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Our latest
(July 2016)

Variation is the necessity of progress

Summer is here and it is a very good grass growth season. This has been the best Summer that I can remember with grass everywhere in my district. The biggest problem we have is controlling it. Over here it is important to stop the grass from seeding as when it does it looses quality and the stock, especially lambs, stop fattening. The first economic point of income is the fat lambs straight off their mothers and if the grass is not of top value then it impacts on the lamb returns.
The snow has gone from the mountains and they have changed to a deep blue. The frosts have gone.which allows the soil to warm and to keep the base of the grass growing.

I am returning to the Genetic sayings, many of them I have covered previously.

The eye cannot see potential, performance or profit!

In my youth animals which were imported, and there were many, were considered superior to anything bred out here. This also applied to bulls, regardless of how poor the animal was. This was called “the colonial cringe”. This so called ‘superiority; was of course not true. Every calf has the chance of being superior but it can only be identified by measurable performance.
This has been covered in the necessity to record carefully, to keep control of your direction and progress. In the finer selection of superior animals only the scales can divide them and of course scanning has an important part in identifying areas under the skin.

Pedigrees are only important in assessing “inbreeding levels”

I have explained the dilaterious effect of inbreeding and only the Studmaster can decide what or how much is acceptable in his herd, remembering that inbreeding is recoverable by outcrossing.
Because all defined cattle breeds began from a very narrow base, there will always be a certain degree of in-breeding and the only way this can be fully recovered is to outcross with another breed. This is of course is Hybrid Vigour or Heterosis.
Many breeders like inbreeding as a form of stabilizing their herd. But if we are consciously trying to improve within a breed, then there is only one way that this can be achieved and that is through variation.
An example of this is for a simple characteristic like growth, with a heritability of 50%. If the bull you are going to use is 30 lbs above average, then his progeny will average 15lbs above average.

The keeping of records must be as accurate as possible.

Obviously if you attach the wrong calf to the wrong cow then your records and analysis are wrong . Not only is the cows production record wrong, but the average progeny performance of the bull is wrong too and mistakes made by these errors can be costly. You can cull a bull as no good when he has actually lifted the performance of your herd..

For every year that you use the same bull you remain on square one.
You are injecting the same genes into your population and so going nowhere

How quickly you turn over your bulls is called “Generation Interval” and it is the most important part of improvement. The amount that the bulls you are using are ahead the more improvement you are getting.
Breed improvement is slow, so if you are to make progress, then you have to get going.

Goals of any breeding programme must be clearly defined and long term and only be changed upon important economic demands.

If you keep changing direction then you nullify progress. All the progress is lost because some characteristics are antagonistic to others.
Cattle breeding is essentially long term. This is in part due to age at puberty, gestation length, and the fact that many breeders keep using the same bull year after year.
Initialy all the different breeds were bred for different environments, different objectives, different colours etc, The European breeds began as draft animals which is why they are much bigger.
Both the Angus and Hereford were bred to be dam breeds, Something that has been lost today in the rush to turn them into a ‘suit all needs’ breed, this has turned them into a Terminal Sire with its resulting limitations.
Perhaps it is time to return them to their rightful place. After all there is a very big demand for bigger cow herds in the world , and this will be even more important as proteins become more scarce.
There is no doubt there is tremendous potential for improvement in todays cattle. Even lifting calving percentage would make a difference in profitability but to do so would require a female bred to be able to cope with its environment. One who could stand up to outside living the year round, and produce a calf annually. Conception must be first, then having a live calf on the ground.


Spring has been very kind this year. With warm sunny days the grass is growing well. Looks as though the snow storm that we had end of August killed off a few lambs and ewes but calving has been day after day of the most beautiful days. Calving is well over half way through and we have had little trouble this year. Every year we have less trouble as the characteristics for fertility get more firmly inbedded. I am afraid that I have little faith in so called global warming as the universe has been warming and cooling since the beginning of time. I have become very suspicious of the motives of people who run around claiming that we are dammed. It always surprises me how they always seem to end up making a lot of money out of their obsession.

When you use our bull you are only getting half of his performance because the cows that he goes too are just cows. When, we use the bull, he goes to cows that are part of our program but at least two generations behind and loosing ground.
When the herd is closed, the top bulls are selected in the first year but the cows that they go too do not represent any selection as selection has not begun yet!
This representation carries on every year, because cows can never catch up. In fact of course bulls are always some distance ahead because the bulls are the very best of their year ,but the cows cover the total of the females dropped in that year minus those that failed to conceive or failed to come up to the physical standard demanded.

When breeders use our bulls the same thing applies. You only get 50% of the bull because he only contributes half the genes and he is going to just cows who represent nothing towards the added performance of his calves. If you use his sons the bulls contributation is halved again so that you only get 25% of his value.

If you use a son of a son then the bulls have virtually lost all improvement. If you understand how our programme works and you see the logic of how it builds in its progress and you wish to make as much use of our work as possible then you should use our most modern bull over daughters of our original bull and keep doing that each year. There is no risk of inbreeding because our programme is designed to limit it.

If you use a son of a son then the bull has virtually lost all improvement. If you understand how our programme works you can see the logic of how it builds in its progress. If you wish to make much use of our work, then you should use our most modern bull over daughters of our original bull and keep doing that each year. We can always keep you away from inbreeding by telling you of the bulls that are from different lines.

