serving the egos well.

Just not the dogs.

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Kent Hovind misuses the Belyaev fox farm experiment to claim that all the dogs, both wild and domestic, came from two of the "dog kind" that were on the ark.



Boy, this is a good one!

First, let’s look at some facts regarding dogs. Most experts say there are about 400± recognized breeds of dogs in the world today. Most also agree that they are all interfertile (can produce puppies) and are therefore the same “kind” of animal. Ten times in Genesis chapter one, God said the plants and animals would bring forth after their “kind,” not their species.

The use of the word “species” sometimes clouds our communication, as there has never been an airtight definition of the word “species.” Darwin’s book entitled, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life never does tell us about the ORIGIN of species at all. He only covered his unproven ideas on how he thinks species might have changed over the “millions of years” he claimed that the world has possibly been here.

It is true that there are a wide variety of dogs on earth today but please consider the following list of facts. Yes, my mind works best from lists. :

All the evidence that mankind has ever been able to observe shows us that dogs produce dogs.

While there are small dogs and large dogs, there seems to be a limit. I would be willing to bet no one will never get a dog as small as a flea or as big as Texas.

Dogs also seem able to “adapt” to various climates. Some can survive at -30F in Alaska and others have “adapted” to ±120 in deserts. Again however, there are limits. They will never adapt to ±300F! Or 10,000F!!!

I have had several people who raise dogs for a living tell me that they can take fifty generic “mutts” from the dog pound and, with selective breeding, re-create nearly every breed of dog today in less than 100 years.

Richard Dawkins, famous English atheist who hates creationists (See the movie, “Expelled”. You can purchase it by clicking here), wrote a book in 2005 called The Ancestor’s Tale. On pages 29-31, he tells of a Russian science team that took captive silver foxes and bred them for “tameness.” In twenty years, they watched them change into dogs! They looked like border collies, sought human company, wagged their tails when approached, had black and white coats, had dog-like muzzles and “lovable” floppy ears, developed hormone changes to breed year round, and displayed less aggression. I think you will find that nearly everyone (creationist or evolutionist) agrees that all dogs could have descended from foxes or wolves with no problems.

To look at the really big picture, I think it is funny to listen to an evolutionists ask a creationist, “How could all the dogs in the world come from just two dogs on Noah’s ark?” and then turn around and teach that all the dogs in the world came from a rock! Over billions of years of course! (Or quickly if you are from Harvard!) On page 31 of The Ancestor’s Tale, Dawkins says, “It is entirely probable that cattle, pigs horses, sheep, goats, chickens, geese, ducks, and camels followed a course which was just as fast and just as rich in unexpected side-effects.”

Keep in mind that the changes needed to turn a wolf, fox, or jackal into a dog are minor compared to turning a rock into a dog or even an amoeba into a dog. I’m even willing to let them have the huge head start of not dealing with the major problem of the origin of life issue and letting them start with a hamster (already a mammal, air-breathing, and land-dwelling) and see if they can turn it into a dog.

Don’t be thrown off track by those who question God’s Word with their detail questions about Noah’s ark. I think there are plenty of great answers to nearly all the questions the atheists raise and I cover many of them in the Creation Seminar. For the questions for which we don’t have answers yet, keep seeking for truth and God will provide the answers as we go and as we need them.


Of course, he makes no mention of what that dog kind was. We all know from credible creationist sources that this “dog kind” was the Afghan hound. That means that all dogs from gray foxes to bulldogs to maned wolves descend from that animal. Of course, that would that mutations occur within populations at a startling rate to create such amazing genetic and morphological variation.


Hovind is right that the term species is very nebulous. I don’t consider domestic dogs to be a separate species from wolves, and I am skeptical that the red wolf and the Eastern timber wolf are separate species from the rest.

That said, I don’t think foxes are the same species as wolves. I don’t think dogs descend from foxes. I don’t know of a single person with any kind of credibility who thinks so. (No. Chihuahuas are not derived from fennec foxes!)

