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(July 2016)




Variation is the necessity of progress


It is Christmas time again, just where did the last year go?  While you in the Northern Hemisphere are under snow, we are in a heat wave and in the beginnings of another drought. 

This will be  the third season in a row.  I cannot remember ever having drought of this frequency ever before. 

We had a smidgen of  rain last week and some more is predicted this week, but as the weatherman tells us that it is supposed to be raining now; his accuracy is in doubt.

Goodness knows how the poor old cows will handle another drought, it has certainly taken its toll. The Angus sales  held up reasonably well last year and do not appear to be affected, much if at all, by the economic  chaos we are all experiencing at the moment.

This week I am returning to animal breeding programmes and to show how and why they work.

Firstly you must set objectives.   They must be realistic and not be altered unless economic or some other equally important factor, forces a change.

Every populations has good and bad genes in it and these genes remain the same for each population until a successful and concentrated programme is implemented and has been running for some time.

In your own herd, you have a line of cows that you have, been selecting over years that are the best for your environment, under your management and all the things that make your farm unique.   Because all farms are unique, the objective is to collect the best, high performing genes out of your herd and build them in thus increasing their performance.

If you are purchasing bulls, then I would suggest that you select your own best bull and use him as a comparison to the purchased bull.   In this way you have always a check on the purchased bull.If you observe your own mob of bulls carefully, you will observe a bull that will stand out from the rest.

Remember the saying:   “Any bull exhibiting superiority for any characteristic, that bull carries with it the heretibility ( as estimated) for that characteristic regardless of the performance of its parents”.

In any mating, half the genes come from each parent , and this sampling is purely by chance.
That bull, that in your herd has happened by chance to get the high performing genes out of both parents making him superior.Is your purchased bull as good?

 The next year you do the same, but pick the best bull of that year.  

 If you are uncomfortable with this idea then just give your own bull a small number of cows, but they must be of all ages, preferable a random selection

Every time that you purchase a new bull, repeat this,   you will find it an interesting exercise.
You may not be as far behind as you had thought!

Happy Christmas to all readers of my Letters.

Gavin Falloon

Spring has arrived at last and grass is growing and stock are picking up after a torrid two years of drought and low prices. 

Like the whole world we await what is going to happen the world food prices, but our dollar is weakening, so that should help to cushion any beef price crash.   The world has to be fed, now more than ever, and there appears to be shortages everywhere .

The last three years of drought has dropped production of sheep and beef over here and what with the acceleration of dairying, sheep and beef is only going to get harder to come by.   The dairy boom cannot last forever as of every thing markets are cyclical.  

Going to be interesting to see the country that is unsuitable to dairying come back into sheep after the very high conversion. There is going to be some big losses.
We shall just go on breeding our bulls and improving all their economic traits, slowly and steadily and let the world go on by.

Closed herd breeding must be approached with caution.  Firstly because there are these two problems which immediately come into focus.

First there is the “Bulmar effect”. This exhibits itself in a way that I cannot explain and as far as I know no one else can explain.

No matter what pressure that you put upon selection, you go backwards and you drop quickly.
How far you drop seems to be a factor of the herd , its previous history management and perhaps environment.It is not until you hit bottom that you begin to climb.

What must always be remember is that you can go just as fast backwards , if you make bad decision as you go forward , which means that data must be observed closely to check that you’re herd is going in the right direction that you have decided.

Overcoming the Bulmar effect can take up to 10 years.

The next and can be bigger problem is, as your inbreeding level begins, if you have any recessive material residing in your herd it begins to appear.   

If you disregard these recessives they become exacerbated, and more and more appear each year.  

I have pointed out that every time that you buy a bull or cows, you import any problems that herd may have.
I cannot exaggerate enough how important the bull is, because half the genes for that generation of calves come from that bull.

I shall stop there because there is enough for you who read my Newsletter to think about.   Because that is what they are for!

Put them in the back of your mind and when you have time ,get them out and think about them. If all my writings are not logical, do not accept them! One more Newsletter before Xmas!


Spring is here and we have been having a succession of the most beautiful days   The grass is at last growing and all the stock are recovering from a most difficult Winter and last years drought. On the farm as yet we have not been effected to the same degree as overseas by the tumult of the world ecomonies. It  will be interesting to see if it begins to effect prices of stock in the coming season.At the moment all is fine and lets hope that it remains so.


All populations are loaded with recessive genetic material.   These recessives occur more often or less often, but   because of the constant out crossings, seldom exhibit themselves unless breeders  begin to use sons across half sibs, or some other method of inbreeding or linebreeding.   Then the recessives come to the fore in various forms.