By doing this you could keep right up behind us but because of the time that we have been selecting, it would never be possible to overtake our herd. It is all the time that the herd has been closed which gives it its unattainable advantage.

It is most important that your herd is carefully recorded and that records are accurate. It is possible to go just as fast backwards as it is forward. The only way to keep check on which direction that you are going is in your records.
Some years ago I was tagging the calves in a storm. The cows had been driven into a corner and were standing, as they do, in a tight mob, tails to the driving wind and rain.
It was right in the middle of calving when we can get over 10 calves a night, and of course storms bring on calving. By the time that I had tagged one calf another calf had been dropped, this went on until darkness finally drove me home.
In the morning when I returned to tag the calves that had been born during the night I found that many of the cows had changed calves. I carefully returned the right calves to their mothers.
Upon thinking about my experience it occurred to me that in big scale mobs this could occur often.
It is important to get cows who slip their calves out of the calving mob as these cows will sometimes grab freshly born calves from their legitimate mother.
Getting cows pedigree’s correct is just as important as the sires. But cows have only one calf per year so all improvement comes from the bull with its multiplicity of offspring. If you have a single sire herd then half the genes going into your cow herd comes from the bull. The bull you use totally controls whether you make improvement or go backwards. If you wish to make improvement then the bulls that you use every year are vital.

I repeat that in every animal there are high performing genes in the millions of genes that every animal possesses. What a programme is designed to do is to get at these high performing genes and slowly build them into your herd. The only way you can find them is through recording.
It is my belief that you do not need to go through the ‘Bulmar’ effect and all those damaging effects of a first closed herd, because our cattle have already been through it and have overcome it.


The storm we experienced at the beginning of August was the worst snow storm in living memory. We experienced blizzard conditions for two days and the snow lay in some cases for four days. Heavily pregnant ewes cannot survive two or three days when the grass is covered with snow and so losses of ewes and lambs can be very heavy. It also stops all grass growth for some time.
Losses have been heavy in newborn lambs, ewes and calves and cows go down with milk fever.

Spring is here now and although there are a number of lambs around I have seen few calves as yet. Grass is beginning to grow at last but it is slow coming at the moment. Our cold weather is a very damp and with a penetrating cold wind which will kill fresh born animals overnight.

When you use one of our bulls you are only getting half of his performance because the cows that he goes to are just cows. When we use the bull, he goes to cows that are bred the same as he, but they are two generations behind.
When the herd is closed, the top bulls are selected in the first year but the cows they go to do not represent any selection as selection has not yet begun!
This representation carries on every year, because cows can never catch up. In fact the bulls are always some distance ahead because they are the very best of their year. The cows cover the total of the females dropped in that year, minus those that failed to conceive or failed to come up to the physical standard demanded.

When breeders use our bulls the same thing applies. You only get 50% of the bull because he only contributes half the genes and he is going to just cows that represent nothing towards the added performance of his calves. If you use his sons the bull contributes only 25%. By this time he will be lifting your herd by a minimum.

If you use a son of a son then the bull has virtually lost all improvement. If you understand how our programme works you can see the logic of how it builds in its progress If you wish to make much use of our work, then you should use our most modern bull over daughters of our original bull and keep doing that each year. We can always keep you away from inbreeding by telling you of the bulls that are from different lines.

By doing this you could keep right up behind us but because of the time that we have been selecting for, it would never be possible to overtake our herd. It is all a time thing. If you were to use the best bull in our herd every year then the closest you could ever get would be one generation behind us. But as no one has access to our herd’s best bull every year it would be impossible.

It is most important that the herd is carefully recorded and that records are accurate. It is possible to go just as fast backwards as it is forward. The only way to keep check on which direction you are going is in your records.
Some years ago I was tagging the calves in a storm. The cows had been driven into a corner and were standing, as they do, in a tight mob tails to the driving wind and rain.
It was right in the middle of calving when we can get over 10 calves a night, and of course storms bring on calving. By the time that I had tagged one calf another calf had been dropped, this went on until darkness finally drove me home.
The cows and their calves are recorded in a notebook as they calve. I found that I was always returning to the notebook to find out who a calf’s mother was and what had happened to the calf. In the morning when I returned to tag the calves had been born during the night I found many of the cows had changed calves. I carefully returned each calf to its rightful mother.
Upon thinking about my experience it occurred to me that in big scale mobs this could occur often.

Modern research has now overcome herd progeny accuracies by DNA testing so there is little excuse for not having the right pedigree for the bull you are using.
Herd improvement is a very slow process because you cannot afford to concentrate on single factor selection; some of them being very complex i.e. efficiency.

Efficiency is measured by the measure of drymatter intake per kilo of calf weaned. This appears to be a realistic goal as the best cow in a population is the most efficient, has been shown at Trangie.
Within our herd we have been using the bulls from these cows since we began in 1965, so our herd should be some way above herd average. We see this demonstrated in the ability of our cows to hang on in very dry conditions and recover very quickly when the rain arrives.


Winter has been benign this year which is easy on these old bones. Two unusually bad storms came in early July dropping a surprising dump of snow.

We do not often get snow around our house but this time we had almost blizzard condition for a short period. Back to the fine weather with heavy frosts again now with spectacular fine clear days.

