Articles Of Interest
I have long pondered the question of why this historic race of cattle that I choose to breed has been largely relegated to the “back burner” of commercial relevance for the Beef Industry. History proves that this has not always been so. Over 40 breeds of cattle can trace their ancestral roots to the Shorthorn. Yes, this even includes the “Major Breed”. To most, the obvious factor is color. Livestock marketers like uniformity of groups of cattle. Having them all one color, makes it more difficult to “see” and pick out individual animals within a group. A majority of breeds have overcome this obstacle by merely crossing their cattle with homozygous black cattle, keeping the black offspring, and breeding up to a purebred status. Although there are proponents of this to be found within our breed, I for one hope that it never happens.
So, how do we as a breed overcome the “color bias” of today’s markets? It is my strong opinion that first and foremost, we must breed for traits that are economically friendly to the commercially oriented majority of cattle producers. Until we do this, we are of little to no value to the cattle industry. We need to keep in mind that we will have one shot at these producers who make their living from cattle. If their first experience with Shorthorn cattle is not a favorable one, they will not be back. The entire breed suffers as a result. This evidence is so obvious, that it should not even need voicing!
A case in point: I recently spoke with a gentleman who has gained some respectability over the past several years within the Angus world. This individual invested a significant amount of money over the past few years in putting together a herd of Shorthorns to complement his Angus herd. This man and his checkbook travelled across the country seeking out and purchasing the “best”.
In this man’s own words, “these cattle did not work”. Among his utterly dissatisfied comments were, “enormous birth weights, low milk production, poor udders, and indifferent maternal instincts”. He also remarked that, “a lot of these cattle could not maintain satisfactory body condition on a hay diet during the winter months!” I felt like I was being kicked in the belly with his every discouraging word as I know first hand, that it does not have to be this way. But sadly, among Commercial Cattle People, this is what our breed has too commonly become known for. The Shorthorn cattle that this man put together have recently been dispersed. He will not be back. His industry associates are also highly unlikely to ever give Shorthorn genetics a look.
Due to the mindset of some of the most esteemed breeders within our breed association, the remedy for this unfortunate situation may well be unachievable. However, if we are serious about becoming viable and valuable members of the “real world” cattle community, we would be wise to change our direction. After all, a commonly heard definition for insanity is “doing the exact same thing over and over while expecting a different result each time”. I believe that history will show that the present time we are in, holds one of the greatest opportunities for Shorthorn cattle which can only be capitalised on if we are astute enough to realize it now and change our current emphasis.
How many times do we have Livestock Judges that place value solely on the basis of “looks”? Do they ever ask if the animal was born unassisted? Or, was the natural dam able to raise the calf to weaning on her own? Did the dam breed back? Did the dam have a structurally sound udder? Was the weaning weight satisfactory off the dam? Did the dam demonstrate strong maternal instinct? Few of these questions (if any), are ever asked. Functionality and attractiveness do not need to be antagonistic.
Doesn’t it behoove us to choose judges that will ask these economically critical questions? It does if we are ever going to tap the potentially lucrative commercial market that exists. Unless we satisfactorily address some of these issues that are so relevant to the Cattle Industry as a whole, we can expect to continue our downhill slide into oblivion as a breed.
Ralph S. Larson
Y Lazy Y Shorthorns