A geneticist looks at this problem and asks the following questions:

  • What is its gene incidence.?
  • What is its mode of inheritance?
  • Is it of economic importance?

Once those three questions have been answered then he decides whether it is important enough to deal with .   Dealing with recessives takes a lot of time and can be  very expensive.Identification of the gene, of course, makes it much faster, and much cheaper, as only the only animal identified as carrying the recessive need be  culled. Some years ago , I was involved in the  control of a rogue gene.   The reason that this became important was that it was in humans as well as cattle,  so the experimenting could be done in cattle without upsetting people. The scientists collected 25 known carrier cows and two known carrier bulls to which the cows were mated.Because of my identifying calves at birth, I was given the job of calving them.Any calf that was born dead or died shortly after birth went straight to the university.  It was blood tested and had tissues taken.

The results was a perfect mathematical model.   25% clinicals, 50 % carriers and 25% skipped the gene and were clean.This perfection was most unusual with such a small number. It must be remembered that to have a clinical,   an exhibition of the gene, means that there are a number of carriers standing behind the parents.But these are easily identified once the gene is found and cattle can be DNA tested to find those animals that are carriers.


Today is Saturday the 13th of September and it is the most beautiful warm Spring day. Weather forecast is for it to remain so until at least the middle of next week. Lets hope that Spring has arrived at long last.   The Weather has been cloudy, cold, and persistent rain for the last 3 weeks.   Because of the cold there has been very little grass growth.   The vagaries of the weather that us rural farmers have to put up with, uncomplaining of course.   If we get the weather as predicted, then Spring will be well under way

The price of beef and lamb is rising, either because of our dollar weakening or else due to demand.   Probably because of both. 

 It means that sheep and beef farming , with any luck will return to profitability. 

 It may even stem the decline in sheep and beef numbers both of which have been under serious decline

My bit of research this month, is the second of two articles by Russell Priest on the breeding cow and how to raise profitability…



Using Genetic Technologies to Improve the Profitability of the Breeding Cow

Russell Priest

Meat & Wool New Zealand Beef Genetics Coordinator


The introduction of genetic technologies to animal breeding has enabled us to identify animals, by way of their genetic makeup, that suit specific production systems, market endpoints, climatic conditions etc. But are we as animal breeders doing a very good job putting this jigsaw together? I would suggest that there is much room for improvement and that rather than blindly chasing ‘fashionable traits’ we give more thought to engineering a better ‘fit’ when selecting our herd sires.

Achieving a closer alignment between the characteristics of the animal and the production system/market will ensure greater herd profitability.

Because the bovine species is inherently not very fertile, the greatest challenge in a breeding cow herd is to improve reproductive efficiency. This not only involves getting females pregnant within a calendar year, but also delivering a live calf at weaning.  A recent N.Z. survey commissioned by Meat and Wool New Zealand and conducted by Massey University suggests that the latter is an area that needs a lot of attention.

 Far too many calves are being lost from conception to weaning!

 Unfortunately some of the most economically important characteristics required by a profitable breeding cow have associated with them traits that are not passed on very strongly from parents to offspring and as a consequence genetic progress is very slow. I refer particularly to the fertility trait (days-to-calving), the calving ease traits and the milk trait.

If rapid genetic progress is a goal, it is better to cull animals that have very poor EBVs for these lowly heritable traits than it is to try and improve them genetically.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being economically the most important, reproductive efficiency has a rating of 10, growth has a rating of 2 and carcass traits have a rating of 1.

Therefore the number of live calves at weaning is economically by far the most important trait in a breeding operation. Characteristics exhibited by an efficient breeding female may include:

  • Structural and reproductive soundness.
  • Rapid growth to early oestrus
  • A high pregnancy rate at 15 months
  • A fast and easy calving
  • Strong mothering ability
  • Adequate milk
  • A high rebreeding rate within a confined mating period.
  • A high weaning weight ratio.
  • The ability to lead a long productive life (longevity).

10. The ability to simulate the functions of a mower, a baler, a hayshed and a    feedout wagon.

1. Structural and Reproductive Soundness A cow must be structurally and reproductively sound in order to perform the function for which she is designed.  If either of these is impaired, her profitability will suffer to some degree.

2. Rapid Growth to Early Oestrus Good early growth (400-Day Weight EBV) is important in ensuring heifers reach target mating weights at 15 months.  The finisher also benefits from this by achieving target slaughter weights at an early age and particularly before the second winter, as it is a very costly exercise taking finishing cattle though this period.  Strong later growth in heifers (600 days plus) can be a disadvantage in a breeding cowherd as this is usually associated with high mature weight (large framed breeding cows with low levels of body fat).  These animals tend to have high feed maintenance costs and on average are not as efficient as those with more moderate mature weight.

