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Our latest
(July 2016)



Variation is the necessity of progress

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

This season remains difficult. We went from a very wet winter into an unseasonably dry and cold Spring. The weather prediction is for a dry summer, we shall wait and see.
Lamb prices are down wool prices remain static. Beef prices are all over the place. Marketing for maxim profit this season will be critical. The predicted dairy price has opened at approx NZ $5.80 which the Dairy Industry tells me will mean that highly geared dairy farmers (around 30% of them) will run at a loss this year. The European and American financial problems, are certainly having an effect out here.

Back to our Breeding Programme, every animal has millions of genes in their genetic code. Some of these genes are very high performing for every economic characteristic. What was found when New Zealand began its Performance Recording was that all breed herds were genetically equal and that the so called social herds achieved their monetary superiority by feeding not breeding.

The objective of any breeding programme is to identify the high performing genes for all factors of economic importance under commercial conditions, and build them in year after year into your herd.

We use our own bulls at 4 bulls per 100 cows. These bulls represent those bulls that picked up the best genes at the last mating or they would not have come out top. The four bulls per 100 cows are used to make sure that we hit the best progeny testing bull of that year. All sires are carefully progeny tested each year and any bull that shows sufficiently high superiority is bought back for a second year and mated to different cows. We began by using two year old bulls because heritability is slightly higher at that age and we could observe how they were going to mature.

As we have always done, we change bulls every year. Changing bulls every year means that for the first two years nothing happens, then the best bulls are sired by the best bulls next year adin finitum. So you are beginning to accumulate your high performing genes.

The big difference between our system and other methods is that our cows are following along behind by one generation and are by the best bull of their year multiplied by the number of years the programme has been running. Other breeders sell the bulls out of their best cows, so those cows never contribute those superior female genes into their population. In our programme superior cows are contributing calves year after year into our herd and some cows have made a bigger contribution within our herd than any bull.

The simple logic of such a programme is inescapable. Every animal if he or she shows any superiority, contributes to the added total of superior genes. It is a slow painstaking progress but it works, ‘Time’ is something that no one can overtake!

After 10 years of mating 2 year old bulls, we changed to mating yearlings, bulls and heifers. This speeds up our generation interval and maximises productivity. Bulls often took some time to begin working, but now as sexual maturity has become earlier, the yearling bulls mostly go straight into work. Early maturity is one of the added advantages, in making both sexes of cattle more profitable.

Another advantage in using yearling bulls is that the bulls are sold after use to selected buyers, where we have the right of recovery. If a bull’s progeny test is high, we bring the bull back and use him for another year on different cows. We do not have any bulls on standby, waiting for their progeny test results.

Fertility problems in heifers can be identified earlier and heifers culled as a consequence of mating earlier, and so no unproductive cows are carried through a winter. This also it means that all the bulls are out of very productive cows.

We have been breeding using this programme since 1965. Genetic gain is additive and culminative.

Happy Christmas to all the readers of our Waigroup Newsletter.
May the beef prices go through the roof and the grass grow green for the whole year!

Spring is unusually variable this year. We get a couple of clear warm days and then a front comes up from the Antarctic bringing cold and wet weather with snow to low levels. Grass has stopped growing owing to the drop in soil temperature. The weather prediction for this summer is for dry conditions progressing to another drought. Calves and lambs seem to be doing well probably because the feed is still hard. Sloppy feed goes straight through the stock making them scour. The birds seem to have had a good winter because they are as fat as I have seen them and make for a very noisy dawn chorus.

In this newsletter I am going to explain in depth what and why we do various things in our breeding programme written for us by Dr Ch’ang back in the 1960’s. As one of the American scientists said to me on examining it “ That guy has thought of everything !”.

As we were the first herd to instigate the breeding programme we were about two years ahead of the of the three other herds that joined us later. Pinebank was closed, the only time that the herd was ever closed. The other herds as they joined us were closed for ten years and there was a very limited exchange of sires during this period. We did this because:

1) we were looking for genetic recessives and, their frequency so the herds really were never closed.
2) we wished to know the herds growth patterns in the different environments .
3) All bulls grow at different times and at what period the cattle grew, and the environmental effect on the performance of the herd.

So we began with the four herds. I took in the three other herd because we were being treated with distain and Pinebank was receiving a lot of negative publicity. The owners of the herds had to be prepared to adhere completely to the rules ... The reason that we allowed the three other herds to join us were

a) I wanted more cattle in the programme the bigger the herd the more progress you could make because the variation was higher
b)We had 800 cows and became a political force in the National Council.
c)Four herds would spread the costs which I knew was going to be high

Because the four herds came from different environments an analysis was done. , The herds were not closed as there was a limited exchange of sires within the herds.
Within the programme we were always allowed to purchase cows which we were encouraged to do. A cow only has one calf per year so there is little or no effect on the average performance of the herd. Purchased cows tell us many things. Where we were in relation to other herds. Often the cow would be incalf and this fact gave us more information. When there was a dispersal sale one of the Group would attend , go through the records and selecting out the top performing cows. These cows would be purchased and then be spread amongst the Group.