However, Kent thinks that’s a possibility because of the Belyaev experiment. He thinks that they actually created dogs (as in the same species as domestic dogs) through selecting for tameness alone. Yes. They look like border collies, but they are not border collies. They are genetically tame red foxes of the silver phase. This study is used as an analogy to see how domestication might have worked in domestic dogs in their evolution from wild wolves.

Hovind is correct that you could take a large population of randomly-bred dogs and, through an intense selective process, produce something like all the dog breeds we have today. That’s actually what happened in the past 150 years. The many generic and specialist working-type landraces were selected and “improved” into many different breeds. That happens because dogs are very susceptible to selective breeding. Although no one has bred one the size of a flea or the size of a Texas, but we have produced 20o-plus pound English mastiffs and chihuahuas that weigh less than two pounds. This diversity is reflected in the wild Canis lupus species, which once existed in such diverse forms as the 25-pound Honshu wolf to the giant Pleistocene wolf of Alaska with bone crushing jaws.

One of the reasons why dogs and wolves vary so much in appearance is just a little variation on a few genes have great effects upon phenotype. Just slight variations on one gene produces the great variance in size in domestic dogs. In addition, their DNA has an unusually high number of tandem repeats, which also means that they can rapidly evolve diverse phenotypes.

But if Hovind thinks the whole 35ish species in the dog family are derived from just two individuals of the “dog kind,” he must believe in super evolution. While it is true that golden jackals, coyotes, and Ethiopian wolves can crossbreed with both wild and domestic Canis lupus, fertility issues exist when dog/coyote and dog/golden jackal hybrids are bred to each other over the generations. These fertility issues strongly suggest that golden jackals and coyotes are distinct species, despite the fact that many of these hybrids are fertile.  Although there is some anecdotal evidence that a crab-eating fox (which is a South American wild dog, a close relative of the genus Canis) crossed with a domestic dog, there have been no verified dog and fox hybrids. The dhole and painted wolf/African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) cannot hybridize with the members of the genus Canis, and no verified hybrids exist between black-backed jackals and side-striped jackals and other members of the genus Canis.

These animals cannot interbreed because they vary too much genetically.

How could all of this variation result from two dogs (which we all know were Afghan hounds) that were on the ark? We all know that breeding from two dogs in such a fashion would produce animals that have very little genetic diversity. They likely wouldn’t be able to reproduce after just a few generations of breeding from such close relatives.

Hovind totally misunderstands the literature on the dog family. Yes. The Belyaev experiment is very useful in seeing how the domestication process alone might have created all the interesting phases and types that occur in domestic animals.

The silver-phase red foxes in this experiment did become dog-like. They were still red foxes. They did not become dogs.

Would you take tax advice from someone like this?




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Robert Bakewell

Robert Bakewell

Selective breeding was a major leap forward in agricultural production and producing working animals. Animals could be bred that were far better performers than anyone had imagined. Although selective breeding of one sort or another was probably evident in the earliest domesticated populations, the really intense selective breeding that I’m describing has its roots in the eighteenth century. In fact, the methodology behind this sort of selective breeding can be traced to a single individual named Robert Bakewell.


Well, when I studied history in high school, we learned about the Industrial Revolution. We learned about how it started in England in the late eighteenth century, then spread to America and Europe in following decades. We learned about James Watt’s steam engine, Josiah Wedgwood’s industrial pottery factories, and James Hargreaves’s spinning Jenny. What we didn’t learn is that none of these technological advances on their own would have spurred the Industrial Revolution.

You see, none of it would have been possible without the development of efficient agriculture. How on earth do you feed such a large population of workers who are engaged in industrial enterprises without efficient agricultural production?  The answer is that you simply cannot.

And that’s why we have to go back a bit.  In 1688, James II was overthrown by some parliamentarians, who supported the Dutch Stadtholder William of Orange. When William of Orange became William III, the great instability that had consumed England throughout the seventeenth century was over and the landed gentry could now take on more interesting enterprises, including creating more efficient agriculture.

Now, at the same time, England was losing its open field system of agriculture.  This was a communal system of agriculture that was rather inefficient, but it was deeply a part of rural England’s culture and way of life.