Where I sit in my office, I look out across the valley at the snow capped mountains and they make the most beautiful backdrop, an ideal view to assist meditation.

We cannot afford to winter a cow who does not give us a calf annually, and neither can you. Weather is cold and feed is short and expensive, and cows body weights must be retained. You should be ready to put them on a rising plane of nutrition as calving approaches. In New Zealand we universally calve in spring. The only thing that differs in the time of Spring is whether it is early or late. Stud breeders usually calve early thinking that it will make their calves bigger, (but then they are mostly feeding concentrates). Interestingly this is largely a matter of genes.

No matter how hard you feed calves they will only realise their genetic growth potential. They should be able to be achieve the same size on grass alone.

Calving cows are the most important part of the economics of the beef production cycle. No live calf on the ground and you have no profit for the year. Fertility is four times more important than growth so the whole years management should be aimed at getting the cows in calf, and then getting a live calf on the ground. That is where efficiency and profit starts and finishes.

Work done in New Zealand where one of our geneticists tried to establish a herd of twinning cows  was completely unsuccessful. He came to the conclusion that the only way to improve fertility was to cull anything that failed to conceive, or who failed to walk in with a live calf. We have been doing this for some years and most certainly our fertility has increased.

I began weighing the calves as they were born because American Scientists told me that I was going to get calving problems if I kept on using the present programme selecting for growth.

So to see if my birth weights were rising I set out to weigh at birth. My birth weights were rising, so I changed selection to low birth weights. This had the effect of not only dropping birth weights but of shortening gestation period both being of economic value. This affected our final weight as there is a regression between birth and subsequent weights, but now we have overcome that and have succeeded in bending the curve. Now we get low birth weights and high final weights.

It must be remembered that our herd goes directly back to the original Scottish imports and we never used American blood. Those original cows were very docile. Experience had taught me that you were unwise to mix it with a cow just after she had calved. As I was determined to weigh every calf, I purchased a tranquilizer gun. Many amusing and exciting events occurred, mostly unpleasant. I only used the gun on one cow and she was a purchased cow. I found that with on our own cows, I did not need the gun. The drug I was using seemed to disturb rather than quieten the cows. I was given what was a new drug at that time ‘Rompun,’ provided that I wrote a report on its results (or rather the cattle behaviour).

I learned that if I walked confidently straight up to the freshly calved cow, after she had bonded, ignoring all the roaring and foam blowing and just went about tagging and weighing the calf, I could get away with it. Only once was I hooked off a calf, the cow just rolled me away from the calf and then returned to it. I got up and returned to the calf and was successful next time. But you must never take anything or anyone with you. I thought then that I had about 2 hours after she had calved when I appeared to be safe. I considered that this was because the cow was afraid of hurting her calf during this period.

You will find that sometimes a cow appears to be attacking her calf and she will be rolling it around with her head, this I believe is to stimulate the calf to begin breathing.

The cow must be able to concentrate on you. Any cow that attacked me was culled straight away, and still is. I would not do it for any other cows other than our own as I have tried but found that the American cows appeared to have a quite different temperament.

There have been some very bad injuries in N.Z. by breeders trying to do what I have been doing. At least one paraplegia. There is a high risk and it is not worth taking.

In the first year I found out more about cows than I had learned in the past thirty years.

1) I would find a calf lying in the rushes, obviously not suckling. I would identify the calf and then find the cow and take her to the cattle yards and check her milk. To find that either she had none or it was bad. Either way it was the end of her.

2) I found cows that did not have a calf at weaning and upon checking the books found that she had calved and had been recorded as having done so, but on weaning she had no weights for her calf. She had done so for the last three years. But had come in at mating, had a bag, and was considered wet and so mated for the next year.

3) Another cull of a number of cows, was failure to mother properly. These cows had slowly gone off their milk and these calves were small and stunted.

There is no doubt in my mind that the first year I tagged and weighed at birth, I learnt a great deal and culled a lot of cows, succeeding in making our cow herd much more efficient and profitable.

It must be remembered that our herd is meticulously recorded. We are endlessly collecting information on their behaviour and performance. Performance records go right back to 1950 when we began weighing and recording more information.

When I began weighing at birth, I wrote down how each cow behaved and we found that birth behaviour was highly repeatable, and calves that bellowed and fought, tendered to be bad tempered when they got older.

You must try and prevent calves from bellowing as this excites the mother and can cause an attack so you grab the calf’s muzzle and keep its mouth closed.

Because the cows were under such close supervision we saved a lot of calves.

Cows always leave the mob and go to the lowest part of the surrounding country to calve if they have the chance. On our country we have a number of creeks and the cows often drop their calves in the creek or in underrunners (underground creeks with occasional openings).

There are a few simple ways that you can help yourself to get more calves. The most successful way is to overmate and then pregnancy test and cull those cows who have failed to conceive. In this way you know that every cow you are carrying has a calf inside her.

If you are unhappy with your cows performance then buy your bulls from a breeder who specializes on Dam traits. You should have your cow herd straighten out in about three generations. In our own herd, because of their importance, Dam traits have been a major part of the selection process since the beginning. Close to 60 years now.


Winter is upon us but the season is much warmer than usual. Grass growth is slowing as the days grow shorter and colder. Grass produced at this time of the year does not deteriorate until Spring and although it may not have the minerals and proteins in it, it is still a great standbye for the Winter. Additives can always be fed in the form of hay. Although I have not been down to the farm for some time, I imagine it is the best that it has been for many years, going into the depths of Winter.