The group was formed before any American bulls came into New Zealand Although of different lines there was no American blood in the Group. We have also always had the ability to test bulls who we think may have something to offer. We use four bulls per 100 cows so all we do is bring the strange bull into one of the groups. He then goes into the standard progeny test and at a glance we can see how good he is compared to our own bulls. We still insist that the bull be pure Scottish bred.
I never used this when I was running the herd but son William has been doing so whenever he discovers a New Zealand bred bull whose national progeny test looks interesting. We found all bulls grew at different times but since then the programme has made them more consistent to growing earlier to get them ready for working as yearlings.

Looking back I may have given the impression that our herds were closed, but of course having the four herds they never were, as there has always an interchange of bulls within the group

The fact that there were four different environments made progeny tests of this interchange more accurate.

At the beginning, realising that we were infore the long haul in the breeding programme, we recognised the necessity that the base cattle had to be temperamentally and structurally sound, Every sire was cut out on its own , stood in a corner of our yards, the group of four members approached the bull crowding him into the corner. If he showed any stress he was discarded. Every bull was carefully examined for structural soundness..

This careful examination of sires has continued up until the present. Waigroup has now dropped to two herds, Pinebank and Glanworth the other two herds left for various reasons but the number of cows has remained at approximately 600.

The cows are run under commercial conditions. Cows must be able to compete with sheep, cope with the vagaries of the weather and remain fertile. We regulary have 98% survival of calves per year. Bulls must grow early enough to begin work as yearlings and do it on grass and hay only

Now after 47 years that the programme has been operating we are seeing the results of achieving characteristics that have very high commercial value which is available to all cattle farmers who wish to use our bulls or semen.

Spring has arrived, grass is growing and lambs and calves are enjoying the warmer days. Calving is at its peak and William is weighing and tagging some 20 calves per day. Weights are about average, it is a fine line between calving weights being high enough to keep up the vigour and low enough to prevent trouble. Low birth weights appear to be largely a matter of shortening gestation, Gestation being too short can effect vigour.

Cows as they calve are cut out onto fresh pasture that has been shut up for some time. Cows while they are calving are on limited grass but they can see the good grass over the fence. They quickly learn that after calving they graduate onto good grass., as soon as the calf can walk the cow moves to the gate. All you have to do is go and open the gate.

Observing the cattle closely it looked as though the intensity of selection was having some effect of improving their intelligence. They appeared to become quieter and more co-operative. 

We have and always have had a high twinning rate so calving is one of the busiest times of the year. Because the cow will often wander off with only one of her twins, we have to spend time identifying which cow is the freshly born calf’s mother. I found out in my years that if a cow reared twins then she was unlikely to conceive the following year, so we take one of the twins away and mother it on to another cow.

The difference between the recovery of inbreeding depression and hybrid vigour.

Breeds of cattle began from a narrow base of very few animals. The necessity to stabilise and fix characteristics required intense inbreeding and with that came depression.

The lift that you get from crossing two unrelated breeds is called ‘hybrid vigour’. All breeds are loaded with recessive genetic material so in the crossing of two different breeds you would be unlikely to transmit two copies of any recessives during the first cross

The effect of crossing two different breeds is best explained by two pieces of paper. On each separate sheet there are holes in the paper, represents that breeds various weaknesses. When you put the sheets one on top of the other, it is unlikely any holes would match. The resulting sheet of paper would have no holes in it thus representing the resulting calf had collected the best features of both breeds.

You must not try breeding the hybrids together as a percentage of the resulting animals will have all the worst of the parent breeds.

Dr Gregory told me that the most important part of breeding his composites were: a) That you must carefully select the breeds you wish to cross. This will depend on your environment, soil type, pasture and management practises. Having selected those breeds which suited your farming setup best, then the next important aspect is b) That every sire be pure and a good representation of that breed. Also preferably come from a programme that has been selecting for those traits that the breed is noted for. You must not try to stabilize the interbreeds.

For one thing you rapidly loose any hybrid vigour that you have gained by the first cross, it takes somewhere between ten and twenty generations to stabilise a crossbred. I would expect that this would increase according to the number of breeds you had in your composite. Twenty generations is at least one hundred years so that could be at least two lifetimes.

In our own herd my father bought 3 cows to begin the stud in 1919. In 1968 there was a history of Angus in New Zealand written by J.P.Tylee. Upon researching our herd I found that the whole herd went back to only one of the cows purchased, in other words the progeny of the other two cows were never kept. This was, in those days ot visual appraisal. What made me become interested in recording was that just before my father died he sold a line of cows. Those cows went on to be the dams of two lines of winning bulls sold at our then stud National sale .

I tried to repurchase the cows back but had no success.

The future holds much interest for our herd, firstly we will be able to discovert how accurate our bull selection has been by using the latest findings from DNA testing . Then we will be able to find out whether the highest DNA tested bulls necessarily produces the best calves. CMC tells me that they have comprehensibly tested them and that they do.

What I know will happen if as I suspect that the present breeders with their single factor selection, will make no progress at all because as they go from character to character each new one will cancel out the old one. The trouble is that any breeding, is a long term job, and you could look back from twenty years ahead to find that nothing has been achieved.

If you are tempted to go from single factor selection of a trait, to the next single factor, you will find that in establishing the new factor you have lost the old one which will return to average. If you stop your selection pressure, then the whole herd will return to average. Natures design is that there is always pressure to return to the average because that is the performance for that animal that has the best chance of survival and of prospering.