3. A High Pregnancy Rate at 15 Months There is a moderate relationship between the Scrotal Size (SS) EBV and female fertility, but recent research suggests that fertility may not continue to improve with increasing SS, in fact it may well decline. In general however, the greater a bull’s SS EBV, the earlier his daughters start cycling and the shorter will be their calving interval (Days-to-Calving EBV). Herd fertility should also improve as a consequence.

4. A Fast and Easy Calving Two economically important EBVs, which have a direct effect upon the ease with which calves are born and also influence heifer/cow survival during calving, are Direct and Daughters’ Calving Ease. Unfortunately these traits are not passed on strongly from parents to offspring and require a lot of information on them before they are reported for two-year bulls.  Therefore they are rarely, if ever, seen in bull sale catalogues. They are also unfavourably related, which means that bulls whose offspring are born easily often leave daughters who don’t calve as easily. There are bulls however who do defy this reasonably strong genetic relationship. They should be regarded as valuable animals as they are relatively rare.

 The next best indicator of calving ease is birth weight (Birth EBV), though it must be appreciated that the relationship between these two is not straightforward. At low birth weights there is little, if any relationship between the two (calving ease remains the same regardless of birth weight) , however as birth weight increases a relationship starts to kick in where large changes in birth weight result in small changes in calving ease. As birth weight further increases, this relationship is reversed, with small changes in birth weight resulting in large changes in calving ease. Therefore, for two-year-old bulls, this trait should be used as an indicator of direct calving ease with some reservations.

 From experience, breeders will have some idea what Birth EBV figure their herd can cope with and appropriate bulls should be purchased based on this. Remember, birth weight and growth rate are strongly related (low birth weights generally mean low growth rates and vice versa).  There are some bulls however that don’t display as strong a relationship between these two traits as others.  These are known as ‘growth curve benders’ and are characterised by having low birth weights in relation to their growth rates and often have short Gestation Length EBVs.  These are very valuable bulls as they ‘combine the best of both worlds’ (low birth weight and good growth). Here I must sound a word of caution; bulls that have exceptional Direct Calving Ease EBVs (bulls that seem ideal for heifer mating) often leave daughters that don’t calve easily. These bulls are those that generally have a combination of very low Birth EBVs and poor growth EBVs.

The moral of the story is to avoid using animals with extreme EBVs, unless it is absolutely essential and use a ‘balanced’ approach to trait selection.

  The ease with which calves are born does not only influence the survival of calves and cows during calving, but also affects the time it takes for a cow to get back in calf after calving, i.e. cows that calve easily rebreed sooner than those that have difficulty.  The calf also has a far greater chance of surviving if it is born without difficulty.   5. Strong Mothering Ability Calf survival is also very dependent upon the mothering ability of the cow.  If, for example, a calf is born on uneven ground and happens to get separated from the cow at birth (e.g. slides down a hillside) and the cow does not follow it, there is every likelihood the calf will not survive.  The milking ability of the cow is also an important ingredient of calf survival.  It is vital for a calf’s future health that it gets a good dose of antibodies from its mother’s colostrum within the first 24 hours of its life to protect it against disease.  Without this, a calf is always going to struggle.

6. Adequate Milk The strength of the milk genes (200-Day Milk EBV) in a herd should be governed by the environment in which the herd is performing. If there is too much milk (milk is a big consumer of energy) and the environment is harsh, there are often associated fertility problems, as is also the case if there is too much growth (recent research suggests there is an unfavourable relationship between growth and longevity). Genes going into the herd, through bull selection, should be modified according to how the environment is affecting cow performance. Very productive, ‘easy’ country can support a herd with genes for high growth and milk production, however a harsh environment cannot.  So appropriate EBV figures should be targeted to take account of this.

7. A High Rebreeding Rate Within a Confined Mating Period Cows within a herd should rebreed within a calendar year otherwise a broad calving spread will develop. Herds that calve within a confined period (42-63 days) generally have a higher average calf weaning weight and are much easier to manage than herds that have a wider calving spread.  The purchase of high fertility bulls (service capacity tested) will greatly assist in achieving a compact calving.  Moreover, high fertility bulls leave high fertility daughters.  A confined mating period starts with exposing heifers to the bull for no more than 2 cycles and the mixed age cows for 2 -3 cycles.

8. A High Weaning Weight Ratio The biggest cost in a beef cowherd is that of feed and particularly the cost of feed that goes into maintaining the herd (half the cost of feed in a beef production system goes towards maintaining the cowherd).  There are several ways in which this cost can be spread over a greater calf weaning weight: 

  • Get cows to wean a higher ratio of their bodyweight
  • Change the growth characteristics of the herd so that it has an overall lower mature cow weight
  • Genetically select animals that are able to convert feed to product more efficiently.

