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Crossing And Breeding

Category: History and Breeds

The raising of cattle has now become a source of profit in many
sections,--to a greater extent, at least, than formerly--and it becomes
a matter of great practical importance to our farmers to take the proper
steps to improve them. Indeed, the questions--what are the best breeds,
and what are the best crosses, and how shall I improve my stock--are now
asked almost daily; and their practical solution would add many thousand
dollars to the aggregate wealth of the farmers of the country, if they
would all study their own interests.

The time is gradually passing away when the intelligent practical farmer
will be willing to put his cows to any bull, simply because his services
may be had for twenty-five cents; for, even if the progeny is to go to
the butcher, the calf sired by a pure-bred bull--particularly of a race
distinguished for fineness of bone, symmetry of form, and early
maturity--will bring a much higher price at the same age than a calf
sired by a scrub. Blood has a money value, which will, sooner or later,
be generally appreciated.

The first and most important object of the farmer is to get the greatest
return in money for his labor and his produce; and it is for his
interest to obtain an animal--a calf, for example--that will yield the
largest profit on the outlay. If a calf, for which the original outlay
was five dollars, will bring at the same age and on the same keep more
real net profit than another, the original outlay for which was not
twenty-five cents, it is certainly for the farmer's interest to make the
heavier original outlay and thus secure the superior animal. Setting all
fancy aside, it is merely a question of dollars and cents; but one thing
is certain--and that is, that no farmer can afford to keep poor stock.
It eats as much, and requires nearly the same amount of care and
attention, as stock of the best quality; while it is equally certain
that stock of ever so good a quality, whether grade, native, or
thorough-bred, will be sure to deteriorate and sink to the level of poor
stock by neglect and want of proper attention.

How, then, is our stock to be improved? Not, certainly, by that
indiscriminate crossing, with a total disregard of all well-established
principles, which has thus far marked our efforts with foreign stock,
and which is one prominent reason why so little improvement has been
made in our dairies; nor by leaving all the results to chance, when, by
a careful and judicious selection, they may be within our own control.

We want cattle for distinct purposes, as for milk, beef, or labor. In a
large majority of cases--especially in the dairy districts, at least,
comprising the Eastern and Middle States--the farmer cares more for the
milking qualities of his cows, especially for the quantity they give,
than for their fitness for grazing, or aptness to fatten. These latter
points become more important in the Western and some of the Southern
States, where much greater attention is paid to breeding and to feeding,
and where comparatively slight attention is given to the productions of
the dairy. A stock of cattle which would suit one farmer might be wholly
unsuited to another, and in such particular case the breeder should have
some special object in view, and select his animals with reference to

There are, however, some well-defined general principles that apply to
breeding everywhere, and which, in many cases, are not thoroughly
understood. To these attention will now be directed.

The first and most important of the laws to be considered in this
connection is that of similarity. It is by virtue of this law that the
peculiar characters, properties, and qualities of the parents--whether
external or internal, good or bad, healthy or diseased--are transmitted
to their offspring. This is one of the plainest and most certain of the
laws of nature. The lesson which it teaches may be stated in five
words:--Breed only from the best.

Judicious selection is indispensable to success in breeding, and this
should have regard to every particular--general appearance, length of
limb, shape of carcass, development of chest; in cattle, to the size,
shape, and position of the udder, thickness of skin, touch, length and
texture of hair, docility, and all those points which go to make up the
desirable animal.

Not only should care be exercised to avoid structural defects, but
especially to secure freedom from hereditary diseases; as both defects
and diseases appear to be more easily transmissible than desirable
qualities. There is, oftentimes, no obvious peculiarity of structure or
appearance which suggests the possession of diseases or defects which
are transmissible; and for this reason, special care and continued
acquaintance are requisite in order to be assured of their absence in
breeding animals; but such a tendency, although invisible or
inappreciable to careless observers, must still, judging from its
effects, have as real and certain an existence as any peculiarity of
form or color.

In neat cattle, hereditary diseases do not usually show themselves at
birth; and sometimes the tendency remains latent for many years, perhaps
through one or two generations, and afterward breaks out with all its
former severity. The diseases which are found hereditary in cattle are
scrofula, consumption, dysentery, diarrhoea, rheumatism, and malignant
tumors. As these animals are less exposed to the exciting causes of
disease, and less liable to be overtasked or subjected to violent
changes of temperature, or otherwise put in jeopardy, their diseases are
not so numerous as those of the horse, and what they have are less
violent, and generally of a chronic character.

With regard to hereditary diseases, it is eminently true that "an ounce
of prevention is worth a pound of cure." As a general and almost
invariable rule, animals possessing either defects or a tendency to
disease, should not be employed for breeding. If, however, for special
reasons it seems desirable to breed from one which has some slight
defect of symmetry, or a faint tendency to disease--although for the
latter it is doubtful whether the possession of any good qualities can
fully compensate--it should be mated with one which excels in every
respect in which it is itself deficient, and on no account with one
which is near of kin to it.

