Parentstock Perspectives

 
Watching the Corn Grow 
Dwight W. Elmore
July 17, 2010
 
For a couple summers I worked in the seed corn fields for Pioneer. My responsibilities were assuring that the rows designated as the female rows were appropriately detasselled and that the rows designated as males were left tassel-intact to shed pollen. The seed fields were where two parent lines were crossed to produce a hybrid. Prior to the detasselling phase, Pioneer had other people hired that cleaned the seed fields of rogues.

Rogues were corn plants that were not uniform within their designated rows. All the plants in the male rows were to look alike and all of the plants in the female rows were to look alike. Rogues were noticeably larger, noticeably smaller, or just noticeably different from their contemporaries. If we were to put rogues in terms that cattle breeders use they would be known as outliers, and Pioneer didn’t like outliers in their fields.

Culling the outliers partially contradicts conventional cattle breeding methods. Conventional cattle breeding dictates the culling of below average members of the contemporary groups and promotes the individuals that exceed the contemporary average. Conventional cattle breeding esteems those that have production ratios of 110 or above for most measured traits, most especially from large contemporary groups. Rarely does conventional cattle breeding praise the average members of the contemporary group.

Needless to say, methods for breeding corn and breeding cattle are different. Did it always used to be that way? No. People that used to breed corn practiced the same methods that conventional cattle breeding does today.

It used to be that a person that grew corn went out to the corn crib and selected the best ears of corn to be seed for the next crop to be planted. This is using one of the basic tools of breeding: selection. This is putting into action the phrase, “Breed the best to the best and forget the rest.” If you grew corn then you had to be your own geneticist, whether you realized it or not.

Was there genetic improvement? Yes, from the standpoint that it was possible to pick out some extraordinary ears to be parent seed, but not much in terms of greater uniformity of plants field-wide. Relative to the introduction of hybrid seed corn there was not much increase in yields for commercial corn farming, due to genetics.

Corn farming was revolutionized when Henry Wallace and Roswell Garst started marketing hybrid seed corn. It was soon noticed that fields of hybrid corn were more uniform and had out yielded the conventional corn of the day. There were less individually magnificent ears produced relative to their populations due to an increase in homozygosity. Conversely, there were less “cull ears” (those that traditionally would not have even been considered to be retained for seed) and the overall yield was greater.

Another aspect of this row crop genetic revolution was that the commercial corn farmer no longer had to be his own geneticist. The commercial farmer, knowingly or not, started to rely on the geneticist that created the hybrids and no longer had the responsibility of breeding his own corn.

Hybrid seed works so dynamically well because it is the result of crossing inbred parent lines. Inbreeding and continuous selection are the tools used in plant breeding to develop parent lines. Prepotency is another term used to describe being highly homozygous. It is the ability to genetically impress its characteristics upon the next generation. If a plant is homozygous for a particular set of genes and it supplies half of the genetics for the next generation it becomes rather predictable what the next generation will inherit from the parent.

So why should parent lines be prepotent? Because Prepotency means being homozygous for specific traits. When they are crossed with other lines the result is a plant that has inherited the characteristics (genetics) that were homozygous in not just one of the parent lines, but both! Ah ha! We have finally achieved the best of both worlds (both parent lines) and we can predict the outcome in a generation that has yet to be born. Makes this corn breeding thing rather interesting, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to do the same with cattle?

Were corn breeders really turn the crank, and take advantage of using inbred parent lines, is crossing two parents that are the product of different crossed inbred lines themselves. For example, breeding a male produced from mating Line “A” with Line “B” with a female that is produced from mating Line “C” with Line “D.” This brings the benefits of 4 parent lines into one predictable hybrid. How can they do that, if the parents are themselves “hybrids”? It is because they were the product of inbred parent lines that were bred to be homozygous for the traits that were desired in the final hybrid.

Corn breeders can achieve this because there are available parent lines that have been developed (inbred) to be prepotent for specific traits while still being functional in other traits. Studying the tremendous success of plant breeders has made some cattlemen wonder what may be achieved if there were several specific lines of parentstock available for breeding cattle and creating true hybrids like the plant breeders have done. Wouldn’t it be sweet if a “purebred” producer had some parent lines to increase the predictability of the bulls he has for sale, which would increase the predictability of the calves his bulls will sire for the commercial producer? What about the commercial producer that locates a parent line and is able to benefit from it directly, without the additional crossing from the “purebred” producer?