Spring is hurrying on apace weather is warming and the grass is beginning to grow. There are lambs everywhere and calves are beginning to appear. Up to now there have been no servere storms and so lamb and calf survival has been very good. Long may it last! It did not last, cold fronts are coming through all the time. Gale force westerly winds and ,which is unusual for us, often with rain. Stock losses appear to be light at this stage

Dairy prices are slowly rising but still have some way to go to reach the heights of two years ago. Wool prices rose slightly last month but still have some way to go to be economic. If wool were to be discovered today it would be the miracle fibre of all time. The oil industry has spent a lot of money trying to duplicate the qualities of wool, you would have thought it would have been better just to use wool, but that just demonstrates again the stupidity of man.

Meat prices for sheep and beef are very unsettled and at this stage it is hard to predict what will happen in the year ahead. Proteins are basically very short in the world so prices should rise but with the financial problem , anything can happen. Our dollar is beginning to climb again from an already high level.

Quote:’ There is enough known about the soils of the world to feed any number of people, The problem iss not the production, it is distribution.

Before we began the present breeding programme I considered the commercial breeding herds of angus cattle to be superior in relation to the so called stud herds. It occurred to me that there was very little difference and in fact the commercial herd could be better. In some cases very large herds often purchased the very best bulls from the stud herds some of them buying 10 or more bulls per year. Those stud herds were contributing the very best bulls from their best cows and they were being used commercially. What would be the result if the very best commercial herd were screened and the resulting bulls used?

It came about that, a local farmer got a group of cattle breeders with large herds together and suggested that he would screen all their cows taking the best 10 cows from each herd based on the observed weaning weight of their calves . The farmer would get them in calf to the best stud bull he could find then each contributing breeder would pick one bull The pickers would rotate who would get first pick. The theory was most interesting and caused some excitement among the scientists at Massey University when it was bought up at a beef conference that year.

The herd was set up the following year and consisted of 300 cows so there were 30 contributing herd owners. I could see some problems as the selected cows would not necessarily have the best calves next year in fact I had shown that weaning weights in cows had a very low repeatability. A cow that weaned a high weight of calf was unlikely to do the same the next year. This was of course caused by the randomised gene selection at conception, but at this time we put it down to the draining of the cows milk in that year. Weaning weight being considered a feture of the cows milk production at that time.

One of the advantages of having a carefully recorded herd over a long period and the mass of data collected was that we could back screen, set up cows as if they had been screened and then project them forward looking at their production to see what happened. In my data I demonstrated that they could have just as well bought a random mob of cows from the sale yards and they would have been in the same position! I took my data to the scientists who examined it with interest and kept it for three weeks while they did some of their sophisticated maths over them but did not change my findings.

The theory of this system was interesting and challenging and in this case it failed, This was due to poor administration and management and ended long before it had the time to make any progress. I think a similar method used in sheep- breeding was very successful. The sheep industry went from under 100% lambing in the 1940’s to getting up too 200% now.
It seems to be true that breeders will move sheep production around persuing economic requirements, but not cattle. Often the same breeder will have sheep and cattle studs and be using one method on sheep successfully and another system on cattle without success. The size of the animal seems to affect them.
Moving animals genetically is not easy and requires concentrated selection over a long period of time and both sire and dam must be pressured.

Winter is in the middle of its coldest and its wettest period, Grey. day after day, but although I have two lambs, both by mistake, lambing or calving has not begun in the sheep and beef herds yet. The dairy herds are in the middle of calving and I do not envy them calving in the mud For a number of years, when I first began with the stud herd, I went to all the dairy conferences. I thought they would know more about cows than I would ever know,as they lived with their cows. I also wished to gain knowledge of management problems like soil pugging of wet soils, and how they dealt with them.

Later I was put on the Livestock Improvement Association. a local collection of the dairy farmers in the local area. At this stage the dairy Industry was well ahead of the beef industry in research and cow identification. They had a very sophisticated progeny test scheme , managed by their own geneticist.

The government thought they could pull them both together , split the costs of running the herds and we could learn from each other and make general use of the geneticist. It was a complete disaster as the beef breeds fought all the time and could not agree and suspected that the dairy scientists would grab the best beef bulls not telling the beef breeder which were their best bulls, and sell semen world wide. An unfortunate figure of their imagination.

During this period I was on a National Beef Committee and was leading the commercial producers and spent all my time dealing with the various breed societies.

As you know I consider that the paper from Trangie Research Centre which I published last month was the most important finding of beef research that has been discovered in the last 20 years. This of course does not include the gene identication of various characteristics on the DNA.

It tells us that there is as much improvement available in the cow as there is in bull selection. It shows that it is possible to breed cows that eat less drymatter per kilo of calf weaned.

Actually it does not tell us that. But does show that there is a difference between cow’s food intake and that the most efficient cows can eat less without affecting their growth, condition, or metabolism.

What it does not show is whether the most efficient cows have the best calves or where the calves lie in the high efficiency, control and low efficiency lines. This is of course of vital importance. It is no use us breeding a very efficient line of cows if their calve’s are rubbish and I wonder whether you lose variation as a cost.

