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Our latest
(July 2016)




Variation is the necessity of progress

Too many breeders place too many of their own prejudices on their breeding herd.  They also put their own preconceived ideas on the population of cattle that they are producing.  These are too often based on what their fathers taught them, or, what they think the industry requires. All these goals are laudable if they happened to be right.   There is always a conflict between what the freezing industry wants and what the animal requires in order to be efficient. Freezing industries will wish you to breed a bigger and bigger animal and will constantly bring up reasons why you should.  They want the bigger animal because it costs as much to kill a very big animal as it does a small animal.   As you breed your animals bigger so you must carry less or feed them more and often both.  What you really require is an animal that is best suited to your environment, i.e. in N.Z. a grasslands environment.

Recording programmes are of necessity, rigid.  They must cater for all environments, all farming methods, and make no adjustments for the variations in climate. Farming methods,   soil fertility etc. Climatic changes can often make big differences in performance and ranking of animals.

If you have ever done your own calculations, as I have done, for a number of years, you quickly see errors appearing.   These you try to adjust and correct something that a programme is not able to do.   For instance if you are making “genetic gain” in your herd. The standard adjustment of 15% for yearling heifers is far to much.  In fact seeing how your yearling heifers are performing in relation to your old cows is a good measure to find out how well you are progressing or whether you are actually making genetic gain at all. All this is not a criticism of the existing B.L.U.P. programme but just does indicate the limitations of any computer programme. In fact if the Angus breeders consider that the breed is a Dam trait breed (which it is, although many breeders try to turn it into a terminal sire breed) the BLUP with its accent on historical data is the best possible programme. Dam traits of course are firstly fertility, secondly survivability of calf, then longevity of cow, then the ability to lose and recover weight quickly in order to conceive  etc. Either way the breed has a long way to go to achieve efficiency.


It has been a strange Spring.  Soil has remained cold and this has restricted growth.. Some dairy farmers here are already down to once a day milking and they are wondering where they are going from here.  To make matters worse the gale force winds that we have been having are acting like a giant refrigerator and as they suck moisture from the ground they cool the soil even further.  That grass that is beginning to grow is showing a tendency to go straight to seed.

  The cows who came out of a very wet cold winter in light condition are taking a long time to recover.  It will be a big test on their fertility to see how many get back in calf.  To make matters worse it is the second year in a row that they have approached going to the bull in light condition.

 Over the years I have picked up a number of Genetic sayings which I thought that I would share with you and where necessary explain them to you.  These form the basis of all animal breeding. The first one is the equation that you use to make progress

The maximal amount of progress in any Breeding Programme is the heritability of the characters used, multiplied by the selection differential and divided by the Generation Interval.

The heritability for growth is 50%, so that is easy enough.

Selection Differential is how far above the herd average are the sires you use.  So if you are using three sires and they are + 10+6 and +5.  Your selection Differential would be +7

Generation interval is a little bit more interesting.   You must realise that for every year that you use the same bull, you remain on square one.  In other words you make no progress.  A number of Stud breeders use the same set of sires year after year.

“You” are getting older and you are going nowhere.  To make maximum progress you must change your bulls every year and hopefully pick better and better bulls. 

This would be an interesting exercise.

We have gone from what is probably the wettest winter on record, to the driest.   Three weeks of bright sunlight and warm temperatures baked the surface hard. The Met office was predicting a dry season on our coast and so farmers began to think that the drought was already here and so began dumping stock.  Then came the rain which varied all over the district but was adequate everywhere.  But still the grass has refused to grow.  Most farmers a relieved that they took the precaution to lower stock numbers Oh the vagaries of the weather

We began mating 15 month heifers in the mid 1970's at the suggestion of our geneticist.   He said that the industry would eventually demand it, so I ought to be well on the road with experience when the demand came. Much to my surprise there is still very few yearling heifers mated.  Beef farmers must be so rich that they do not require the extra money. Mating yearling heifers has many advantages.  Firstly you get an extra years income.  Then you get a look at your cows, this allows you to get rid of the shy breeders, bad milkers etc. We had been selecting straight for growth for sometime and with the resulting lift in birth weights.   We had a lot of calving trouble at the beginning.  We tried everything to reduce calving problems.  Science told us that the main time of foetal growth was the last 3 weeks of pregnancy, so we reduced feed for the heifers during this period  Nothing worked and we were still having to calve far too many heifers and wrecking some. Because of our breeding programme we have control of our genetic input and so we began selecting for low birth weights. For the last 20 years we have had no trouble calving yearling heifers.  We have found that as the years progress that we are getting what the industry calls more and more “line bending” bulls.  Bulls that have low birth weight but high growth. Next month I shall talk about analysing 20 years of heifer mating and subsequent performance.