 For cowherds to improve their weaning weight ratio they must either produce more milk, improve their weaning rate, have a lower mature weight or rear crossbred calves (take advantage of hybrid vigour).  Milk has already been discussed and can often only be increased in a favourable environment. Various components of weaning rate have been discussed earlier (cow fertility, calving ease, calf/cow survival).   Mature cow weight can be influenced by genetics (Mature Cow Weight EBV).  Normally growth and mature weight are closely related, especially growth to 600 days of age.  There are animals that display more moderate mature weight while maintaining good growth, (growth curve benders at the tail end of the growth curve) just as there are animals, which have moderate birth weight while having good subsequent growth (growth curve benders at the beginning of the growth curve).  Cows displaying moderate mature weight eat less and are generally more efficient than those with high mature weight, because as cows become heavier it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain efficiency.  Selecting bulls that display a Mature Cow Weight EBV which is in a lower percentile band than their 600 Day-Weight EBV should help to improve herd efficiency.

9. Longevity The longevity of a breeding cow has a direct influence on profit – young herds are on average not as profitable as mixed age herds. Cow fertility has the greatest impact on longevity however we are desperately in need of an EBV for this trait.

  • A Mower, Bailer, Hayshed and Feedout Wagon

An efficient breeding cow must possess the ability to mop up large quantities of low quality pasture, store this in her body in the form of fat and feed it out during periods of feed scarcity. To perform these functions she needs a robust jaw and teeth, coupled with appropriate genetics to deposit body fat (rib, rump and marbling fat EBVs) and the ability to cover large distances (sound feet and legs) on often very steep and uneven terrain.

In this article I have dealt with EBVs of economic importance in a beef-breeding cowherd. It is very difficult to rank each of these EBVs on their financial impact (because most of them are only indicators of profit and do not influence it directly) while also endeavouring to account for the favourable/unfavourable effects the genetic relationships, between a lot of these traits, have on profitability. The Index system accounts for both of the above by ranking bulls on ‘profit per cow mated’ (a single $ figure or EBV for Profit). It balances the importance of EBVs according to the impact each will have on profitability for a particular production system or market. Its main claim to fame is its user friendliness and its simplicity. By the time this article is published there should be five beef breeds in N.Z. publishing a total of twelve indexes that represent different production systems and target markets. These indexes can be accessed via breed society websites using a powerful web-based search engine called Internet Solutions.


    • If there are Days-to-Calving and Calving Ease (Direct and Daughters) EBVs available, ensure that bulls with poor EBVs are avoided (use breed average EBVs or breed percentile band EBVs as frames of reference).
    • Use appropriate Birth EBVs (based on experience) if Direct Calving Ease EBVs are not available.
    • Select bulls with good Scrotal Size EBVs, but avoid extreme bulls.
    • Select appropriate growth and milk EBVs to suit the environment. Harsh environments won’t support high growth/high milk-producing animals or the practice of mating heifers at 15 months.
    • Try to buy bulls whose Mature Cow Weight EBV rankings are below their 600-Day Weight EBV rankings.
    • Ensure Fat and Milk EBVs are appropriate for the environment
    • Use a balance of EBVs in a breeding programme (don’t breed to extremes).
    • The Index system is user friendly, ranks bulls on profitability for particular production systems and markets and balances EBVs according to their relative impact on profit.
    • Take note of how the environment is affecting herd performance and only choose bulls with EBVs that suit the environment.
    • Keep an eye out for those animals that break unfavourable genetic relationships between economically important traits. They are genetically very valuable.


    This and other articles written by the author can be found on the Meat & Wool New Zealand website at

    For further information contact :

    Russell Priest Ph. 06 323 4484 Fax. 06 323 3878 Mb. 0274 369 372 Email. Website :


 We must have recovered all the water missing from last summer drought.  All we need now is some sun to bring on some growth.  

Stock generally through out New Zealand is light this year as there has been little growth since the drought broke. Most of the supplement feed has been taken up by the Dairy Industry which is on a very prosperous high.

In fact a lot of the previously used fatten land has been converted to dairying bringing with it a distortion in the sheep and cattle farms.  Out here, most of the high and steep country is used for the breeding of the lambs and beef calves while the better low-lying country was used for finishing.

Now that has all changed, because of dairying and the finishing of sheep and beef has become more difficult.

Predictions are for the price of proteins to rise in this coming year and that will be a welcome relief.  It always surprises me what a strange animal humans are.