It would be interesting to take out the top calves at weaning and see if they came from the most efficient cows. This unfortunately would require taking out those cows and converting them to a hard ration diet and then shutting them up and measuring their intake. You would have to do the same with the worst readed calves the difference would be most interesting.

It is interesting to note that in our own herd of cows, the continued selection of our own bulls, which must have come out of our best cows, have succeeded in giving us cows that get in calf in lower condition, and weaning weights appear to be slowly rising while the calving percentage remains the same. The last four years of drought have really tested the cows and I have been very impressed with how they have coped.

It is clear that there is still much to learn about practical beef production but as very little of today’s knowledge is used in cattle breeding then I suppose that the finer points hardly warrant looking at them in research.

Last month 500 breeders read my Newsletters. They are prepared after much thought on subjects that I thing will interest you and perhaps even help a little when you are wondering where to go from where you are at. It should be clear that I am not happy about where the stud breeding industry is. Tomorrow brings the ability to select single characteristic with greater accuracy, and I fear that breeders will wildly rush for one character after another with disastrous affect on phenotype.

If these affects could become as bad as I suspect they could then they could be very difficult to correct.

Breed societies were set up in the beginning whose total job to insure the purity of the breed. The president told me when I first joined the Council…… always remember that while you sit on this council you must always do what is best for the breed. You must forget your own cattle.
I can only hope that this remains today ! I must say that I am concerned for the future but then old men always are.

We are in the depth of Winter and it is wet and cold. The opposite to the Ranchers in Colordo who are in the middle of a drought with forest fires and the lot. As one rancher to another we are thinking off you.
Due to our past unprecedent Summer when we were able to build big reserves of feed. Winter is going to be no problem. Pregnancy rates in both sheep and cattle,appear to be above average and so if we have no big cold storms over Spring we could have a good year. We have however the usual problem of a rising costs and strengthen dollar and dropping prices.
If you look at the world . Food is largely produced by peasants with little or no money to replace fertilizer or nutriments in their soils. People can do without wars , cars ,private jets , but when there is no food for their children and themselves they object.
You would think that the production of food of the highest quality would be the first necessity, after all think of the saving in hospital bills alone. But no, Politicians build roads and halls and all sorts of things that are neither required nor of economic imperative.

My message of this month is one of the most important findings of Trangie, Australian Beef Research Station and is printed straight off their paper with some simplification of my own to make it easier to understand. It is entitled

Response to Selection For Net Feed Intake In Beef Cattle
P.F.Arthur J.A.Archer R.M.Herd and G.J.Melville

Profitability of beef production is dependant on both inputs and outputs. In the past genetic improvement has been aimed mainly at outputs traits such as fertility and liveweights, and more recentally carcass and meat quality traits. Little direct emphasis has been placed on reducing inputs to improve efficiency of production. Providing feed to cattle is the single largest expense in most commercial beef enterprises thus any effort at improving the efficiency of feed utilition by animals should help reduce input costs. In beef cattle attempts at genetic improvement of feed utilitation in the past have been based on feed conversion ratio (FCR), which is amount of feed consumed divided by liveweight gain. Recent interest in feed efficiency in livestock have centred around net ( residual), feed intake (NFI) which unlike FCR, is a linear index and is phenotypically in dependant of growth. NFI is the difference between actual feed intake and the expected feed requirements for maintenance and growth.

Materials and Methods

Starting with 1993 animals born at Trangie, a feed intake and efficiency test was conducted each year using the automated feeding system which delivers individual animals feed intake. This study commenced in 1994 with the establishment of a High and Low feed efficiency selection lines The 1993 and the 1994 born animals formed the foundation herd for this study. Starting with 1993 born animals, the females were allocated to the High efficiency line (High Line) and the Low efficiency Line (Low Line) based on their intervidual NFI values. Females with low NFI values are more efficienct ( consume less feed then that predicted for growth and maintenance and were allocated to the High efficiency line and those with high NFI were allocated to the Low efficiency line. The three most efficienct bulls born in 1993 were allocated to the High line and the least efficient bulls to the Low line. Throughout the study, the sole selection criterion for all replacement bulls and heifers in the High line and low line was intervidual NFI. This design was chosen to provide a rapid divergence in NFI between the high and low selected lines.

Only 200 animals can be tested in the feed intake and efficiency facility at any one time and for the study a maximum of a hundred males and 100 females were tested per year.. Therefor there was very little selextion in the females due to limited numbers. In the males however three to six bulls were selected per line each year, depending on the number of females available to be mated. Throughout the project bulls and heifer were mated at 14mths of age and bulle were used for only one mating season except in 1997 and 1998 mating season where, for each selection line, one bull from the previous year was used again. Animals from each selection line were grazed together throughout the year, except during mating. Allocation of male within selected lines was complete random, except for the avoidance of half-sibs and son-dam matings. All matings were by natural service. The first progeny of selected parents in 1995 and the last in 1999. Calves were nursed by their dams until weaning and the breeding herd was on pasture the year round, with supplementary feed (lcern hay and wheat) offered during times of limitd pasture growth. The animals were bought to the testing facility a few weeks (generally 4 to 6 weeks) after weaning. At the testing facility, a pre test adjustment of at least 21 days was allowed for the animals to adapt to the feeding system and diet, followed by a 70 day test as recommended by Archer et al (1997). The average age at the start of the test was 268 days During the test the animals had ad libitum access to a pelleted ration of approximately 10.5 MJ/kg dry matter and 16% crude protein. Records taken during the test were used to calculate NFI for each animal.