There is another law, by which that of similarity is greatly
modified--the law of Variation or divergence.

All animals possess a certain flexibility or pliancy of organization,
which renders them capable of change to a greater or less extent. When
in a state of nature, variations are comparatively slow and infrequent;
but when in a state of domestication they occur much oftener and to a
much greater extent. The greater variability in the latter case is
doubtless owing, in some measure, to our domestic productions' being
reared under conditions of life not so uniform as, and different from,
those to which the parent species was exposed in a state of nature.

Among what are usually reckoned the more active causes of variation may
be named climate, food, and habit. Animals in a cold climate are
provided with a thicker covering of hair than in warmer ones. Indeed, it
is said that in some of the tropical provinces of South America, there
are cattle which have an extremely rare and fine fur, in place of the
ordinary pile of hair. The supply of food, whether abundant or scanty,
is one of the most efficient causes of variation known to be within the
control of man. A due consideration of the natural effects of climate
and food is a point worthy the careful attention of the
stock-husbandman. If the breeds employed be well adapted to the
situation, and the capacity of the soil be such as to feed them fully,
profit may be safely anticipated. Animals are to be regarded as machines
for converting herbage into money.

The bestowal of food sufficient, both in amount and quality, to enable
animals to develop all the excellencies inherent in them, and yield all
the profit of which they are capable, is something quite distinct from
undue forcing of pampering. The latter process may produce wonderful
animals to look at, but neither useful nor profitable ones, and there is
danger of thus producing a most undesirable variation, since in animals
the process may be carried far enough to produce barrenness. Instances
are not wanting, particularly among the more recent improved
short-horns, of impotency among the males and of barrenness among the
females; and in some cases where the latter have borne calves, they have
failed to secrete sufficient milk for their nourishment. Impotency in
bulls of various breeds has, in many instances, occurred from too high
feeding, especially when connected with a lack of sufficient exercise. A
working bull, though perhaps not so pleasing to the eye as a fat one, is
a surer stock-getter; and his progeny is more likely to inherit full
health and vigor.

Habit has a decided influence toward producing variations. We find in
domestic animals that use--or the demand created by habit--is met by a
development or change in the organization adapted to the requirement.
For instance, with cows in a state of nature, or where required only to
suckle their young, the supply of milk is barely fitted to the
requirement. If more is desired, and the milk is drawn completely and
regularly, the yield is increased and continued longer. By keeping up
the demand there is induced, in the next generation, a greater
development of the secreting organs, and more milk is given. By
continuing the practice, by furnishing the needful conditions of
suitable food and the like, and by selecting in each generation those
animals showing the greatest tendency toward milk, a breed specially
adapted for the dairy may be established. It is just by this mode that
the Ayrshires have, within the past century, been brought to be what
they are--a breed giving more good milk upon a certain amount of food
than any other.

It is a fact too well established to be controverted, that the first
male produces impressions upon subsequent progeny by other males. To
what extent this principle holds, it is impossible to say. Although the
instances in which it is known to be of a very marked and obvious
character may be comparatively few, yet there is ample reason to
believe that, although in a majority of cases the effect may be less
noticeable, it is not less real; and it therefore demands the special
attention of breeders. The knowledge of this law furnishes a clue to the
cause of many of the disappointments of which practical breeders often
complain, and of many variations otherwise unaccountable, and it
suggests particular caution as to the first male employed in the
coupling of animals--a matter which has often been deemed of little
consequence in regard to cattle, inasmuch as fewer heifers' first calves
are reared, than those are which are borne subsequently.

The phenomenon--or law, as it is sometimes called--of atavism, or
ancestral influence, is one of considerable practical importance, and
well deserves the careful attention of the breeder of farm stock.

Every one is aware that it is by no means unusual for a child to
resemble its grandfather, or grandmother, or even some ancestor still
more remote, more than it does either its own father or mother. The same
occurrence is found among our domestic animals, and oftener in
proportion as the breeds are crossed or mixed up. Among our common stock
of neat cattle, or natives--originating, as they did, from animals
brought from England, Scotland, Denmark, France, and Spain, each
possessing different characteristics of form, color, and use, and bred,
as our common stock has usually been, indiscriminately together, with no
special object in view, with no attempt to obtain any particular type or
form, or to secure adaptation for any particular purpose--frequent
opportunities are afforded of witnessing the results of this law of
hereditary transmission. So common, indeed, is its occurrence, that the
remark is often made, that, however good a cow may be, there is no
telling beforehand what sort of a calf she may have. The fact is
sufficiently obvious, that certain peculiarities often lie dormant for a
generation or two and then reappear in subsequent progeny. Stockmen
often speak of it as "breeding back," or "crying back."