We have a saying in New Zealand, 'that as the days lengthen the cold strengthens'.

The saying for this month is :
‘Any animal showing superiority for any characteristic, carries with it its heritability for that trait (as estimated) regardless of the performance of its parents.

The reason for this is that in receiving its genetic code at the moment of conception it happened to pick up those genes that gave it superiority for the given characteristic. It can and does happen that even the worst cow in the herd can produce an outstanding calf. This of course is the chance part of the sampling of the parent’s genes. This bull will produce as good a calf as a bull produced from parents with a background of high performance characters. The saying above also cuts across the present Beefplan breeding programme with its historic data.

It is my contention that there is no place for historical data in highly heritable traits, which we are dealing with here. It only creates distortions. The ideal would be that each herd would have its own programme adjusted to its requirements and to its environment.

For instance I believe that true records can only be obtained by weighing at birth. Estimated weights are, the beginning of errors and can and do throw out progeny tests.

Unfortunately some cows should not be approached at calving and it is clear that many herds are in this position. I do not believe that all herds can be safely weighed at birth as it is far too dangerous.

I have mention before that we produced a calf one year that was 100 kilos ahead of any other calf at 200 days. The calf was out of one of the lower performing cows by an average bull. Because of his historical data, breedplan wrote him out the backdoor! We disregarded the figures and used the bull with great success. He was so successful that we tried to recover him but he had died in an accident. A big loss.

The saying also demonstrates the value of variation and the fact that genes are picked up purely at random, meaning that top animals can come from anywhere. Obviously the more high performing genes you build into your population, your average rises and the more chance you have of high performing animals appearing.

It is our holistic approach of selecting for all the important economic genes that is important. It is little use producing an outstanding animal for growth if its females have little fertility. So on we go very slowly making progress.

Back to weaning weight, the most expensive part of the beef production cycle is ‘grass to cow to milk to calf.' This was considered in the beginning of my cattle breeding to be a ‘dam trait’ and a big part of it was milk production. At the beginning to avoid the disaster of purchased bulls I began using AI bulls. After weaning I would carefully analysis the data. One of my AI bulls came out 3 kilos on average ahead of any other bull that season in weaning weight. How can that be I thought to myself, if it is a dam trait? Does the bull dominate the genetic input for weaning? Upon thinking about it I realised that the ability of a calf to grow during this first 200 days was the important feature. It would be 15 to 20 years before Trangie came out with, 80% of weaning weight is the ability of a calf to grow during this period and only 20% was milk. It is a very poor cow that cannot produce enough milk to rear a calf.

There are a number of them around. Regrettably.


Winter has "officially" arrived but we are having the best Autumn growth we have had for years . However due to the previous droughts we are well down on our yearly amount of dry matter that the farm can produce.

Still it is a big help and better than we have faced the Winter with for some years and will allow the cows to lay down some fat before the coming calving.

The cows came out of the Summer in light condition but still conceived at the usual conception rate. This is due to our constant pressure on fertilit.y

The saying for this month is 'Every animal is genetically coded to reach a given weight at a given age and that weight can be achieved at any time'

This saying is particular relevant to the bulls, as you are aiming for the maximum weight at sale time. Every animal is unique and so grows at a different time according to its genetic code. Once it has its code at the moment of conception there is nothing that you can do about it. While it is growing it is putting down muscle and bone. If you push it past its code it will begin to lay down fat. As it takes four times the amount of feed to lay on one lb of fat as it does one lb of growth this can be expensive, Unfortunately buyers, through ignorance, prefer that their bulls are fat fat .. Fat can conceal conformational faults so a fat animal's true conformation is more difficult to judge. This is of course why breeders fatten their bulls up to their maximum for
the show ring.

Fat used in its correct place has advantages because it is a source of reserve energy. And it is important that cows get the opportunity to lay down fat every year if possible before calving, as a reserve of nutriments that they can use after calving. Lactation demands much more from an animal than gestation. If you observe animals after birth you will find that they spend their whole time either eating or sleeping. This is natures way of keeping up with nutritional requirements during this critical time.

Breeders who are involved in breeding dam trait bulls aim to have their maximum growth period ,if they can, before sale. This demonstrates the bulls ability to grow during this period, which is important as not only does it demonstrate the early fattening potential of the drylot steer but also it can be a factor in early maturity of its female progeny allowing it to conceive as a yearling if the rancher requires. This makes for more efficient beef production.

As I have explained a bull's growth is controlled by its genetic code and once set it can not be altered. The skill is, how do you breed bulls that grow at the best time to suit your grassland production cycle?

If in the past you have been graining your cattle then there is no problem as you can keep piling on the fat. The problem then remains as to where the animals put the fat on as it is also controlled by its genes.
Show animals are especially selected and bred for their ability to put on fat smoothly. Most show animals have little to add to productive beef production. The champion Angus bull in England in 1956 when I was there, I was told was infertile yet he went on to win many championships.

How do you change growth patterns.? There are four ways, and each way depends on whether you sell your bulls as yearlings or two year olds.

1) If you have a closed herd and are selecting your best bulls as sires then they will fit the growth pattern because they have grown faster than the other bulls during the critical period

2) If you are using purchased sires then you must enquire from your breeder which of his bulls was the top weight at yearling. And if he cannot tell you, go to some breeder who can!