The days of these common meadows, fields, and pastures had been drawing to a close since the twelfth century, when the nobles began to enclose the land to maintain flocks of sheep. The wool trade was very profitable for these landowners, and they began to claim ownership of the old manors and build fences. The end of the common lands is called the Enclosure, and by the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, it was well in force. The wool trade was so much more profitable than grain farming.

A certain amount of the political strife that hit England (and later the whole of Britain and Ireland) in the seventeenth century is thought to have been caused in part by conflicts over the Enclosure.

Indeed, we have a very good example in the case of the Diggers. When Charles I was overthrown following the English Civil War, a large number of protestant dissenter groups popped up. The Diggers were one of these groups. Their leader, Gerard Winstanley, argued that the common people should set up common farm lands once again. Now, only 100-200 people every actually did this, but  those that did were not well-received by the land owners and were driven from their communes. But it was only out of an environment in which large numbers of peasantry were driven off their lands during the enclosures that any such movement would have ever developed.

Of course, the Restoration and then the Glorious Revolution put an end to all of that. But England had a problem. It had a massive peasant population with no work and no food. Political instability could be in the offing at any time.

Technology saved the day.

Jethro Tull’s seed drill began the process of converting what was once feudal England into a efficient agriculture state.  His drill allowed farmers to plant seed in rows with fewer laborers. Of course, many farmers hated that idea because if agriculture needed fewer workers, then these people were going to lose their jobs. It took decades for his seed drill to be fully adopted in England.

Then the Rotherham plow and Scots plow  were major improvements on the previous plow technology. Now,  even fewer laborers were needed plant the same fields, and because they were lighter and more controllable, more land could be cultivated faster.

But you still needed lots of people for the harvest, so the farm laborers were still needed. Agricultural production, though, was higher than it had ever been.

Then Andrew Meikle’s threshing machine took hold, and now it was possible to harvest without large numbers of laborers. The development of this device actually did cause some political instability in the early nineteenth century. Because the farm workers were no longer needed, they were now out of a job. Some of them got together and rose against the technology and the land owners.

But in an essence, the British Agricultural Revolution was the precursor of the Industrial Revolution. Without the former, you would have no efficient agriculture and no large numbers of people work in the factories. Indeed, it would have been impossible to have any kind of agricultural society without efficient agriculture, especially if the inefficient agriculture also created a common good that protected labor from ever having to work for wages.

Now, out of this same innovative society was born Robert Bakewell. He was an eighteenth century farmer from Dishley Grange, Leicestershire.  He had been able to go abroad in the Low Countries to observe their agricultural practices, and he returned to his ancestral farm eager to begin agricultural experiments.

His findings added to the knowledge about irrigation and crop rotation, but he’s best known for coming up with modern selective breeding.  He was the first person to suggest that male animals be kept separate from females. He figured out that one could selectively breed cattle that fattened really easily, horses that could pull a plow better than any other, and sheep with long wool.

He is responsible for making a breed of cattle that we call the English longhorn the first major beef producing breed. It had historically been the landrace  draft oxen breed of Northern England, but with Bakewell’s selective breeding, the animals were gaining in size rapidly. They were fattening easily, and the animals were producing beeves unlike any anyone had seen before. These animals were more efficient in that the could produce more meat on the same land, and that certainly added to the efficiency of English agriculture.

modern english longhorn

He took the Lincoln Longwool sheep and bred it to be larger  and with a finer bone. He also bred its wool to be longer and more lustrous, and he also selected for a square conformation and a level topline. This breed exists as a separate breed today, which we today call the English Leicester or Leicester Longwool.

Another of his accomplishments was the development of the big black cart horse, which he called the” Improved Black Cart horse.”  The animals were the result of breeding the Old English black horse to the heavy draft animals from the Netherlands and Flanders. He developed two different types of horse, the Fen or Linconshire type and the Midlands or Leicester type. These animals eventually became known as “Bakewell blacks” or “English cart horses.” These were very powerful animals that attained great size and strength. Indeed, their descendants are the Shire horses, which are the largest breed of domestic horse.