If you are a commercial cow/calf producer you are probably thinking that the beef industry is presently somewhere between using selected home grown parent stock (from the “corn crib”) and taking advantage of true hybrids similar to how commercial corn farming was revolutionized. This ranges from retaining crossbred females and rotating breeds of bulls or buying females of one particular genetic makeup and crossing them with bulls of a different genetic makeup.

It may make some people heads spin to consider how different breeding cattle would be if cattlemen had the same amount of predictable, reliable genetic material like the plant breeders have the luxury of working with. The truth is that there are may not be any cattle parent lines that will be as homozygous as the ones plant breeders utilize. The biggest reason is that plant lines can take advantage of selfing, where a plant is “bred” to itself. This is as extreme as inbreeding gets. Cattle cannot do this as some are bulls and some are females, but none are fully functional male and female in the same animal, like corn is.

The nearest that can be achieved in animal breeding is closebreeding (inbreeding and/or linebreeding, depending who you talk to.) Some are opposed to closebreeding as it causes genetic defects to surface. That is only a hinderence if the genetic defects are not purged from the parent line. If the genetic defect is purges (culled like a rogue in the seed field) then it is not allowed to perpetuate in the parent line. A good breeder of a parent line will also work to eliminate traits thought to be substandard, while increasing the homozygosis (prepotency) of the parent line.

Seed companies understand the value of parent lines so well that they still work on culling the rogues, even in the seed fields after multiple generations of breeding for genetic homozygous. Their relentless attention for quality is admirable, but also practical. If they let the quality of their genetics slip they know the commercial farmers will go to another company that sells predictable, uniform results. Maybe you should ask your seedstock provider about the parentlines they are using, or more importantly are they culling all of the rogues for you?

Just like the corn farmer prior to the days of hybrid seed corn, if you are breeding cattle (commercial or purebred) then you are your own geneticist. You may love it or you may hate it, but you will literally reap what you sow. Perhaps you may want to utilize parentstock yourself or just require that your seedstock provider (your seed company for bulls) uses parentstock to increase the odds your that next calf crop will be more predictable.

The next time you hear someone tease a farmer about sitting back and watching the corn grow, maybe it’s the farmer that is getting the last laugh. I was raised in the middle of a corn field and watching the corn grow helped me see what is possible. Please keep in mind that this is not my original idea to use the applied principles of the corn breeders for livestock production. The swine and poultry people have been doing this for a long time now and have proven it to work. I wonder if they got the idea from just sitting back and watching the corn grow?

 
 
 
 

 
Technobabble
Dwight W. Elmore
November 12, 2009 
 
Technobabble is a word that has intrigued me for some time. I have felt fairly confident that I understood its definition and implementation, but out of curiosity I turned to the easily accessible website, Wikipedia.
 
According to Wickipedia, the word technobbable “…is a form of prose using jargon, buzzwords and highly esoteric language to give an impression of plausibility through mystification, misdirection, and obfuscation. Someone who doesn’t understand a technical description that necessarily contains many technical terms may describe it as technobabble, but it also can describe prose intentionally made obscure through gratuitous technical terms and technical slang.
 
Various fields of practice and industry have their own specialized vocabularies (jargon) to convey specific features in a concise manner to those educated in that industry, which would otherwise appear confusing or nonsensical to an outside listener. Additionally, sound use of jargon concisely conveys information (even if that information is not fully understood by the listener). Conversely technobabble can obscure the truth of a situation by overdressing the words and concepts.”
 
Additionally, Wickipedia continues onto a section titled "Common uses."
Authors and others who wish to convey a feeling of technical sophistication may write or talk in technobable. They may use jargon without considering what it actually means to give an impression that they know things that their readers or listeners do not. However, if the jargon is decoded it becomes apparent that the originator does not really understand what had been said or is deliberately being unclear. When used in this way, technobabble is considered pretentious and often unacceptable. If used inappropriately even novice listeners can often detect that nonsense is being spouted forth.”
 