We have just been through the wettest Winter on record, but now we are out the other side in the most beautiful weather. The grass is still being held up by too cold ground temperatures, but it must begin to grow soon

Outlook for the coming season, so the met office tells us, is for a dry summer on the East coast, which is where we live. Oh well that is farming and the stock will be tested again to see how they cope with the vagaries of the seasons. Right now the weather could not be better. Day after day of blue skies but cool with temperatures of around 14o. We have had no wind this year so far which is unusual. strong North-westerly wind is very limiting to our district. As the wind blows it sucks the moisture out of the soil acting like a giant refrigerator cooling the soil and stopping grass growth. This is the reason why the East coast often had such poor Spring growth. Not this year so far.

My bit of research

Some years ago it was fashionable to mass screen large commercial herds for selecting the cows which were weaning high weights of calves and collecting them into herds for breeding bulls. These herds were expected to leave calves that were well above average in weaning weight and hence put the breeder well ahead in a herd of efficient cows for bull production.

When you have a large volume of back data of grassland production you can do all sorts of things with it.

I decided to go into my data and theoretically screen the cows for weaning weights and then follow them through to see what happened

I found that it did not work. That you would have done just as well by taking a random herd of cows and begun selecting them for weaning weight. Why? I suspect it is the bulmar effect coming in and everything returning to the average

I sent my data off to the scientists and they agreed that my data indicated that mass selecting did not work

Selecting to improve genetic structure must be intensive, additive, cumulative, and directional.

2006 has been one of the wettest winters on record.  Three times the flat country below us has been covered in water, some of the water has remained lying for up to a week.  The losses in grazing land to dairy and sheep farmers in the Wairarapa and in the lower North island has been considerable.  Large areas of the hill country has slipped away and will take years to recover.  The dam that supplies our garden water has filled in and will require digging out before it can be used But Spring is here and the daffodils and camellia are flowering and although some more very cold weather is predicated the grass is beginning to grow if slowly.

It is strange to consider how out here in the South Hemisphere we are under water while part of  the rest of the world is having droughts.  Pity that we cannot find some method of evening it all out. When I was farming, in the Winter I use to think about trying to store all that surplus water in the Winter, so that is could be used in the dry season.  Very unsuccessful cogitation

My bit of research for this month is telling you about   “Compensatory Growth” in action. Some years ago the NZ Angus Association Council decided that it should go around all its members to make sure that they were keeping accurate records. My Brother and I had just taken over the farm as my father had just died. This is some years ago before drenches etc and we were young. The standard animal management for the stud cattle was in those days  was to wean the calves in among the ewes and lambs and forget about them until the Spring when they were bought in closer , looking thin and potty, and then they were fed a little hay . We showed the records, which had always been kept immaculately, to the inspectors. We then showed the yearling bulls. No comment was made.  The two year bulls were coming up for sale and were down at another farm some short distance away. We were topping or coming second in the local sale each year. So the bulls always came out looking very well as they were this year !  After all the inspection was finished we returned home and had a few drinks before they left. As they were going out the door they stopped turned around to us and in a voice filled with wonder said   “Do you mean to tell me that those yearlings that we saw ,grew into those two year bulls”. We were very surprised because we they did it every year and it never occurred that they would not. So we fell to thinking about this and wondered what would happened if we fed them like everyone apparently fed their calves.  So the next years we fed them hard feed and grain. They were driven down the valley on the hoof as yearlings and were observed critically by all the farmers, some of which were stud breeders, who use to shake their heads. But this year they weighed 100 lbs more then they had ever done before.  The farmers in the valley were surprised and delighted , with many expressions of surprise. At sale time the bulls weighed exactly what they had weighed every other year. In other words we had wasted all that feed that we had put into the yearling.  They were compensating one year to the next. I have been constantly saying that “compensatory growth” is available.  It is free so use it. Our cows are compensating every year as we strip the weight off their backs in the Winter and they efficiently quickly get back their weight in the Spring when the grass comes.  