I am going to leave the mathermatics of the working o the data, and just give you a brief summary of the results.

These results show that selection for NFI results in improvement in postweaning efficiency of feed utiliation with minimal effect on growth. Given the feed cost of $200 per 1000 kilos at Trangie the divergence of 1.247 kg/day between the lines in 1999 represents savings of $27 in feed costs per animal over 100 days feeding period

We are well and truly into Winter. Already we have had two big snowfalls and it looks at the moment that we are into a third. Farmers are not worried as they have plenty of feed in reserve this year, We are fast approaching the shortest day and so lets hope that the old saying As the day lengthens the cold strengthens, does not hold true.

I must say though the view of the snowy mountains is beautiful from my window

Newsletter this month is about muscle development in carcases

Growth of Carcase tissue in Meat Animals
By Professor R.M.Butterfield
Veterinary Faculty . Sydney University

Professor Butterfield commenced by stressing and illustrating the importance of selecting animals for their ability in the work required of them. E.g meat production, rather than for pleasing appearance or other unrelated considerations.

Professor Butterfield's work has been concerned essentially with the dissection of individual muscles in the carcase as a basis for understanding the type of body composition to be expected in particular genetic and nutritional conditions.

One of his earlier projects was prompted by the advent of Brahman cattle and concern in some quarters that these animals lacked meat in the more valuable regions of the carcase.

Individual muscle dissection were carried out in groups of cattle representing Brahman types; improved British breed types (polled Hereford), and primitive unimproved Shorthorn types, from Northern Australia. No new bulls for 70 years).

It was found that in each of these three groups of cattle of very dissimilar body shape,56%of the total muscle weight of the carcases was in the expensive area.

This result was not considered surprising as the growth of muscles and their size and weight at any time is greatly influenced by the work that they do. With steers this work is mainly locomotion or getting around to graze

It has been shown that an animal with well developed muscles in one part of its body will have them well developed all over and conversely poor muscles in one part will be accompanied by poor muscles all over. Animal with good muscle development in one area and poor in another do not appear to exists and this is the case in adult cattle.

Studies have also been made of the growth patterns of muscles in young cattle because of there importance in relation to optimum age of slaughter. This work has shown that there is a marked relationship between the growth of any muscle and its function. Patterns in some particular muscle groups are muscles surrounding the spinal column. are steady and average rate of growth throughout life. Hammonds earlier assertion that there is a relative increase in the weight of muscle of the loin of cattle between twelve and eighteen months has been found not to have occurred in any of the many cattle dissected

Muscles of the abdominal wall

These are slow in development until the animal begins to eat bulky and fibrous food.

The deeper muscles are well developed at birth for simple locomotion and the superficial ones in the group develop relatively quickly early as they are the ones needed to provide driving power.

Thus in the young calf there are groups of muscles growing at different rates but it has been shown that by the time live weights of 200-250lbs have been reached the various muscles have settled down to a uniform rate of growth

From this it follows that there is no advantage from the point of view of weight of muscles in particular areas relative to total muscle weight at slaughter at any particular live weight above 250 lbs.

The body composition of meat animals is influenced by two main types of factors------genetic ones and nutritional ones.

Early and late maturing are the two main genetic factors. The early maturing animal is one which has completed growth and development of muscles and bone and commenced to lay down fat at a relatively young age.

These animals are valuable under conditions providing a restricted level of nutrition because they are able to give a carcase with optimal but not excessive fat cover. Under conditions of generous level of feeding they must be slaughter early to avoid carcases which are excessively fat and wasteful. The British breeds of beef cattle fall into this group

Autumn is coming on apace, and so far it has been very kind, day after day of the most beautiful still cloudless days. In fact, it is getting to the stage that we need rain. Maybe the end is here, as rain and colder weather is predicted.
Grass is still abundant and looks as though it will see us through the Winter. I read comments from overseas that say that we have the most perfect climate for grass production, implying that we have no Winter. Our cold is very wet and penetrating and can and does kill even mature animals.

This Newsletter is on experiments done by the New Zealand Dairy Board on the thought processes of bulls.

The dairy industry has always been well ahead of beef producers in New Zealand in research. This is probably because they have always had a measure of performance. namely milk in the bucket. Also they have been a combined identity, some thing that the beef industry will never be. Fighting each other over breeds, competition over internal markets, personnel preferences etc.

The uniting of the dairy industry was prompted by a severe recession, in I think the late 1920’s.
I do not know the date when they bought in their first geneticist, but they certainly bought in the first, and for its time a very sophisticated progeny test for dairy bulls. They decided later that part of this progeny testing should be a study of the thought processes of bulls. Some thing which was of great interest to us as a group beef breeding which at this stage we were handling approximately 200 bulls.