3) The third way is to find progeny tested old sires whose yearling weight show superiority

4) The longest but the most sure way to change all your bulls genetic code is to select for it. You must be
careful to retain variation because if global warming or some other phenomena causes changes in climate, then it may be necessary to changeyour bulls growth period.


In the last Newsletter I told you about the first decade using 2 year bulls selecting for growth . During this time I had a lot of trouble with calving problems (dystokia) which is what happens when you select solely for growth.

After 10 years the geneticist said that we had have enough information on environment and growth patterns and are now going to change to dam traits, as the most expensive part of the beef production cycle ( grass to cow to milk to calf).

So Waigroup began an Elite herd of cows. At this time we had four herds each with about 120 cows all animals being registered Angus. Up to this time, there had been very little exchange of sires, being the period when we were overcoming genetic recessives.

The Elite herd consisted of the top 10% of cows from each herd for weaning weight. Cows had to have calved from 2 year olds and calved every year and had a minimum of 3 calves. When selected, the Elite cows were moved onto a separate farm and put under its own manager.

At this time I was doing all the calculations for all the Waigroup herds and within herd matings, plus the Elite herd . It was during this time that I became aware of the limitations of recording schemes. Every herd is different and recording schemes are of necessity.

While doing your own calculations and knowing your cattle you are quickly aware of errors creeping in. You struggle to correct them mostly without success. About this time the Government bought out a herd improvement programme called Beefplan so I thankfully passed all the calculation over to this. It was important that our data was in the National scheme so that quoted performance could be checked at any time. The job of the Elite herd was to produce the sires for the 4 base group cows .

The resulting bulls would be progeny tested and the winning bulls then returned to sire the next generation of Elite bulls. A very sophisticated breeding programme.

Again I was responsible for allocating the top Elite bulls that were allocated to each property. These had nothing to do with farms of origin but were balanced on performance. This was done to make progeny tests as accurate as possible During the period of the Elite herd we made a great deal of progress and also identified an outliner bull, Waigroup 1/80, being totally Pinebank bred. This bull proved to be outstanding internationally.

We still have some semen which we keep, and use occasionally to check the progress of the programme. This bull, I think was never beaten internationally ( America refuse to make the data available to me) but he did come out in the top 2% for carcase analysis' in America.

The Elite herd continued for some 10 years during which time we greatly improved weaning weights. Interesting to note that at this time weaning weight was considered to be of low derivability, but now its thought to be 30% which is high. Selecting for lowly inheritable traits requires a progeny test system to make sure that the performance of the parents is true.

Milk production was considered to have low heritability too and that is why all those very sophisticated progeny test systems were designed for the progeny testing of dairy sires.

Returning to our Elite herd. The economic times for farming took a dramatic turn for the worse, and because the Elite was very expensive to run we had to abandon it and so all the cows were returned to their owners.

We returned to each herd selecting its best yearling bulls and using them for one year and then selling them but keeping the best on progeny test and rerunning them if really good, using once more and then keeping them for semen collection.

Dr Ch'ang had said that he had no idea what conformation would develop, all he knew was that what we were doing worked! I decided to put no conformational restrictions on the type of animal we were breeding, but would use the best, as long as they were structurally and temperamentally sound.

We also put fertility demands on the cows in that every cow must calve as a two year old and subsequently each year. Research has shown that the only satisfactory way to improve fertility is to cull any cow that does not get in calf no matter what age. This quickly develops a cow that can handle the environment and demands of the particular farmer.

Fertility is the most important character in any breeding programme. No calf, no progress, no profit, no future . I had been mating yearling heifers for some time and showing that it could be done. So the others in the group joined me. We began using yearling bulls for one year and doing the same thing that we had been doing with two year bulls i.e turning them over on a yearly basis.

This speeded up the 'generation interval' by one year thus speeding up the programme but realising that selecting for dam traits was much slower because it was multifactor selection. For every trait that you add to a programme your progress slows by square roots. So we had to accept that our new breeding programme would be very slow but much more complete. For every year that you use the same bull you remain on square one, you are not going anywhere.

So when you begin you are using the best bulls of each year. The next year you are using the best bull, who was by the best bull so you are beginning to collect the superior genes in your population and feed it back into your herd. This has been going on since the mid 1970's.

Although this is a short time in breeding terms we are just beginning to get 'down the road' and things are beginning to happen in the herd. As concentration of superior genes comes together, the impact of these bulls when used outside our herd becomes more dramatic.

The programme has always had the ability to plug in outside bulls for progeny testing to see how good they were in comparison to our herds, lay at that time. This ability has been used very rarely and each time that outsiders have been used, it has proven very unproductive as the bulls had nothing to contribute and all progeny have been culled. Some of the other group members have used outside bulls occasionally and this has made them fall further behind the Pinebank herd .

In the beginning we were encouraged to buy in cows, to increase the variability of the base herd before they were closed off.

This was before the introduction of the American blood into New Zealand. During this period when a registered herd was having a dispersal sale, one of the group members would go a month ahead to pick out the very best performing cows in the herd.

The cows would be purchased then distributed among Group members. Unfortunately angus breeders quickly recognised what was happening and anything that the group was bidding for became very desirable to other members. Interesting to note that our own cows quickly became superior and no purchased cow has survived more than one calf in the Pinebank herd.