When Winter comes can Spring be far behind.   Spring may not be far away but we have just been through the biggest rain storm.  Five inches of rain fell in 24 hours.  The entire valley floor that overlooks from our house disappeared under water and remained so for 3 days.  The country was already wet and so there have been quite a lot of slips on the hills which will take some years to re-grow over.  Oh well that is farming, I guess.  William was away having a bushman’s holiday in Australia, and for three days the farm was completely isolated.  You have to cross a large culvert to enter the farm and that was 6 feet under.  Animals had to cope on their own but now that we are back, they seem to have done very well

This month I am going to discuss Breeding Programmes to see if they are filling the breeder’s aspirations. To my mind the objective should be to increase production with-in a given environment.  In other words raise efficiency within your present farming system, soil type and farming method.  If you have a commercial cow herd and it is your desire to replace it with a stud breeding enterprise the stud cattle should be able to fit straight in, and compete, as did the commercial herd, for available resource.

The present BLUP programme with its accent upon Growth plus, Milk makes no account of efficiency.  All the present analysis done to demonstrate how successful the present programme is in raising, for instance growth, just demonstrates a classical response to heredity.  It is easy enough to raise growth; you have to feed them more. If we continue in this manner the logical conclusion   of such a method is to end up with a dinosaur. But you can only afford to run one and although they may look spectacular it would hardly be profitable

There is a very high degree of variability in efficiency which means that there is much room for improvement.  The big problem is to identify those animals that are superior for efficiency. Trangie, in Australia, has done the only study that I know of showed that there is a 100% difference between the efficiency of the best and worst cow in a  population.  Efficiency in this case being “the number of kilos of feed consumed to kilos of calf weaned.”  If you could only identify those cows that were the best and use their sons you would be making progress upon this most vital of characteristics

We are in the month of our shortest day and so far Winter has been kind.  Ground temperatures are still warm but grass has stopped growing.  Cows are now moving into cleaning up mode and during the next 4 months they will loose 40 to 50 kilos of weight.  As they move into the later stages of pregnancy they will begin to gain weight until they calve, after which they must have the ability to lay on some fat in order to conceive again while they are lactating.  Something that our cows have the biologically ability to do as we have no problem with conception rates. Since beginning to write this newsletter we have had a cold Southerly come through which has stopped everything in its tracts.  In NZ there is nothing between us and the antarctic and it does get very cold

This month I am going to tell you what happens when you close a herd of cows and so “all” sires come from within herd. I had better begin by saying that I do not recommend that breeders should close their herds..The time to make progress is too long and the cost is too high First thing is that you go into the “Bulmar” effect. This means that no matter what you do you go backwards. Even if you use the best bull in the world  This can be explained but I am not going to do it here ( as it would take too long). How far you go backwards I do not know.  I suspect that it is to the average performance of the population.   After you bottom out !! You begin to slowly climb.  You can mathermatically calculate  out how much you are gaining per year by the followering equation  “ the heretibility of the factor multiplied by the selection differential divided by the generation interval”. That might sound very complicated but it isn’t The heretability for growth which most breeders begin selecting for is 48% or 50% near enough. Selection differential is how far the Sires you are selecting are above average.  W e are selecting three bulls at +5 +10 and +15 your average selection differential is +10 so  50% of 10 = 5. If you are useing yearling bulls and yearling heifers the shortest generation interval that you can have is 5 years So 5 years divided by 5 = 1 so each year you will make a kilo of gain.  The big thing is that that the 1 kilo that you gain becomes additive and culmative.  There are other advantages too which I shall explain next month.

Autumn has been kind this year.  Enough rain, grass has continued to grow and stock remain in good condition.  All prices for stock are well back and it appears that our very good economic run is over for the time being.  House and land prices remain excessively high and land prices are well outside their economic value.