Bakewell’s accomplishments were done without Mendel’s genetics or Darwin’s understanding of artificial and natural selection. He simply selected which animals were bred together. That’s a revolutionary idea. In fact, it is well-known that both Jefferson and Washington were influenced by these ideas, and they tried to improve their own lines of domestic animals using these practices. They also did all they could to encourage American farmers to do the same– with limited success.


Selective breeding allows the breeder to improve his or her stock. It has been a major success as its practice has been further improved with our understanding of genetics.

But selective breeding has been going on long enough for us to understand that sometimes selective breeding has unintended consequences.

For example, when the Soviet geneticist Dmitri Belyaev began to breed for tameness in the silver fox, he did get very tame silver foxes. He also wound up producing foxes that were spotted– some of them marked like border collies. These were, of course, useless as fur-bearers.  But the results did show how selecting for a trait can also include selection for other traits. Belyaev selected for lower adrenaline levels in his foxes, but adrenaline is believed to share a biochemical pathway with melanin, which controls pigment. When he selected for lower adrenaline, he was also selecting for lower melanin. You breed for tame foxes, and you get tame ones with spots.

We’ve seen similar results in broiler chickens. Temple Grandin theorized that the selection for larger breast in broiler chickens actually made the roosters very aggressive and also selected for roosters that did not give off the appropriate courtship behaviors. As a result, a large number of roosters used in producing broilers are so aggressive and libidinous that they rape then hens with whom they mate and then kill them. In her recent work, though, Grandin feels that this isn’t correct. In breeding for heavier breasted chickens, the broiler breeders have produced chickens that have reduced fertility, which is why the roosters don’t demonstrate the courtship behaviors. To correct, this problem, the breeders have selected for what they observe to be higher sex drive in their roosters. However, what they were observing may not have been sex drive at all. It may have been aggression. So the broiler breeders have selected for chickens with big breasts and very low fertility and sex drive. But those roosters that do have fertility and sex drive are so aggressive towards the hens that they kill them after they mate with them. And all of those were the result of several unintended consequences in selective breeding. It has been a real selective breeding comedy of errors.

And dogs are hardly immune. Take English springer spaniels in North America and English cocker spaniels in Europe. Both of these dogs are required to have a lunging gait in dog shows. Well, it turns out that breeding for that lunging gait also predisposes the dogs to a disorder called “avalanche of rage syndrome.” This syndrome is characterized with dogs that are normally quite docile suddenly attacking people, objects, or other animals for no reason. Now, neither of those breeds is required to show any aggression in their working behavior. Indeed, these dogs are often recommended as family pets. However, no one wants a dog that suddenly goes for the children, but it turns out that this syndrome was selected for when they began breeding for that particular gait.

Now, the other problem that exists with selective breeding is when the selection begins to push the animal away from a health conformation. Bakewell’s longhorns are virtually unknown these days. You see they were bred to be so squarely-built and so massive that they began to lose hardiness. As a result, the British began to keep the shorthorn breed instead, which replaced the longhorn by the mid-nineteenth century. (It, in turn, was replaced by the Hereford, which is now being replaced by the “Black Angus,” which is strain of the breed more widely known as the Aberdeen-Angus).

Most turkeys that are mass-produced for the table cannot breed naturally. Indeed, virtually all turkeys that can be purchased at the supermarket have been the result of artificially inseminated. Most strains of these turkeys have been selected for huge breast. But over the generations, this selective breeding has produced tom turkeys that cannot mount the hens. They are simply too massive to do so. Some defective toms are produced that are so massive in the breast that they cannot stand up.

In domestic dogs, the ability of the animal to develop unusual and novel body shapes, colors, coat-types, and sizes is reaching its breaking point. We now have dogs that are so distorted from what could be considered healthy conformation. Today we have pekes and bulldogs without muzzles, dachshunds that are built like weasels, German shepherds that stumble around with their sloped backs and weirdly angulated hindquarters, extremely small Chihuahuas and Yorkies,  and many other distortions of the basic canine shape. And who knows what sort of genetic disorders have resulted from this sort of selective breeding?