The group was having a close liaison with the Dairy Board, as they had a big semen business and were keen to add a beef semen section. They came to us for bulls because we had the first progeny tested bull in the country, and he had just beaten half bred charalois for growth in a drylot experiment. They had the facilities for the collection, storing and processing of semen.
Because we were handling bulls for collection, they kindly considered that we should learn what their findings had been in their study on bulls behaviour. So we were addressed by their scientist who had been in charge of this research and completed its analysis. The research included having Massey University students living in a caravan observing the behaviour of 400 dairy bulls 24 hours per day for a year.
Bulls have no ability to recognise any particular person. What they do recognise is how you move among them. You can bucket rear a bull from birth and it will not recognise you. What it does recognise is the bucket and the smell of milk.
Every time you walk up to a bull, whether it kills you or not, depends entirely on how it feels at that moment. It will kill you and roar around your blood for some time and then not remember anything about it. A bull will decide to attack you in a split second with no warning. Other times if it is building up for an attack it will give some obvious signs. It will hold its head unusually high, and step high with its front legs when it moves. It will move out and stand apart from the mob and watch you closely. It is about to attack if it exhibits these symptoms. The old saying that a bull charges with its eyes shut so it is possible to sidestep a bull, I suspect to be true. A cow has its eyes open so it will follow your every movement. I have had experience of this.

The protection that the artificial inseminating industry gives to its technicians is absolute. The working bulls are on a long wire attached to it by a long chain which allows the bull to move up and down it as it grazes . Bulls are attached to the wires by a chain attached to a ring in the bulls nose. There are always two men when they go out to pick up a bull.. They use a long pole with a snap hook on one end which picks up the ring in the bulls nose The chain is then detached and run through the front of a trailer especially deigned for the purpose. The handler then leads the bull into the trailer assisted by the second handler who has the bull held at some length by the pole. Once in the trailer the bull is restrained and tied in. The trailer is then pulled to the collection barn. The bull is then led out using the same method and again tied down by its nose ring.

When the bulls are being collected there are long rows of restrained bulls all tied down. As we walked down this row, the scientist told us that if the bulls were not tied as they were ,,they were likely to attack at any time.

When they are being collected the handler is always protected by railings. He is never in contact with the bull. Such is the respect that the Dairy Board has for the unpredictability and hazards of bulls.

It has been my experience that Dairy bulls are much more dangerous then beef bulls , but nevertheless their thought processes will be the same.

Waigroup was invited to a new semen collection centre of which the owner was very proud. We noticed that there was only one handler and that he was picking up the bulls on his own and leading them in. We voiced our concern about the safety of the handler only to be told that the manager had a lifetime experience in the industry and knew all about bulls. The handler was killed a month later picking up a charalois bull.


We are experiencing a superb Autumn after our non summer and it has been the best grass growing season that I have ever seen. Our country is usually very dry in the heat of summer and the clover disappears around Christmas But this year the clover has been in profusion all year.
Clovers being a legume add nitrogen to the soils, it is also very palatable and stock do very well on it. So there has been grass everywhere with the resulting effect on the stock.
This has not been general however as feed conditions have varied. In the dairy industry and due to summer storms the power has been off for milking and floods and damage have limited production. Nevertheless it has still been a record season for the dairy industry.

Back to the breeding programme
After about 20years, Dr Ch’ang advised us to move into the third stage. Which involved forming an Elite herd.
The most expensive part of beef production is weaning weight. Grass to cow, to milk, to calf. Too many variables! So we were going to set out to improve weaning weight.

It was decided that we should select the very best cows from each herd and combine them into an Elite herd.
This herd was formed to be the stud bull unit for the four base herds. We would select the best 12 bulls produced in the Elite. Each base herds would have three Elite bulls allocated to it each year. These bulls would have the same average performance levels. They would be a representative of the four base herd in each mob . Each base herd in addition would add its own best bull to its sire team.
So it would have its three Elite bulls and its own best bull in its sire team. The bulls used in the base herds were progeny tested. The winning four bulls became the sires in the Elite herd with a change of bulls made every year.
Past records were carried forward and all calves were weighed at birth as were all the Waigroup calves.

We then began to select the Elite cows from the base herds. These cows must have had at least three calves all above average in performance, and have never missed a calving.
We took 10 cows from each base herds giving us 40 cows in the elite herd in the beginning. All cows entering the Elite were in calf.
This herd was moved onto a separate farm so that its environment would be the same, with its own manager.
The Elite herd went under the name of Waigroup and this name was included after the stud name such as Pinebank Waigroup, Glanworth Waigroup etc in the Elite herd identification.

The first calving produced bull Waigroup 1/80. This bull was ahead of any other bull in his year and was the bull, when progeny tested in United States who created such a stir. There is no doubt that he was, and still is, a bull who was well ahead in all the important economic characters.
He was bred out of pure Pinebank stock and was conceived before his mother entered the Elite herd. He was bred as a dam bred sire , but his growth, was such as to put him in the top for growth of the bulls in the progeny test among which were the top bulls for growth in the States at that time. He also came out in the top 2% of bulls for carcase in America at that time.

In the American test a mob of commercial heifers were used which meant that none of the progeny could be used. I am sure that the Americans were quite confident of winning all the tests. Our bull was bred as a dam sire, so his contribution could have been considerable if the resulting heifers could have been used.