The good news is that Pinebank has again got its steaks in the “Steak of origin” finals in fact of the finalists, 50% are Pinebank Bred.  Let’s see what happens.  I know that a number of other breeders were very keen to knock us off the top this year and every effort has been made to do so.  Final judging is on this coming Friday.  It will be interesting

We began in Pinebank, testing our sires for the tenderness gene last year and of the 9 bulls that we have tested so far all nine have had the tenderness Alley .( Alleys is a part of the gene)  Gene Star have bought out a new test and in this new test this year we averaged 8 stars for tenderness.

It would appear as though that we have carried the tenderness gene through with those old Scottish cattle that we have maintained.  The present Breeding programme that has been implemented since 1967 has improved the efficiency of the cattle and moved on its adaptability so that today there is little semblance to the original small cattle that were imported in the late 1800's.   Our big challenge is to know ‘as we slowly improve economic factors, how far do we wish to go.Theory says “that there is no end to the improvement in anything biological, it will slow down but it will go on” How far can you push growth without losing, say tenderness and marbling.  I suppose only time will tell us.  As long as variability remains, improvement remains possible.


We are now in autumn and although the weather has cooled very quickly this year, the ground appears to have retained its warmth and the grass is growing well. 

Calves have stayed on the cows until now owing to the dry spell and lack of feed.  This present flush of feed will allow us to get on with weaning.  Calves were of course weaning weighed at 200 days.

All stock has certainly appreciated the steady misty rains that we have had. Spare a thought for parts of Australia that is very dry and some areas have to sell cows.  Let’s hope that they get their yearly rain in October as usual.

When I began learning about genetics my teacher quoted his “Genetic saying”.  Since that time whenever a scientist has quoted one of these sayings too me I have written it down, and now have a list which I either trot out at the relevant time or take out and study to make sure that I am  remaining  on the right tract. 

The saying was: “The bull with its multiplicity of offspring controls not only the amount of progress in any herd but also its extent. The cow is just a gestation medium for improvement”   Tell that to your wife!!

If you have a single sire herd then half of every calf born in each year belongs to the bull.  How important does that make the bull? There are in every herd some very high performing cows for your environment.  If you can identify them then use their sons.  How much would you be better of than selling that bull to someone to make use of her efficiency?   If you are looking at raising efficiency in your herd then the most important characteristic by miles is fertility.  No calf, no money.  After you have got your calves you can worry about how fast they grow - tenderness of the meat or other factors etc.


The country is drying and we are entering autumn. Rain is necessary while the soil is still warm to give us the grass growth that is important to carry us through the coming winter.  So nature throws up her environ to test both Farmer and animals challenge their ability to cope.   To add to the problem, autumn has come early this year and as we move into winter we hope for rain. How many other farmers, ranchers, and people of the land go through this dilemma most years? Stock are still holding on well but we will be turning out the rams early this year while the condition is still holding on the ewes and looking for something to help us through the tupping.  Lambing percentages could be down next year.

My bit of research is about Compensatory Growth. There is a genetic saying that says:   “All bulls are genetically coded to reach a given weight and a given age and that weight can be achieved at any time”. There is a proviso to this saying, that if the animal‘s skeleton is stunted due to low nutrition in its early life then its genetic potential is never realised. For many years I put my rising yearling bulls under nutritional stress to see which animal could perform the best under those conditions.  The results were surprising from two angles. The variation was very high with some bulls performing right out the top and then a big gap and then others very poorly. I employed a farm advisor to provide an outside look at my farming operation and to give me advise some of which I took and some I forgot.   He commented on my stressed bulls that I would never get them up to saleable weights by bull sale date.  We had a bet that the bulls would not get up to 400 kilos by Xmas some 4 months away. I had grass shut up for them so I drenched them for the first time and put them onto the grass and they proceeded to grow very fast.  In other words they began to compensate.  By xmas I bought them in and weighed them and they had reached on average 420.  Now this happened on a regular basis so I knew that it would occur.  What also happened was that the outstanding bulls disappeared into the mob which meant that the other bulls had caught them up.  However in the particular year that I have in mind one bull was very dominate during the stress period.  Although he went back into the mob in fact the others caught him up, I decided to use him as a sire and he went on to perform very well So impressed was the Farm Advisor that he got me along to talk to a group of top farmers.  At the same time there was a scientist talking on rearing and fattening Dairy Bull s which was and still is a standard way to beef farm in New Zealand.The scientist was adamant that you must never let a dairy bull get under stress otherwise he would never recover. I did not believe him and still don’t but I made no comment..  Animals compensating which means they make more efficient use of their feed and grow much faster until they get to their genetic level is a common phenomena and breeders use it often without realising what they are doing. It is free.  It is economic and it is available so use it. But be careful that animals are fed enough to keep up body heat and to provide enough energy.  But it is not necessary to put on fat during this period I shall tell of another experiment we did that illustrated how we wasted a lot of money feeding cattle through another winter.