Selective breeding allowed us to get better performances out of our domestic animals. We cannot deny this fact. However, as we have seen how selective breeding has progressed since its earliest days, we need to be aware that selective breeding for one trait can sometimes lead to selecting for deleterious traits. And sometimes selective breeding can lead to unhealthy exaggeration.

Thus, we have to be aware that selective breeding can sometimes yield unintended consequence. The legacy of Robert Bakewell is that selective breeding can lead to increased performance in our domestic animals. However, we need to be certain that our selective processes don’t produce these unintended consequences.

And that’s why breeders of all sorts of domestic animals need to understand fully the traits for which they are selecting.

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As I have said before, I think the golden retriever always had a bit more coat than other strains of wavy/flat-coat because it was developed from dogs that lived in the Scottish highlands. That’s one of the reasons why the golden dumps so much hair during shedding season. However, in a functional retriever, the goal is find some balance between the protective coat and streamlining the body for the water or reducing the chances for the coat to collect brambles and burrs.

However, goldens are just one of several animals from Northern Scotland that have developed longer than normal hair. The Highland cattle, which have been in Scotland for far longer than golden retriever. In fact, they may have been in Scotland before the arrival of the Middle English dialects that would evolve into the Scots language.

These cattle evolved in rainy, cold Western Highlands as largely free range animals. These were not cattle that had access to the byres (a cow barn for you non- Scots speakers). Instead, it evolved this very thick coat and great big horns to fight off the wolves, which were common in Scotland well into the eighteenth century. (I remember reading that the Jacobites, who rose against the English crown, probably would have seen a wolf, but they probably would have never seen a rabbit, because European rabbits hadn’t colonized the Highlands.)

This animal is not entirely removed from the ancient Aurochs, the ancestral cattle of Eurasia, but this breed has also developed something of the bison’s coat. Like the bison, Highland cattle have very low fat content to their flesh.

What I also find interesting about them is that they come in roughly the same colors as the native cattle of the Scottish lowlands, which have a much broader distribution as beef produces. I am talking about the breed called the Aberdeen-Angus, which comes in red and black colorations. In the US cattle registry system, the breed is split into two breeds called the Red Angus and the Black Angus.

These are cattle for the byres. They are also from a lowland region in the eastern part of Scotland, where the weather is a little nicer. As a result, they didn’t develop the coat of the Highland cattle, but they did develop lovely marbled flesh. This is my favorite breed to eat.

Now, I don’t know whether any connection exists between the Highland cattle and the Lowland Aberdeen-Angus breed. However, they come in roughly the same colors. Their meat and musculature is quite distinct, as well as the obvious coat differences. Most Highland cattle have horns, while all Aberdeen-Angus are polled. But the fact that the evolved in relatively proximate areas does have my curiosity piqued. Is it possible that they have a common ancestor that was later bred for the different market and weather conditions in their respective regions?

I don’t know.

However, I do know that the red color in the Aberdeen-Angus is associated with a crossbreeding with now rare English longhorn cattle, an “improved” creation of Robert Bakewell, the first agriculturist to develop intensive selective breeding for livestock to increase production.

However, those two theories are not mutually exclusive. The English longhorn was brought in as an outcross, because the herds of Aberdeen-Angus type “doddies” were small.  Bakewell had increased the size of his cattle, and these animals were providing much larger beeves than the unimproved breeds of cattle. So why wouldn’t they cross the big ones in?

Keep in mind that the main person who standardized the Aberdeen-Angus was a man named Hugh Watson, who organized the breed from a landrace to a true breed in the early 1820’s. His main bull was “Grey-breasted Jock,” which tells you that the color varied a little bit.

However, I think that the Highland and Lowland Aberdeen-Angus are descended from a common ancestor that was black or red in color that later evolved into a different animal depending upon environmental conditions and market forces.

Now, if someone can provide me evidence that these two breeds couldn’t possibly be related, please send it my way. But  it does seem to me that the similarities in the two breeds in terms of color seems to me more than coincidental.

Oh, and in Scots, a cow is a “coo” or a “cou.” If you have more than one, then they are “kye.”

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