My daughter Martha and I have been going through our cow list and planning matings for the coming breeding season. Now that this spring’s calves are off to a good start so we can evaluate last year’s matings, we’re looking at our overall plan for the next crop. (We like to calve the most of the cows from February just into April, with a few due in the fall.)
We sit at the table spread with bull lists, pedigrees, and breeding charts and hash out ideas. We’ll trace back pedigrees to ensure we have the right amount of good linebreeding and outcrosses, and it’s a fun exercise to see how far back we can go just from memory. The process helps us keep in mind the big picture goals while looking at each individual cow.
My husband used to joke about getting “new bull syndrome”, when he’d pick out a sire he thought would do a great job and would use that one bull across the board. Of course, when he was growing up before artificial insemination was available, and throughout most of the history of breeding cattle, natural service pretty much limited breeders to one or maybe two bulls per season, depending on herd size.
That strategy has a couple of advantages. First, we’d get enough daughters of a bull to really see what he could do in our herd. Secondly, using mostly one sire per season led to our herd being quite uniform, making the next matings easier to plan. Of course, the drawback is if that new bull turned out to be a disappointment, we’d have lots of disappointing cows. Since Kenneth was a true master breeder and was very picky, his hunches usually turned out as expected.
Now I tend toward a modification of that plan, using a couple of sires predominantly. It is especially useful to end up with multiple offspring of a sire in order to evaluate him. Otherwise, genetic variability being what it is, if you only end up with one daughter each out of a bunch of different bulls, you really haven’t found anything out about the sires’ breeding pattern. And if you don’t begin to understand a sire’s breeding pattern, it’s hard to know how to use him in the future or how to mate his daughters.
Understanding a sire well also helps us advise our customers in using the bulls, and we want to be able to give a thorough evaluation to help cattle breeders pick the right bull for the right job.
Still, I resist “new bull syndrome” as much as I can and encourage picking a good variety of bulls so that all our eggs aren’t in one basket, so to speak.
In our Dutch Belted herd this year, we continue to pursue polled and A2/A2 genetics with the use of Bestyet Famous-P. We like his first calves so far for their balance and breed character. Bestyet Trailblazer Red (A2/A2) is second on the list, for reds are rather popular and his dam has the kind of deep quality we look for in a brood cow. We are also using a few older bulls that we have only a small amount of semen left from, which will add some diversity to the calves we’ll have available for breeding stock.
While A2/A2 genetics are in popular demand right now, we want to keep focused on the functional traits as well, so we’re working on both.
In the Milking Shorthorns, we continue to walk the line between dairy and fleshing qualities, so each cow is mated according to where she is on that spectrum. The more angular cows we’ll breed to the more round, low-set type sires like Matchmaker-P or some of the natives heavy on Meadowbrook Chieftain-9th breeding. Thicker cows will be bred to sires with more dairy characteristics, such as Meriville Rock County or Lapp’s Joe.
We consult aAa numbers to some extent, but don’t restrict ourselves to only numbers that match, since we have pedigrees and other knowledge to contribute to our choices.
Breeding cattle is both art and science, and having both helps us continue to breed the best animals we can.
When making breeding decisions in your own herds, you can decide what your main goals are and select sires to fulfill them. We’re happy to share what we’ve learned about the characteristics of the sires we offer to help you get the results you’re looking for.
The renowned old breeders who came before us would say breeding cattle is a journey, not a destination, and it’s exciting to look ahead to next year’s crop of calves as we take another step forward in selection.
What goals do you have and what bulls are you using this year?