The lesson taught by this law is very plain. It shows the importance of
seeking thorough-bred or well-bred animals; and by these terms are
simply meant such as are descended from a line of ancestors in which for
many generations the desirable forms, qualities, and characteristics
have been uniformly shown. In such a case, even if ancestral influence
does come in play, no material difference appears in the offspring, the
ancestors being all essentially alike. From this standpoint we best
perceive in what consists the money value of a good "pedigree." This is
valuable, in proportion as it shows an animal to be descended, not only
from such as are purely of its own race or breed, but also from such
individuals of that breed as were specially noted for the excellencies
for which that particular breed is esteemed.

Probably the most distinctly marked evidence of ancestral influence
among us, is to be found in the ill-begotten, round-headed calves, not
infrequently dropped by cows of the common mixed kind, which, if killed
early, make very blue veal, and if allowed to grow up, become
exceedingly profitless and unsatisfactory beasts; the heifers being
often barren, the cows poor milkers, the oxen dull, mulish beasts,
yielding flesh of very dark color, of ill flavor and destitute of fat.

The relative influence of the male and female parents upon the
characteristics of progeny has long been a fruitful subject of
discussion among breeders. It is found in experience that progeny
sometimes resembles one parent more than the other--sometimes there is
an apparent blending of the characteristics of both--sometimes a
noticeable dissimilarity to either, though always more or less
resemblance somewhere--and sometimes the impress of one may be seen upon
a portion of the organization of the offspring, and that of the other
parent upon another portion; yet we are not authorized from such
discrepancies to conclude that it is a matter of chance; for all of
nature's operations are conducted in accordance with fixed laws, whether
we be able fully to discover them or not. The same causes always produce
the same results. In this case, not less than in others, there are,
beyond all doubt, certain fixed laws; and the varying results which we
see are easily and sufficiently accounted for by the existence of
conditions or modifying influences not fully open to our observation.

It may be stated, on the whole--as a result of the varied investigations
to which this question has given rise--that the evidence, both from
observation and the testimony of the best practical breeders, goes to
show that each parent usually contributes certain portions of the
organization to the offspring, and that each has a modifying influence
upon the other. Facts also show that the same parent does not always
contribute the same portions, but that the order is at times, and not
rarely, reversed. Where animals are of distinct species or breeds,
transmission is usually found to be in harmony with the principle, that
the male gives mostly the outward form and locomotive system, and the
female chiefly the interior system, constitution and the like. Where
the parents are of the same breed, it appears that the proportions
contributed by each are governed, in a large measure, by the condition
of each in regard to age and vigor, or by virtue of individual potency
or superiority of physical endowment. This potency or power of
transmission, seems to be legitimately connected with high breeding, or
the concentration of fixed qualities, obtained by continued descent for
many generations from such only as possess in the highest degree the
qualities desired.

Practically, the knowledge obtained dictates in a most emphatic manner
that every stock-grower use his utmost endeavor to obtain the services
of the best sires; that is, the best for the ends and purposes in
view--that he depend chiefly on the sire for outward form and
symmetry--and that he select dams best calculated to develop the good
qualities of the male, depending chiefly upon these for freedom, from
internal disease, for hardihood and constitution, and, generally, for
all qualities dependent upon the vital or nutritive system. The neglect
of the qualities of the dam, which is far too common--miserably old and
inferior animals being often employed--cannot be too strongly censured.

With regard to the laws which regulate the sex of the progeny very
little is known. Many and extensive observations have been made, without
reaching any definite conclusion. Nature seems to have provided that the
number of each sex; produced, shall be nearly equal; but by what means
this result is attained, has not as yet been discovered.

It has long been a disputed point, whether the system of breeding
in-and-in, or the opposite one of frequent crossing, has the greater
tendency to improve the character of stock This term, in-and-in, is
often very loosely used and as variously understood. Some confine the
phrase to the coupling of those of exactly the same blood, as brothers
and sisters, while others include in it breeding from parents and
offsprings; and others still employ it to embrace those of a more
distant relationship. For the last, the term breeding-in, or close
breeding, is generally deemed more suitable.