Surely the production of food is the most vital of all careers.  After all we can do without fast cars, yachts etc. Yet if we run out of food people begin to complain.  

People will spend a fortune on a race horse, and all they are doing is to buy the right to spend another fortune on training entering it in races.

Yet they will spend a minimum on a bull which effects their production for a hundred years.

It has always been my belief that the first responsibility of any government is to protect and improve its soils, and educate those who are responsible for their care.

As part of this months newsletter, I include the following article, reproduced with permission from Russell Priest, Meat & Wool NZ's Beef Genetics Coordinator.

Fat is Nature's Hayshed for the Breeding cow.

- by Russell Priest, Meat & Wool New Zealand

With the breeding cow increasingly coming under pressure to compete financially with other stock classes any good news that may enhance her position is welcome. The recent commercialization of three gene markers for feed efficiency and the development of an estimated breeding value for a similar trait have presented the pro breeding cow lobby with some ray of hope in slowing down the demise of this unfairly maligned animal.

Feed is by far the single biggest cost in a breeding cow operation and the proportion required simply to maintain the breeding female forms a significant part of this. It is this large maintenance cost that leads to questions about her efficiency. Efficiency in a breeding cow herd can be improved in a number of different ways, however they all contribute to what ultimately matters which is the weight of calf weaned per kilogram of feed eaten. Efficiency is not necessarily related to the weight of the individual cow; however there is a strong general relationship between the size of the cow and the amount of feed she eats. Also, as cows get heavier it becomes increasingly difficult for them to maintain the same level of efficiency.

One of the great attributes of a cow is her ability to maintain pasture quality for the benefit of other stock, while growing a calf and storing fat on her back. She is then able to draw on this very valuable source of energy when the quantity and/or quality of pasture declines thereby enabling her to continue to grow her calf at an acceptable rate. This attribute however is going to be compromised if the latest fashion (i.e. feed efficiency) in the industry is taken too far. Researchers have discovered that more feed efficient females do not store as much fat in their bodies as less efficient ones, hence they have less stored energy in the form of fat to call upon. This research has also revealed that breeding cows which have been single-trait selected for feed efficiency for only 3-4 generations are proving significantly more difficult to get back in calf and this seems to be related to the amount of fat they are carrying. The moral of this story is, as is always the case with single-trait selection;

don’t select for a single trait too intensively otherwise your breeding programme will be derailed”.

It seems nature has created fat for a very good reason, so we should tread wearily when considering removing it from the cow herd, as it appears if we go too far fertility will be affected. It makes a lot of difference as to whether a cow stores extra weight as muscle tissue or as fat. This is because the two tissues have different concentrations of stored energy and different maintenance costs.

A kilogram of stored body fat contains about 39 megajoules (MJ) of energy, about five times that of a kilogram of muscle, which contains about 7 MJ. A cow can therefore store a lot more energy in the same weight of fat compared with muscle. Despite this difference, it only takes 25% more energy from feed to store a kilogram of fat compared to a kilogram of muscle.

Moreover once fat is deposited in the body reserves, it takes less than half as much energy to maintain it there compared to the same weight of muscle. This is because muscle is a much more active tissue than fat and is constantly being replaced. In a typical cow herd 70% of the energy used to maintain the cows is used for maintaining muscle tissue, not fat. At any given live weight, mature cows that tend to store surplus energy as fat tissue should therefore be “cheaper to run” than those accumulating it as muscle. Any changes made towards breeding leaner cows either by selecting for higher carcass yield or improved feed efficiency, could have serious consequences.


  • Compared with muscle:

- Fat contains over 5 times more energy per kilogram

- It takes only 25% more feed energy to create the same weight of fat

- It takes only half as much energy per kilogram to maintain fat

  • 70% of the energy required to maintain a breeding cow goes towards maintaining muscle not fat
  • Therefore at the same body weight fat cows should be cheaper to run than lean ones
  • Breeding cows selected intensively for feed efficiency store less fat and take longer to get pregnant
  • Proceed cautiously when selecting for feed efficiency and carcass yield in your cow herd

This and other articles written by the author can be found on the Meat & Wool New Zealand website at

For further information contact :

Russell Priest Ph. 06 323 4484 Fax. 06 323 3878 Mb. 0274 369 372 Email. Website :


When winter comes,  spring is not far behind. We are past the shortest day and so far it has been a kind winter. There has been little growth but it looks as though we will make it, and come out of it in reasonable shape.

We are currently receiving good rain and so this should fill the water table and the dams for next summer. The big South Island lakes are still low in water so this affects our hydro electricity. Not funny when a country like ours with all this valuable water should run out of electricity just through Government inaction and incompetence.

