“A good manager must be in love with results.” A sound breeding program, oriented towards results, should be based on the Five Principles of Livestock Breeding.
The first principle is to select only for the six Essentials: Disposition, Fertility, Weight, Conformation, Milk Production, and Hardiness. Long-range objectives must be clearly defined, drastically limited and ruthlessly executed. The immediate objective of any effective breeding program is to make each generation obsolete as quickly as possible. The Six Essentials constitute the Standard of Excellence against which Tom Lasater evaluates his cattle. These are the keystones in his philosophy of cattle raising, and each the subject of a chapter in this book. The more objectives are limited, the faster they can be achieved.
The second principle is to strive for reproductive efficiency. Until the calf is standing in the weaning pen, all else is academic. Reproductive efficiency consists of weaning a high percentage calf-crop while employing certain practices are (1) to keep 80% or more of each heifer crop and (2) to breed them at around 13-months-of-age for a short season of 65 days or less.
The third principle is to performance test in a constant environment. Tom Lasater has often said, “Livestock should be bred, born, raised, performance tested and sold under the conditions in which they will produce.” If there were a breeder of equal ability in every geographical area, there would be no need for long-distance movement of breeding stock.
The fourth principle is to employ direct selection, which means selecting for the specific traits sought and not for a combination the breeder hopes will produce the desired results. If weight is desired, one should select for it by using scales and not by trying to “eyeball” the cattle. Rate of heritability is of little importance in a selection program. If fertility is desired one must select for it regardless; by the same token, if a trait is not needed, don’t select for it, regardless. In 1925, E Parmalee Prentice was asked what the American dairy cow of the future would look like. He defined direct selection when he answered, “she will look like a cow that gives a hell of a lot of milk.”
The fifth principle is to utilize the adaptive powers of nature. Tom Lasater’s policy is to ask the impossible, and he often gets it. However, he recognizes that his “credit” with nature is limited; therefore, he limits his requests accordingly. For example, my father demands that his replacement heifers calve by twenty-four months of age and wean a heavy, long-age calf that year and each year thereafter. He does not also demand that these calves have a certain color haircaot or other irrelevant characteristics.
There are carious steps involved in establishing a sound breeding program based on the six Essentials. The first is to select the breed best suited to the environment in which cattle are to be raised and a breed genetically able to produce the desired results in that environment. Six hundred pound calves are not produced by breed with a calf-crop average of four hundred pounds. The second step is to obtain the best genetic material the business can afford, either through the purchase of seed stock or through artificial insemination. Thirdly, when a large enough and good enough gene pool has been created, close the herd and select for the Six Essentials. The mistake of closing the herd while better genes are available should not be made. Anyone not satisfied with the breed now in existence can create his own breed by making a three-way cross of those which apparently offer the most for his environment and then by following Step Three. It has been firmly established that the three-way cross is the most potent combination available to the cattle producer. Since time is usually of the essence, and there are many excellent herds of varied breeds available, any herd may be vastly upgraded in three generations, providing top sires or semen from same is used. Artificial insemination will greatly expedite the process.
The adoption of any permanent crossbreeding program is not recommended because of certain marked disadvantages. Some are very cumbersome from the management standpoint. Some crossbreeding programs necessitate always buying replacement stock with the recurrent expense, disease risk, dependence on another producer and problems of moving cattle and adapting them to a new environment each year. Any crossbreeding program limits the producer to a static herd, closing to him the profitable avenue of grading-up to a clearly defined, reputable and valuable herd of cattle. An outcross is, however indispensable in any existing herd whose rate of productivity in any essential characteristic, such as weaning weight, is below the rate available from another breed or line.
The cow-calf man should produce high-performance cattle and sell them effectively. To do this, he should select exclusively for beef-producing characteristics and retain ownership of his cattle at least through the feedlot. Cattle embodying the Six Essentials to a high degree will automatically be high-performing cattle at every stage. Heavy-weaning calves are efficient feeders. Long-bodied calves are heavy weaners. Long-bodied cattle yield a high percentage of primal retail cuts, and so on. “Form follows function.” Nature has correlated many desirable characteristics in breed cattle. A sound breeding program, based on the Five Principles of Livestock Breeding, will take advantage of this correlation with the result that the cattle in question will improve rapidly in all areas, including many that the breeder has not planned. The basis for cattle breeding and range management is an understanding on the part of the rancher that he is laboring within a finely-turned universe that functions better as he interferes less.