He went on to make an impact in Australia and New Zealand. To this day we retain semen from him and put him through our herds occasionally to check on our progress. He was out of the best cow I had bred up to that date.
Although today he is well behind in growth ,his cows still measure up very well. Remembering that the cows are well behind the bulls in generation turnover.

First calving of the Elite herd was in 1978 and it ran until 1986 when there was an economic crash in agriculture in New Zealand. The Elite herd was very expensive to administer. When the crash came it was unsustainable, we abandoned it, and the cows were returned to their owners, and the farm sold.

In hindsight there were some interesting analysis I could have used but at that time it was a case of survival.
It would have been interesting to see what impact the Elite herd had on weaning weight! It would have been interesting to see where the base herd’s top bulls measure up against the Elite sires!
Two questions that still require answers today!


Explanation of the Breeding Programme. And How and Why it Works.

In 1962 Dr Ch’ang (TS) and I set up the Angus Breeding programme in the Pinebank herd. In the beginning we kept all our existing sires for the following year and added our best rising 2 year bull to the sires. The exercise was as much a demonstration to me about what would happen, as it was to begin the programme. The herds best bull came out on top thus proving the saying “that any animal is only as good as the average of its progeny so its best progeny is better than its sire”.

I then continued to use our own best 2year old bulls. We were seeking our herd’s pattern of growth, (all bulls grow at different periods) and looking for recessive genes that might residual in the herd.

At this stage we were selecting for growth, the heritability of which is slightly higher for 2year olds than for yearlings. Not because the heritability alters ,but because you have more information to calculate it from. At this stage we had no idea that we would eventually be using yearling bulls.
We had already moved into the Bulmar effect, which was problem No1, with its resulting deteriorating effect on performance.

After two years on my own I was approached individually by three other breeders who wanted access to the programme. It was decided that we should all look over each others cattle and have a meeting with TS at my place. I agreed to involve the other herds for two reasons. Firstly because the bigger the population the faster the programme goes because the variation is higher. Secondly to achieve a political force in the Angus Association. At this stage our programme was being treated as a joke but 800 registered cows would make a real impact in the Association.
During the viewing of each breeder’s sires, we noted there was a bull in the Tupurupuru herd with high performance that look quite different!
The other three members decided they had to have the right not to use such a bull if they wished. After T.S. had addressed the group the three new members voiced their concern. I said, we use the Tupurupuru bull and will use any bull if its performance is high, regardless of its appearance, as long as it is physically sound. Anyone who was not prepared to do so could leave right now. No one left.

In the begining T.S.said he had no idea what was going to appear because what we were doing nobody had ever done before. This was incorrect as we both knew about the No1. Hereford line at Miles City, Montana which had been closed since 1935, I believe.

After the herd had been closed for 10 years we came across problem No2.
All animals have many genes not all of which are exhibited in its phenotype , when you close a herd and concentrate genetic material , then those genes that have not been exhibited begin to show. Angus cattle in N.Z have always had trouble with feet, it is one of the major causes of culling. In our Pinebank herd we never considered we had a foot problem, but in the closed herd, bad feet began to appear.
It got steadily worse until approx 80% of our sale bulls went out with bad feet. I rang T.S. about this problem pointing out that I could not continue at this level. He said “ Hang on in there, you will go over the top”. We did and the next year we had no bad feet and have had very few since. Our bulls feet are guaranteed and we very seldom have to replace any.
After about 10 years we had overcome the Bulmar effect, and the bad feet and we were on our way.

We had been selecting for growth which is a highly heritable trait, and so progress can be quite rapid. At the same time T.S. suggested I should begin mating yearling heifers. It was no use having this mob of females running around being unproductive, when they could rear a calf. Up to this time, it was not normal practise, in fact we were told that it could not be done successfully. But TS pointed out that the industry would eventually demand it, and we should be ahead of demand. I began mating yearling heifers, but I was the only one in the group to do so. I would be surprised if there was anyone else in New Zealand mating them at that time.

Mating yearling heifers and selecting for growth do not go together. Because as your cattle begin to grow faster, birth weights increase. Birth weights and fast growth are highly correlated.
An American Scientist who turned up at this stage told me that doing this would result in dystokia (calving problems). That was when I began weighing at birth to see what was happening to birth weights. He was right.

I was pulling calves all day and losing many heifers and calves. This was obviously not going to work. Research told me the major part of foetal growth was in the last week to calving, so I dropped their feed to maintenance.
This is detrimental to the successful management of calving yearling heifers as body weight must be retained up to calving and then the heifers must be fed to the absolute maximum while they are lactating. This is necessary to get them back in calf and this is important as it is no use getting a calf out of heifers if they are dry the following year.

Selecting for low birth weights resulted in a lessening of 600day weights. Then we discovered there were some bulls who could have low birth weights and still have high 600 day weights, so we began using them. On examining their data later, we found it was due to shortened gestation. This is quite an important economic characteristic. In the beef herds it makes the calving much more successful and brings the cow back in season earlier, and in the dairy industry, it gives them extra milking time.


2012 has begun very well for us in our district. Every time the grass has begun to dry off, turn to stalk and begin to seed, we have had a very good warm rain. Grass is every where and the stock are doing very well. This is on top of a lift in prices.
The economics of any enterprise is the multitude of products it produces and the number of markets those products go to. In New Zealand we produce on the standard farm about 8 products. Four in cattle and four in sheep. This gives us that flexability to move to the best market in any one year. Our biggest problem is the cost of getting our products to markets, and what is worse, a government that has never discovered agriculture and treats us as its private bank. Just keeps loading us with costs and then complains when the price of food rises.