Canadian Enterprise Pinebank has now a branch of the herd in Canada. This is managed by Erika and Dr.Christoph Weder . Pinebank shipped embryos to Spirit View Ranch and they came from a cross-section of the Pinebank cows.

Erika and Christoph are two intelligent and innovated farmers and have a big future in any business that they decide to concentrate on. Pinebank considers itself very lucky to have found two people with such original thinking and were able to convince them of the validity of the Pinebank genetic angus breeding programme and its future.

The herd has now been operating for 7 years and much to our surprise the Pinebank cattle have had no trouble adjusting to the Canadian climate.

Together we face the future with complete confidence as we set out to breed a branch of Angus that is ideally suited to Canadian demands. It will be interesting to see whether the Canadian environment changes the phenotype of the Pinebank angus cattle.

Spirit View Ranch's web site is


Readers would have noticed that I repeated the piece about cow efficiency twice. This was done deliberately as I consider that this finding by the Trangie Research Station in Australia the most important finding in the last 20 years. It shows that cow efficiency can be raised relatively easily; the effect on the beef industry for those who wish to use it could be monumental

The drought has broken in the very best way. Steady light warm rain and then followed by more light rain all of which soaks into the soil. If we get a downfall of heavy rain it all runs off, but this rain has been light warm and steady and it has all gone down into the soil, which is very good for us. New Zealand terrain is largely quite steep hills. When the soils are dry, heavy rain will just run off into the gullies and does not go into the ground.

I have decided to explain our programme, the reason why we do everything and the logic for doing so!

Genetics is all mathematics and so every step must be logical and have a reason.

So let me begin at the beginning which is what we did in the Pinebank herd, because we began two years ahead of the formation of the Waigroup.

This is how it came about:

I had been breeding stud cattle for about 10 years with limited success.

My aim had been to breed big sound bulls that could live on the poor coastal hill country of New Zealand. Looking at our mob of bulls I began to wonder why it was impossible to breed a mob that was as good as the best bull. Why did I have to tolerate so many poor bulls and so I began reading books on Genetics.

Completely mystified I began writing to the Genetic department of Massey University our leading Agriculture University.

Still no success so knowing that there was a young Chinese student doing his Doctorate in Genetics I went and sat beside him at one of our farmer conferences, introduced myself and said that I needed some help.


After 3 years of yearly contacts, he agreed to help after giving me a list of directions that I must follow and introduce. The first one, to join a recording programme, I had already done so.

If he was to help I was too……


  a) believe in what we were doing

  b) do what I was told

  c) Not wander off and do my own thing

  d) get up and speak about it if ever I was asked.


Then it was explained that it would be a long hard road and that it would take time. I would be unlikely to see the real success in my lifetime.

I closed the herd. I had 5 senior bulls as sires.  We picked what we considered to be the top 3 Sires and our own bred top two top 2 year bulls and used them that year.

On progeny testing, one of our top 2 year bulls was the best bull thus demonstrating to me the superiority of using our own bulls. This was in 1963.

The next year we used only our top 2year bulls culling all the old sires.

At this time we were using a recording system for recording our cattle.

When I use the title we, I am referring to Dr T.S.Ch’ang and I

Here I had better explain the different systems of animal recording.

A Recording programme measures every animal exactly as it is. Every animal is adjusted as if it was born on the same day out of the same age dam.

A herd improvement programme is what is used today and consists of calculations to point the herd in a specific direction to achieve specific goals. This programme uses heritability, repeatability, approximate economic values of the various traits at the various times. So the calculations can become very complex.

When we began there was just a recording system so Dr Ch’ang did all our calculations he also did all the matings of which bull went to which cow to keep away from half sibs mating and mother son mating. At this time Dr Ch’ang was finishing his Thesis for his Doctorate so he was very busy.

This use of two year old bulls, changing every year went on for ten years By this time, three other breeders had joined me and we had become the first breeding group in the world I believe, where a number of breeders had got together with a common goal using the help of a geneticists.

At this time I believe that there were only 10 practising large animal geneticist in the world and we had one of them!

We began selecting for growth for a number of reasons.  When you begin on a programme like ours and because it is going to be a long hard road, the base must be absolutely sound. The first thing that we insisted upon was that every sire must be structurally and temperamentally sound, even if we had to select a bull whose performance was below average.

After that we were looking for genetic recessives in each herd if there happened to be any.

As there were four different environments we were looking at the effects of each environment on the patterns of growth of each herd.

We were using 2year bulls because 2 year bull’s heritability for growth is slightly higher than yearlings and for those first 10 years we were selecting for growth.

At the same time we were overcoming the Bulmer effect that I have already written about.


Rain has come at last but not enough to break the drought

Grass almost non existent, but stock holding on surprisingly well. We have no idea when it will end. Weather forecast keeps predicting rain and has been doing so for all the Summer but the rain never comes.

Coming up through the valley last week, I was surprised at how general the drought was and what a shortage of grass was causing local dairy industry to suffer.

I found that stock would do better in a drought, provided that it had plenty of good clean water and shade then it does in one of those lush flush seasons when it rains all through the Summer

Our program has had the effect of bringing the cows into oestrus at much lighter body weights. This is a feature in raising efficiency in the herd. Raising efficiency must be bred into both cows and bulls. The features of efficiency are firstly fertility, then how good the cow's gut is at converting grass to energy and muscle.