This month I am going to run through the equation that is the basis of all animal breeding. To begin with “ a Geneticist is a mathematician” so every thing he does has to be  completely logical.

So here is the equation the maxims amount of progress in any breeding programme is govern by:

“The heritability of the characteristic or characters that you wish to improve multiplied by the selection differential, and divided by the generation interval”.

 So let me explain what this means.

Heretibility means the amount of a character transferred to the next generation. In the case of growth, which is a quite a  simple characteristic, it is 48% or near enough to 50%.

So if you are using a bull that is 20 kilos above average in your herd, this bull’s progeny will be 10 kilos above herd average.

The trouble is that when you buy a bull you do not know whether it would carry with it its superiority in your herd, you do not know how it has been fed, or the environment that it was produced under, compared to your own.

There is a genetic saying “bulls reared under a low environment will perform just as well as though reared under a high environment when subject to a high environment.

But the reverse is not true. How often do we see highly fed bulls collapse under normal farming conditions, often never to recover.

I shall continue with the explanation next month.



The universe is dominated by Nature ( or call it what you will). Man thinks that he can decide what the world requires, what he wants, and can control it. Then along comes some disaster and in one moment in time it demonstrates just how puny man is, intellectually as well as physically. Man is just an animal just the same as any other animal and he forgets this at  his peril Many of his actions and many of the things that he constructs come slap up against Nature and so are destroyed by either disasters such as earthquakes weather or by environmental deterioration.    The universe is not static but is constantly changing as are the animals the  weather and all things in it . These changes may not always be visible but none the less they are occurring If man hopes to achieve anything in his short lifetime , then he should realise that he must work from within the  environment rather then against it.    Many cattlemen are constantly asking what size should my cows be? And of course this question is very important. If you select an animal that is outside its environmental suitability, then the first thing that will suffer will be fertility. You can then change its environment by supplementing it, but this can be expensive and you may not end up breeding an animal that your country wants Thus Nature demonstrates her resistance.

 Why not let your environment decide what the best cow size is on your land and your environment! In fact you do not need to wait while you try, to see what evolves. If you have a recorded herd of cows all you need to do, is to bring the nutrition of your herd to what you will require in the future, then find a number of cows that have calved every year and they will represent the size and shape of cow best suited to your environment.  Then you must purchase or use bulls that represent that shape and size!  You will find that if or as you improve your environment, either by fertilizer grazing or what ever the stock will increase in weight.

 I have been accused of saying that we breed the best Angus in the world.  “Nothing “ could be further from the truth.  I have no idea where we lie in the averages of the Angus breed in New Zealand, and neither do I care. All I do know is that what we are doing works, and that each year the cattle are superior to the year before.  That we are slowly building the high performance genes from out of our population, that these genes are those that perform best under grassland production. That under our system the theory says there is no end to the improvement. But it is very slow, but it is cumulative    What may have confused breeders, is that I state at the beginning of our website that given our maxim use of “Generation Interval” and “Selection ‘ Differential” gives our herd a lead that cannot be overtaken !!  This just refers to the system that we are using, where time is the essence I All that we are doing in our Breeding Programme is, working within the environment and speeding up evolution.  There is no such thing as a perfect Angus or anything else for that matter. The main object is to keep the variability as high as possible so that the breeder can change the population in any direction at any time that environmental or economic situation’s demand.  Because it is the variation that you use to make progress but also to change direction as if necessary


Drought has at last broken and we have been having ideal light rain off and on for almost a month. Grass has begun to grow albeit slowly as soil begins to cool. Hopefully the soil temperature will remain high enough for at least a month to allow us to get some grass ahead of the stock. There is a warm tropical depression coming down from the North arriving next week.   If that comes it should provide us some warmish rain, which would be the best thing for the district.   If my lawn is anything to go by, grass is growing well.

I have told you about the problems in closing your herd. Although these problems may not seem very difficult to overcome, between them they are long term and very expensive. To overcome the “Bulmar” alone can takes about seven to twelve years plus. This is not an expensive time because it requires no culling or reorganisation.

But you must be able to recognises the bottom when you get there and  it is important, for this reason, that your recording  be accurate. Closing your herd means that you do not purchase any bulls and that bulls come from within your own herd. You can however purchase cows. Cows only represent one calf per year in a breeding programme and so have little or no effect. In fact they can be of some value in showing you whether you have made progress or have lost ground.

Recessive genes are different altogether.It can be very expensive as it requires heavy culling and the chances are that you have recessives that you did not know you had, but are building in your herd.This occurs when you purchase a bull carrying a recessive that neither the owner nor you realse that the bull has. When this happens 50% of the bulls progeny will carry the gene in recess.