This Newsletter is an explanation of the meaning of the saying:

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

What happens in a programme like ours is that as the average rises, so does the top by the same amount ,thus keeping the variation the same. This means that if we have variation and the top is + 50 kilos above and the average of the sires that we select is +30 and we are selecting for growth, then we should in that year make a gain of +15.
But because of our multifactor selection we would be lucky to make +2.

The fact that there is no end to the improvement is because with the millions of genes involved there are endless combinations.

There are no two people in the world that are identical just the same as there no two cows or bulls or anything biological for that matter; I do not know about identical twins? I must find out but in those that I know there some minor differences which to me would indicate that their codes have some minor differences.

The big problem is going to be for future generations of my family to keep the programme going in its entirety. Interestingly, it is much easier to run the programme than it is to go out and purchase bulls. William has never been through the hassle that that creates and the number of times that you make a mistake, by buying a completely unsuitable bull. And then you are stuck with it, especially if it cost you a lot which they frequently do!

Just to run through how we select our sires each year. We use four bulls per 100 cows and as we have about 300 cows we require about 12 bulls. We use this number of bulls not because our bulls are of low fertility but because every year we want to make sure that we hit the best bull.
These bulls are then put out with randomised cows but no halfsibs or mothers or close relations. This is to prevent inbreeding as much as possible.

So we select the top 20 bulls on ‘beefplan records’. Then we go through the bulls for physical soundness. Then we go through them for temperment. Then for anything that we do not like we throw them out. We always have room for a bull that attracts our attention for some reason and that we consider to be worth a try.
These bulls are yearlings so they are observed closely when they go out , to see how long it takes for a bull to begin working.

Each bull is carefully progeny tested. Having been doing this since 1965 we have a good idea how a bull is performing as soon as we begin weighing his calves.
If a bull is good, we use a number of his sons. If he is not good we do not want to know about him. Remembering that each son is out of a different cow.


We are into Summer and so far we are having a wonderful season, long may it last!
Whereas it is usually becoming dry at this time of year, we have had rain storms at regular intervals right through wth the resulting growth in green grass. Not only that but the bottom has remained so the grass remains at high quality.
There has been some flooding in Australia and in other district in New Zealand but we have missed out and are just having a little colder season than normal and a lot wetter. Results are that all the stock are in good condition which will mean good conceptions this year.

How do grassbred cattle handle dry-lots?

This has been a frequently asked question and it occupies many breeders minds. Has selection for dry-lot changed the enzymes in the gut of cattle and made them different to those cattle selected for total grass production?
We have had two chances to look at just this exercises. I shall explain to you in both instances what occurred
The first one occurred in the mid 1980’s when we sent semen from a bull of ours to America to take part in a progeny test against the top growth bulls in the States at that time. The idea then was to test a top bull from each country against American cattle to get some idea where each country’s performance lay.
Although we paid $5000 for our bull being tested, at no time was I informed about any other countrys bulls being involved. I understood that commercial heifers had been purchased to be used and were randomised to each bull.
This is what you would expect if the test was to have any scientific credence.
I had been informed, by the then Secretary, that all bulls coming into the States had their raw data automatically penalise 20% before entering their recording program.
American data has no penalty entering New Zealand’s program.
Maybe. if this test had a scientific input, our bulls data maynot have been penalised

I never ever received any written information. All I got was telephoned results at the end of each period, calving, weaning preparation for dry-lot, then silence. I have been unable to get any information since. But this is what I do know.
The stud herd that ran the trial calved his herd and the experimental herd inside.
Remember that I do not know whether any other country’s bulls were involved or just ours. I only know about our bull’s behaviour.
They pulled just as many calves from our bull as any other bull. We had never pulled a calf from our bull, which indicates to me that they pulled the calves too early, but that is reasonable since it was an experiment, and they wished to get as many live calves as possible representing each bull.

Our bull kept right up with the other bulls, in fact was in the middle at weaning.
Retained his place at yearling, much to everyone’s surprise, and was now approaching dry-lot.
I anticipated that when our bull’s progeny was on drylot they would fall behind as there had been no selection applied for this characteristic. The other sires had many generations of selection on grain.

Since then the data and contacts have disappeared. I believe that the American Angus Assn. has a copy but they will not give me the data so I can only believe that our bull began to grow very fast and was the heaviest.
What I do know, is that our bull came out in the top 2% of his years bulls for carcase analysis.

So bulls selected on grass alone can and do perform on drylot.

Our bull was Waigroup 1/80 and he went on to do very well in Australia and we still have semen from him in store . Every now and again we use him just to run a check on how the performance is going in the Waigroup herds He is well behind now.

We also were involved in an experiment with Virgina Polytechnic Institute and State University Blacksburg 24061, in 1987 with Dr Bill Hohenbocken. He ran an experiment with his genetics degree students to see if there was any difference in the gut of bulls that had been selected for grass production as opposed to those bulls selected for dry-lot.

My next Newsletter will cover this experiment.


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