The best cows in a population are 50% above average in efficiency (lbs of calf weaned per lbs of dry matter consumed). We have been selecting Sires out of these cows on a yearly basis for 56 years, and I estimate our herd is 20% more efficient than the average stud angus herds.

'Saying for the month'

If you select from a low environment cattle will perform just as well as those selected from a high environment when subjected to a high environment. But the reverse is not true.

In other words cattle selected from a high environment will not perform under a low environment.

If seed stock herds are to make a real contribution to lifting efficiency, then they should be run under as near as possible to commercial conditions because of the saying above.

I am aware that many of the so called stud herds are supplemented from birth onwards. This is detrimental to the identification of those animals exhibiting superior offspring. Any animal is nothing in himself, but it is what he produces that can be vital to progress.

We have all bought highly fed bulls and introduced them to our herds and been bitterly disappointed with the bull when he has lost condition. Sometimes high condition can affect their fertility and their feet. Unfortunately condition always sells, buyers will always buy fat.

It is an interesting trait of human nature that breeders will see a bull and think that bull would do their herd a lot of good. The old breeders hunch! One of our group members was forever going off and buying bulls, against what he was supposed to do in the group. Every time he fell flat on his face but for some extraordinary reason he never learnt.

It is much easier breeding like we do. Having tried every method, I am much happier now, and my son does not know how lucky he is that there is no big financial layout every three years, sometimes spending the receipts of three years on a single bull , which often turns out to be a disaster..

Our program is a time thing and we have been going since 1963. The reason that we do not sell females is that if someone bought them who knew what he was doing, by using them they could come right up behind us. We never sell females because we consider that our females are unique . Those that we cull go for slaughter

There is a 100% difference between the best and the worst cow in efficiency in a standard population and that efficiency has a heritability of 40%. This is high. and means that selecting for efficiency you can make progress relatively quickly. The definition of this efficiency is the weight of calf; weaned per kilo of dry matter consumed .

On checking the variation of cows performance. Cows vary close to the herd average variation. If your herd varies say 100 kilos between the best and the worst calf ,at weaning weight then each cow varied about that 100 kilos. But some vary at the top and the worst vary at the bottom. There were very very few cows that produced a top calf every year. I had one in the 55 years of running the stud. There is a problem in these cows, if you have a closed herd. You must not use her calf every year because you are tying yourself too closely to her gene pool and that is dangerous. You could find in the future that her genes were not as clean as you had thought, Including so many of her genes you are building in inbreeding and trouble.

Cow's variation comes about because at every conception the genes come together purely at random. You do not look like your brother, you do not behave like him , there is a world of difference between you, bought about by the millions of genes being sampled at random.

I 'estimate' that because we take the best bulls from our closed population, these bulls must have come from the higher performance genes coming together on that mating to have come out on top and we have been doing this for 56 years My estimation is that our herd should be 20% more efficient then the average population.

I am just waiting for some scientist to say 'what crap' and set out to prove that I am wrong. The only way that can be shown is for some University to test it with an experiment to see. Either way it would be interesting to see if it can be done, I mean raising efficiency and by how much has been achieved in our 56 years Think of the added improvement in the national herd.

I wonder whether the No1 Hereford herd in Miles City Montana has done an efficiency test? It would be interesting to see and I think that the improvement would be considerable.

There are at least two Universities trailing our semen at the moment. None of the data has been made available to me up until now. I await the data with interest.


We are now in our 6th drought in a row with the resulting pressure on the poor old cows. It would seem as though the small area we live in, is in a climate shade.

Whether it is a factor in the so called climate warming, or a fluke of nature, we shall wait and see.

My second Genetic saying is "Every animal is genetically coded to reach a given weight at a given age and this weight can be achieved at any time."

This saying is not quite true, in that if you starve an animal until its skeleton does not reach its full potential then it will never fully recover or reach its genetic potential. This can be seen in motherless calves. It is important to breed animals under a natural environment so that they are bred to be able to handle the vagaries of the changing weather that affects their feed.

It is necessary that cattle have the ability to lay on fat in the good times and to strip it off when feed conditions are difficult or while feeding their calves One of the effects of a closed herd program such as ours, where we are selecting for fertility, is that puberty develops earlier.

This means that you have little trouble getting yearling heifers in calf. If you do not mate your yearling heifers and wait until they are rising two, before getting them in calf and feed those weaners too highly so that they lay down fat, this fat can residual in the udder, when it does, it will affect the subsequent milk production of that cow. Mating yearling heifers is very economic as it does a number of things.

It allows you to identify early those heifers which will never calve, so they can be culled early. You can identify shy breeders by those who tend to get in calf late. The main problem is that unless you feed the lactating yearling heifer well while she is rearing her calf, she will fail to conceive the following year, in which case all the advantage of mating yearlings has been lost.

Cattle have the ability to make use of 'compensatory growth. This means that when feed conditions improve they will use that feed more efficiently and grow much faster to catch up to their coded genetic weight. It takes 4 times the amount of feed to put on 1lb of fat as it does to put on 1lb of meat. If you are weighing regularly, then the minute they stop growing, they are beginning to lay down fat which is much slower.