If you happen to mate two interviduals both carrying the gene, then one in four will be a  clinical.   In other words will exhibit the gene.Two will carry the Gene and one will skip the gene altogether.  In the normal herd that carries recessive material then those recessives will go up and down.   As the number of cows carrying the recessive rises then clincals begin to appear.   The breeders destroys those clinicals and so the level in the herd drops.   He may cull both Dam and Sire of the exhibited clinical.   This will lower the level even further.Making him think misguidedly that he has eliminated it.   Still those animals carrying the gene in recessive remain.


We remain very dry and have had no significant rain since the last newsletter.   Going into Winter in these conditions could be difficult as we have no buildup and no reserves of grass. It has always been my experience that stock do far better in the dry than they do in one of those wet flush seasons where the grass goes straight through them.   My theory is certainly being put to the test this year but no rain at all is going a little over the top!

We have just had the National Angus Herd Tour here in the Wairarapa. Our province, demonstrated just how good Angus cattle are at.handling very dry conditions and what great forages they are when put under pressure. The weather must break sometime, all we have to do is to hang on in there, until it happens.  The trouble is that if it comes too late there will be very little grass to help farmers through the Winter.

This month I will explain stage two of the closed herd problems. This is recessive genetic material and how as the closed herd progresses these recessive  genes begin to emerge. If the bull is carrying a recessive gene and he is mated to a clean herd of cows,(ie none of the cows are carriers of the gene , then 50% of the progeny of those cow’s calves will be carriers of the gene. If the bull is then mated to a cow already carrying the gene then one in four will be a clinical,(ie exhibiting  the gene ).  Two will be carriers and one will skip the gene. This is not a lecture in population genetics but rather to explain what happens when you close a herd. Every time  you purchase a bull and use him in your herd, you bring in all his recessive genes if he has any.Plus all the problems that may be inherit in that herd.

In the closed herd any recessive genes exsistant in that herd  will appear over time, and have to be delt with.   You do this by culling all related  progeny plus dam and sire. It can be a very expensive exercise and takes about 10 years before all recessive genes dissapear. In one year 80% of our sale bulls we culled on bad feet and legs. I said to our geneticist “we can not afford this”   He replied “Hang on in there and we will go over the top” and we did, the next year we had no bad feet, and we have had very few since.

Our district has remained very dry.  No decent rain fell last week although N.Z. got some good falls in other areas.   Most of the stock in our area is now being supplemented and there appears to be no relief in sight.We are now back in a big high and weather has become hot again.   The Govt is just beginning to accept that the situation is becoming serious

 The Pinebank Programme is not   “Linebreeding” but is “Population Genetics”.   They are quite different.   Linebreeding sets out to improve the same bred selected lines of animals in your herd.

Population Genetics sets out to lift the performance of the total population of the animals that you are breeding.. Its objective is to gather together the high performing genes for all the characteristics that you wish to improve and build them into the population. As the genes gather so does the performance improve.   This is why it is an ongoing process and it is time, which is the essence.

In terms of improvement the 43 odd years that we have been going, is just a breath.   As I have said before the programme was originally based on 120 years .  After which we can just move sideways and go for another 120 years.

 Lets hope that my descendants have the vision and determination to carry it on.   Undoubtable there will be  challenges in the future as there were in the past, .but it is  interesting and rewarding.  

Linebreeding  has a large percentage of inbreeding, and inbreeding carries with it its problems.   When your inbreeding gets too high the first thing that suffers is  fertility ..   If you continue then your variation begins to disappear.

I often hear the comment that I want my bulls as even as peas in a pod!You do not, because as I have mentioned in the past variation is the means to improvement.   No variation, , no improvement possible.   The bigger the variation the more and faster improvement can be made.In our herd, the top of the variation in bulls is used each year.   Now lets look at what happens when you close your herd.   Make no mistake this is a long and expensive business, and that is why we do not recommend it.

The first happening is that you go into what is called the “Bulmar” effect.   It is a phenomenon that does not appear to be clearly understood.   At least no one has been able to explain it too me.

You go backwards.   No matter what you do your performance in your herd drops.   How far you drop, no one knows, but it is thought to be to the average level of the population of that breed in your country.