February is half way through and on the farm we are in the middle of scanning ribeye and intramuscular fat in the yearling heifers. Shortly we shall be scanning for pregnancy. That will finish with the heifers until calving.  Cows have still to be pregnancy tested and checked for structural soundness. We do that every time they go through the cattle yards.  It has been a good season; every time that it has become dry we have had enough rain to lift things enough.  All the stock is in good order. Bulls have all been sold and delivered.  Bulls kept and used by ourselves as studs have come out from the cows a fortnight ago and are now being blood tested before selection for those bulls that we are going to collect, and are being built up before going to the Centre.  Those bulls kept for 2 year sale next year are coming along well and there are some exceptual bulls among them

Our website appears to have demonstrated that we are producing cattle that will meet the requirement of the overseas markets. In our first year of operating our web we have sold semen and will have calves in 18 states in U.S. and 2 provinces in Canada not to mention in Australia, South America and of course New Zealand. The “Sustainable Genetics” our agents in America refered in a newsletter to a website in N.Z of the “” in which I was reputed to say that the Pinebank Herd came from the “Lowling Angus”.  This is completely untrue. I wrote an article for the Rarebreeds magazine that the Scottish Angus was a rare breed as there were very few in any cattle other that ours left.  I never passed the article that was written and did not know that they had printed an article and put my name to it. Let’s put the record straight.   We have nothing to do with the Lowline cattle.  Our herd was closed long before the Lowlines came on the market.   We would have been 10 years down the tract of selecting our pure Scottish Angus for productive and economic traits by the time the Lowlines appeared. Lowlines may be pure Scottish Angus I do not know but they came from a Trangie experiment where Trangie had three lines of cattle selecting for growth. One was being selected for high growth. One was a control to check progress. One was being selected for low growth.  The Lowline cattle came from the low growth line, and ended up very small animal that the lifestylers could keep in the back garden.

Our cattle are nothing like the Lowliner and never have been.

Soon as I say the article that was in Rarebreeds, I wrote correcting them ,they tell me they have corrected it, I must check and see For those of you who read my Newsletter and 41/97 calves. I await weaning weights with confidence and much interest. If any of you would like to send them too me along with their comparative data of other bulls against them, I will get around to calculating it. I shall return the results back which is actually what is happening. Corrected for age etc but no heritability, no approx economic values, no repeatability, just what has happened Have a good year, and plenty of live calves! They are what makes you money.

It has been a funny season weather wise. No summer sun to speak of, or holiday weather. The upside is that it has produced enough grass, even though it has deteriorated as it has gone to seed and become all top. Great for the cows though, and they and the calves are both doing well. Bulls are out and have been working well and are just about to come in again, in fact many of them are back in already. Using a completely new lot of sires each year means that as they are yearlings, they must be observed very closely to make sure that they are working properly. It was not very long ago that I was approached by one of our research institute’s to enquire whether using yearlings was fertile, and did I find using them successful. We use them of course to speed up our generation interval.


Upon reading the American Angus Journal I find that conception rates in Angus cows appears to be a problem and that cows appear to be hard to get in calf while out on the Range. All biological species must be able to handle their environment what ever it may be. Fertility must be the most important economic trait as no calf no money, and we can all do with more of that! So what do you do if you have a fertility problem? Firstly you make sure that you do not have a disease problem. Then you look to see whether you have a selection error, in that you may have selected the wrong type of cow for your environment. If you wish to know what the best cow for your environment is, and you are recording, then you search through your records and find a cow that has calved every year, if you have one, and she will be the type and size of cow best suited to your environment. I have told you all this stuff before but it cannot be emphasised enough after all, as I have said, fertility is all important.

Pinebank wishes all the readers of our Newsletter a prosperous, and happy 2006. We hope that the sun shines for you, but not enough for a drought.

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