My citing of the above Wikiipedia references were obtained from
 
If you asked a seasoned cowman, with years of experience what he thinks the term technobabble means, would he say it sounds like a fancy word for “B.S.”?
 
As consumers, I have sometimes wondered if we are seeing more technobabble in advertisements that we are consciously aware of. This then had made me wonder if some of the terms I use are being interpreted as technobabble. Therefore, in attempt to reduce the occurrence of misinterpretation, I believe it would be best for me to provide my definitions of some of the terms I use. The following are some of those terms.
 
Closebreeding: A term I use to encompass both the practice of inbreeding and linebreeding. I prefer to use this term to avoid wasting time in unproductive debates over semantics. Often I’ve heard the humor-intended statement, “If it works, it’s called linebreeding and if it doesn’t it’s called inbreeding.” I find statements like this to be a prime example of technobabble. Boiled down, the truest difference between inbreeding and linebreeding is the degree of risk one is willing to take in relation to their selection ability and/or selection availability.
 
Linebreeding: Producing animals that have the same ancestor appear a minimum of two times in a five generation pedigree. Additionally, that ancestor has to appear at least once through the sire side of the pedigree and also at least once through the dam side of the pedigree. One ancestor cannot mathematically contribute to more than 50% of the individual’s pedigree. I don’t consider an animal to be linebred if it doesn’t have an ancestor contribute more than 18.75%, and still show up on both sides of the pedigree. I appreciate that level to be at least 25%, but that is just personal preference.
 
Inbreeding: Producing animals that have an ancestor mathematically contribute more than 50% of a pedigree.
 
Closed herd: A herd of animals in which no “outside” animals are allowed to genetically contribute. This is predominantly used to distinguish an individual herd of animals descended from specific set of foundation animals, most commonly of single ownership.
 
Parentstock: A term I prefer over “seedstock,” as it keeps me mindful that the breeding animals I choose today are going to be the parents of the next generation tomorrow. To me the word parent connotes a more natural, almost instinctual, obligation and responsibility to the next generation, as opposed to being just a DNA grouping. I want to breed animals, not just throw out another generation from which to sort. Using the term parentstock keeps me mindful of that. It reminds me of the responsibility I have as a breeder.
 
Strain: A strain is a breed within a breed. It is a subpopulation that has characteristics genetically unique from its larger general population.
 
I deliberately use the term closebreeding to describe our breeding program to differentiate what we are doing from others that may be using the term linebred only as a means to marketing their cattle. There are breeders that really do linebred their cattle according to my interpretation, but there are a lot of people that say they are linebreeding that may not be linebreeding.
 
Some may find me too conservative with the terms I use while others will find me too liberal. It might be best to ask your parentstock provider exactly what they mean when they use the terms linebred, inbred, or seedstock. If you are relying on them for your parentstock purchases then they should be able to tell you. Shouldn’t they? Their definitions and the ones I use may be different, but at least you may now better understand the direction each of us are coming from. You may have a better understanding and appreciation of what your present parentstock provider is doing as well. Hopefully, I have been able to clarify my definitions and have reduced the amount of technobabble that some, including myself, may have been inadvertently using.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Nov. 2009 Stockman Grassfarmer
 
Some of you were pleasantly suprised to see us mentioned
recently in the Stockman Grassfarmer.  The following is what
 it looked like before final editing.  We were pleased that very,
very few changes were made before it went to print.  ---Dwight
 
Some cattlemen are really good cattlemen, but are not geneticist. Some geneticists are really good geneticists, but are not cattlemen. Steadfast Beef is a genetics company that makes available really good, brood cow building genetics for cattlemen. There is more to genetics than being an “EPD Accountant."
Steadfast Beef is developing a strain of B571 Red Angus parentstock that will transmit low birth weights and calving ease with aggressive grazing aptitude in a docile package. This is done by implementing the tools of closebreeding to increase levels of homozygosis which result in greater predictability and uniformity.
 