The current opinion is decidedly against the practice of breeding from
any near relatives; it being usually found that degeneracy follows, and
often to a serious degree; but it is not proved that this degeneracy,
although very common and even usual, is yet a necessary consequence.
That ill effects follow, in a majority of cases, is not to be doubted;
but this is easily and sufficiently accounted for upon quite other
grounds. Perhaps, however, the following propositions may be safely
stated: That in general practice, with the grades and mixed animals
common in the country, close-breeding should be scrupulously avoided
as highly detrimental. It is better always to avoid breeding from near
relatives whenever stock-getters of the same breed and of equal merit
can be obtained which are not related. Yet, where this is not possible,
or where there is some desirable and clearly defined purpose in view--as
the fixing and perpetuating of some valuable quality in a particular
animal not common to the breed--and the breeder possesses the knowledge
and skill needful to accomplish his purpose, and the animals are perfect
in health and development, close breeding may be practised with

The practice of crossing, like that of close breeding, has its strong
and its weak side. Judiciously practised, it offers a means of
providing animals for the butcher, often superior to, and more
profitable than, those of any pure breed. It is also admissible as the
foundation of a systematic and well-considered attempt to establish a
new breed. But when crossing is practised injudiciously and
indiscriminately, and especially when so done for the purpose of
procuring breeding animals, it is scarcely less objectionable than
careless in-and-in breeding.

The profitable style of breeding for the great majority of farmers to
adopt, is neither to cross nor to breed from close affinities--except in
rare instances, and for some specific and clearly understood
purpose--but to breed in the line; that is, to select the breed or
race best adapted to fulfil the requirement demanded, whether it be for
the dairy, for labor, or for such combination of these as can be had
without too great a sacrifice of the principal requisite, and then to
procure a pure-bred male of the kind determined upon, and breed him to
the females of the herd; and if these be not such as are calculated to
develop his qualities, endeavor by purchase or exchange to procure such
as will. Let the progeny of these be bred to another pure-bred male of
the same breed, but as distantly related to the first as may be. Let
this plan be faithfully pursued, and, although we cannot, without the
intervention of well-bred females, procure stock purely of the kind
desired, yet in several generations--if proper care be given to the
selection of males, that each one be such as to retain and improve upon
the points gained by his predecessor--the stock, for most practical
purposes, will be as good as if thorough-bred. If this plan were
generally adopted, and a system of letting or exchanging males
established, the cost might be brought within the means of most persons,
and the advantages which would accrue would be almost beyond belief.

A brief summing-up of the foregoing principles may not be inappropriate

The law of similarity teaches us to select animals for breeding which
possess the desired forms and qualities in the greatest perfection and
best combination.

Regard should be had, not only to the more obvious characteristics, but
also to such hereditary traits and tendencies as may be hidden from
cursory observation and demand careful and thorough investigation.

From the hereditary nature of all characteristics, whether good or bad,
we learn the importance of having all desirable qualities thoroughly
inbred; or, in other words, so firmly in each generation that the next
is warrantably certain to present nothing worse--that no ill results
follow from breeding back to some inferior ancestor--that all
undesirable traits or points be, so far as possible, bred-out.

So important is this consideration, that, in practice, it is decidedly
preferable to employ a male of ordinary external appearance--provided
his ancestry be all which is desired--rather than a grade, or
cross-bred animal, although the latter be greatly his superior in
personal beauty.

A knowledge of the law of variation teaches us to avoid, for breeding
purposes, such animals as exhibit variations unfavorable to the purpose
in view; to endeavor to perpetuate every real improvement gained; as
well as to secure, as far as practicable, the conditions necessary to
induce or continue any improvement, such as general treatment, food,
climate, habits, and the like.

Where the parents do not possess the perfections desired, selections for
coupling should be made with critical reference to correcting the faults
or deficiencies of one by corresponding excellencies in the other.

To correct defects, too much must not be attempted at once. Pairing
those very unlike oftener results in loss than gain. Avoid all extremes,
and endeavor by moderate degrees to attain the end desired.

Crossing, between different breeds, for the purpose of obtaining animals
for the shambles, may be advantageously practised to a considerable
extent, but not for the production of breeding animals. As a general
rule, cross-bred males should not be employed for propagation, and
cross-bred females should be served by thorough-bred males.

In ordinary practice, breeding from near relatives is to be scrupulously
avoided. For certain purposes, under certain conditions and
circumstances, and in the hands of a skillful breeder, it may be
practised with advantage--but not otherwise.

In a large majority of cases--other things being equal--we may expect in
progeny the outward form and general structure of the sire, together
with the internal qualities, constitution, and nutritive system of the
dam; each, however, modified by the other.

Particular care should always be taken that the male by which the dam
first becomes pregnant is the best which can be obtained; also, that at
the time of sexual congress both are in vigorous health.

Breeding animals should not be allowed to become fat, but always kept in
thrifty condition; and such as are intended for the butcher should never
be fat but once.

In deciding with what breeds to stock a farm, endeavor to select those
best adapted to its surface, climate, and degree of fertility; also,
with reference to probable demand and proximity to markets.

No expense incurred in procuring choice animals for propagation, no
amount of skill in breeding, can supersede, or compensate for, a lack of
liberal feeding and good treatment. The better the stock, the better
care they deserve.

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