This slowing of growth can be observed if the herd is under close observation. The trouble is that we all know that bull buyers will always buy fat, this is of course a big waste of resources. As in all biological species no two animals are alike, meaning that each animal is unique, as of course are we.

At the beginning, we were studying the herds' pattern of growth and so for a couple of years we weighed the bull crop on the same date each month. This produced some interesting results one of which was that each bull grew at a different time. On studying this it occurred to me that we could supply bulls to our buyers which would grow at the same time as their maximum grass growth occurred on their particular farms.

We advertised this to our buyers telling them that all they had to do was supply me the dates when their farm had maximum grass growth, and I would pick them a bull that grew at that period of the year. Not one buyer was interested !. We stopped weighing our bulls monthly. I have told this story before but shall do it again because it is very relevant to the present discussion.

Well before we began the present program, our cattle were always run as a commercial herd and as such were run in amongst the sheep, they calved in amongst the lambing ewes, weaned heifer calves and bulls were the same being run with sheep. The New Zealand Angus Association, suspecting that records were being kept on the back of a cigarette packet decided they should go around inspecting the cattle in each herd and its records. They duly arrived at our place. My father had always been a meticulous recorder keeper and we had big books with all sorts of information on the herd. These books which we still keep today were always referred as The Bible .

We showed the council members the records and they were suitably impressed, then took them off to see the weaner bulls followed by the yearlings which were being bought up for sale. We returned home and had a drink and they got up to leave. I could see that they were unsettled about something as they walked to the door where they stopped, turned to me and said " Do you mean to tell us that those weaners turned into those yearlings that are coming up for sale" I said of course, we had been running them like this for years and I had never thought that they wouldn't.

What was happening of course was that our weaners were compensating. When their nutrition was lifted they grew extra fast until they had caught up with their genetic code. Due to the surprised, registered by the council members a further question was raised 'What would happen if we fed them much higher . Would they grow out much bigger? So the following winter we fed them grain along with their grass The weaners went down to a different farm to be bought along for sale. they were 100 lbs heavier than they had ever been before.

By sale time they were exactly the same weight that they had been every other year. In fact we had wasted all that money and time by feeding them artificially all winter. This demonstrates that they returned to their geneticly coded weight. Now I am wondering whether animals that have been selected under a very high plane of nutrition for some years have "compensatory growth"?

Next months saying is "animals selected under a low plane of nutrition will perform just as well as those that have been selected under a high plane , when subject to a high plane. But the reverse is not true." In other words, animals that have been selected under a high plane will "not" do on a low plane.

In the past I have bought many bulls and seen many bulls that had been the top sale or show bulls that collapsed when bought home to the farm no matter what they were fed. Some were so bad that they could never be used.



We are moving steadily into another drought.  Our little area has missed all the rain since October. It has been all around us but somehow we have had none. It must be something to do with the terrain or how far that the mountains are away or something

At the beginning of each page on our Web is a “Genetic Saying “that I have picked up over the years from the Geneticists I have come into contact with.

All of these comments were made at Public Conferences in New Zealand at one time or another.

The one saying that did not come from a Geneticist, came from New Zealand’s leading podsotoligist ( soil Scientist) at that time, and is relevant to soil as well as Animal Breeding.

It is a fantastic concept for any Animal breeder or person setting out on a journey that is going to take at least his lifetime to achieve a little progress.

“There is no end to the improvement in anything biological it will slow down but it will go on “

It is important to understand the basics a little and so I shall replace biological being with cattle as this is what we are setting out to improve!

Each and every cattle beast has a genetic code that is contained in each and every cell. Half this code comes from the cow and half from the bull. These genes are picked up purely at random so tend to be an average of the population.

If you examine the average of the cows in your herd, at any time, it is possible to lift the performance of the herd  so  that  best cow becomes  the average. This is just a demonstration of what is possible and that there is an enormous possibility of improving the performance of the breeding herds in the world.

Another characteristic that can be improved is efficiency.

Australian research has shown that in a population there is a 100% difference in efficiency between the best cow and the worst one. This is in lbs of feed consumed per lbs of calf weaned. That means that the best cow is 50% above average

This just demonstrates what improvements are possible, let alone that you can go on improving without end.  It is very slow but it will go on.

What is being said is that in the millions of genes in every cattle beast’s code are some very high performing genes. Get to those and it is not the end! How about cattle living on a third of the dry matter intake as today and growing twice as fast if we implement the right breeding programme.    We could see them in another 200years time. I wonder what they would look like!

And how many generations of breeders would it take?

“There is no end in the improvement in anything biological. It will slow down but it will go on” What a concept!

A good thought provoking concept for the beginning of year 2011 for all cattle breeders.

Cattle breeding is not something that can be done quickly. There are no quick fixes.

It is a skill that requires knowledge of the animal. Behaviour, nutritional requirements and a little knowledge about how genes are transferred is a help and above all else it requires a “Breeding Plan”. You can move herds by a single bull but you cannot make progress towards any of the more important characteristics like efficiency, fertility, growth, sustainability. These can only be achieved by long term goals perused relentlessly and carefully controlled.  There are no halfway houses. I mean by this that you cannot make progress with half your herd and leave the other half breeding on the old method.

But there are always” outs”. One outside bull and you have blown your herd back to the beginning; well almost you would have to use a number of outside bulls.


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