Utilizing highly homozygous parentstock is the only way to consistently take advantage of the greatest benefits of heterosis (aka hybrid vigor.) Steadfast Beef believes parentstock should be homozygous for more than just coat color, distinctive hide markings, or being horned or polled.
 
You may love it or you may hate it, but you are your own geneticist. Steadfast Beef can help you determine if the Steadfast B571 Strain will help you towards your goals. Closebreeding isn't a buzzword at Steadfast Beef, it's actually used. You can see what individuals the Steadfast B571 Strain of cattle are actually closebred to.
 
2009 was the inaugural year for semen sales and Steadfast Beef sold out quickly. Semen was used in five states and some is already being reserved in future collections. Semen is delivered free in the continental U.S. for orders of 30 or more units with volume discounts available. Visit the website www.SteadfastBeef.com
 
Contact Dwight Elmore, Steadfast Beef, 425 Cimarron Road, Inman, Kansas 67546, (620) 899-0770, or e-mail Dwight@SteadfastBeef.com.


 
 
 
 
 
 
Wrestling with the Bulls
Dwight W. Elmore
October 25, 2009
 
Ask anyone about professional wrestling and you will receive their opinion. The most popular reply will be,
It's all fake. Isn't it amazing how so many that impart that bit of wisdom also believe that they are sharing a revelation? Whether you enjoy professional wrestling or not, it has true entertainment value in both fantasy and reality perspectives.
 
From a fantasy perspective professional wrestling provides an avenue for some to vent their frustrations vicariously, without speaking a word while maintaining their dignity. This entertainment can also be thought of as a testosterone-laden soap opera for manly men. 
 
One of the reality qualities of professional wrestling is that the wrestlers are some rather fine athletes. Who else can take as many falls, week after week, and not get hurt? Granted, there are injuries, but some of these athletes perform every week for a year or more straight. Some perform into their fifties. Keep in mind that a forty year old in the NFL is rare. 
 
Another reality perspective of professional wrestling is that the athletes have to be reinvented to stay marketable or maintain our interest. How many times have you noticed a wrestler personality switch from someone the fans adore to someone that receives stadium boo's? To ensure an athlete's career in professional wrestling that athlete has to be successfully reinvented. 
 
Vince McMahon, CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, the most successful wrestling entertainment operation has been quoted as saying, "If you stop building stars, which we never do, you wouldn't be in business." 
 
One of the entertainment values received by those that breed cattle is the constant re-invention of a herd's genetics. Some feel that the only way to achieve this is by using something different. Their first herdsire was sired by “Whiz Bang” and their next was sired by “Holy Smoke”, etc. It creates entertainment every time we turn the pages of a new edition of a breed association magazine. Who is using what now? You probably can't wait to see next month's issue, or can you? 
 
There are very few that can find either entertainment or excitement in a closebreeding program. Closebreeders don't do a lot of changing. A true closebreeder works to create a whole herd that is homozygous for the characteristics he/she believes ideal. Every calf crop should be more genetically similar than the one preceding it. Over time their cattle will be near the same genetically. Their herd will become predictable. They will not be brought up in conversations such as, Did you hear so-and-so just bought a herdbull sired by 'Purple Ribbon' from such-and-such? A true closebreeder's herd will have fewer and fewer genetic outliers with each successive calf crop due to an increased level of homozygosis. 
 
A true closebreeder's herd will be about as entertaining as a professional wrestler's career if he were the same personality week after week and his matches always ended the same. After a while his fans will lose their enthusiasm. The wrestler will be as exciting to watch as trying to predict the answer to what two plus two equals, but then again I think there are a lot of people that like the odds of betting on the predictable. 
 
There are some cattle breeders that value predictability and consistency over entertainment. If you are one of those breeders you will be able to appreciate what we are doing. You know that two plus two equals four and you like it that way. You know that the best way to harness heterosis is by using seedstock with a high level of homozygosis. 
 
The method we use to increase homozygosis in our genepool is closebreeding, one of the most powerful tools to do so. If you are breeding cattle for a living and not for entertainment then perhaps we should visit and determine if we would be a good fit as one of your genetic providers, unless of course you like "wrestling" with your parentstock purchases.
 
 
 
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