But let me again say that no one seems to know..   Because it is of no interest in the production cycle, then, as far as I am aware no one has done research on it.Anyway the Bulmar can take anywhere from 7 to 10 years to hit the bottom, then you are on your way to a very slow and steady improvement.The big thing about it, is that it is calmative and additive.   I think that there is enough in this letter for you to think about ! But it is only half of closing your herd so I shall continue next month


Dry,dry, dry.  Most of the country is in the grip of a  big drought.   With many areas being designated a disaster area.   No rain in sight either, when will it end no one seems to know. In our area we have been missing even the small showers that have in many places kept the supplementary feed crops going.   Farmers have no way of killing stock, as the killing works are jammed full with lamb kill.   Most of the lambs are being killed at lower weights due to lack of feed.   Even the dairy districts are complaining and have been included in the drought.   Something that is unprecedented.  Australia was worse then we were but now they have mostly had good rain, even floods in some places

I promised, this month,  to explain to you how closed herds work. But before I do,. there are some basic facts that you must get your head around.

The first one is: 

“That every bull or cow is only as good as the average performance of its progeny”.

 We cannot move until you have grasped that fact, and when you do then:.

“Therefore his best son is better than his sire ”.

If the best son is 10 kilos ahead of his sire and he mates an average cow,   he will leave sons 5 kilos better then his father.   Simple as that. 

You must get your head around that, because it is the basis of all productive breeding.

Now having grasped that simple fact after some considerable thought, we have another problem:

 “For every year that you use the same bull, you remain on square one.”

You are contributing the same set of genes into your population.   Now you have not a very long life, so if you are going to make any progress, you have to do something about it. You must change your bulls every year, making sure that each year’s bull is superior to last years.

Trouble is that there are big problems in doing so. Do not miss next month’s newsletter when I shall explain closed herd breeding much more fully.                                                                                   


The first Newsletter for 2008 and I wonder what the year will bring.   One thing is sure that the weather must be wetter then the drought of last year.   It is drizzling while I write this but we have had very little rain so far.   Everything is crossed that we get more. All the stock prices are down and dropping and the Slaughter Works are playing hard sell with the schedule.

Farmers out here will have to get control of their products past the farm gate.  We are under the control of Companies that not only can not run a business but whose marketing is abysmal.  The only certainty is that the cattle breeding programme will go steadily on and progress one more year.  It is nice to have this certainty.

Last newsletter I was telling you about Computer breeding Programmes and how in a simple Recording system, all calves were bought to being born on the same date, out of the same age dam  so they are directly comparable.

The next system is a herd Improvement Programme which is designed to improve certain characteristics in a predestined direction.   Added to all the calculation is its heritability, repeatability, approximately economic value and many more, plus in the present B.L.U.P. the performance of the animal’s ancestors are included.   All this is done in the cause of making the calculation more accurate.The BLUP stands for “Best Lineal Unbiased Prediction” which sounds very complicated, and is, but is also very sophisticated.

The big advantage of such a programme is that any part of it can be used separately, if that is what you wish to improve.

Its limitation is that it is of necessity ridged and in my experience “   For six years I was doing all the calculations for about 800 cows, and all the bull selection for  four herd.. I was selecting over 20 sires a year..It was before there were any breeding computer programmes”. My biggest problem was that I could see inaccuracies creeping in and I was constantly trying to adjust for them.It probably was not important in a population of that size, but it certainly was important, if I missed a good sire through one of my distortions.

But there is a bigger problem: the theory says “any animal exhibiting a characteristic carries with its heritability ( as estimated), regardless of the performance of it parents”Now if this is right then it is not only possible to have an “outlier bull,” that has such bad figures that it would not be used because its parents were not high performers. In fact this was our experience, where we had a bull that was 100 kilos above any other bull calf of his year at weaning (200days) but because his parents were not high performers he was heavily penalised.

Regardless we used the bull and he was a great success.   He would have undoubtedly have joined the had he not had a small fault on one claw. I said it was an, injury.  William suggested it could have been genetic.   We continued to use him more then we use most of our sires.  His progeny test came out very well as we knew it would, and continued to rise each year of his use.

He was eventually sold commercially.   Last year we went to recover him to use him again but he had had an accident and had been destroyed

In a population like the American Angus Association there must be many of these outliner bulls being produced each year. The trouble is that most are unrecognised and are sold on to another herd, probably commercial and so are never used to their full potential.

Our first outliner bull appeared some 6500 bull calf matings after the herd was closed.   The second one arrived approximately 4500 bull calf mating after the first.   The third one came after approximately 3500 matings.

There has been some 6 outlier bull been produced so far and Pinebank 41/97 is of course one of them.

There is another one waiting in the wings which will replace 41.

As the closed herd progresses the length of time between these bulls appearing is deceasing.  I suspect that some time in the next ten years we will get one each year. As each bull appears, the herd makes a leap forward above the standard gain that we make each normal year.

Next month I shall explain how a closed herd works and can and does continue to make improvement.


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