November 21, 2008

Lands & Survey: 7. Sheep & cattle breeding in New Zealand

History of NZ Lands & Survey Department Angus & Romney breeding schemes - Part 7

By Dr Clive Dalton & Dr Doug Lang

Search for top bulls

Top 2-year-old bulls at Kakaho to go out to other blocks

Again, political genetics raised its head as bulls for the Waihora herd and on surrounding blocks were now being bred from the Waihora nucleus cows. It was made very clear by Angus stud breeders and their Breed Association that this would spell disaster in both the short and long term, as these cows were not registered.

I loved to quote the obvious genetic myth that unless you could trace an Angus beast’s ancestors back to the famous "Old Jock" of Scottish antiquity, you would find "dirrrty genes” in the stock that had been hidden away as they could not be "pure".

So to placate breeders' concerns, and also to see where the project stood in relation to the conventional studs, highly selected and performance tested bulls were purchased to compare in a progeny test built into the scheme.

A mammoth effort for the managers and staff - sorting out
the different groups of progeny by each bull at Otutira yards

This got a lot of publicity as the news spread through the stud world, because Eric Gibson laid his cards on the table with breeders right from the start. We certainly got breeders’ attention as after they realised there was no turning back, getting a bull into the Waihora progeny test would give them great prestige – if it came up trumps and proved what rubbish L&S were breeding for themselves. It was a risk worth them taking, so the courted Eric Gibson’s business in a big way and he loved it.

We also gained the undivided attention of the stock firms as they could see the potential loss of business through Waihora bulls being home bred. Clive Dalton was once called to an audience with the Doug Pickin manager of a local Wrightson’s stock firm in Hamilton and the company’s senior stock agent from Palmerston North Tim Russell to see if we were serious, and if L&S were going to go ahead with breeding their own bulls. Clive explained the genetic basics of the scheme which they didn’t disagree with, and referred them to Mr Gibson for futher comment. It was clear that their worst fears had been confirmed.

Public relations
By this time it was clear that the farming public had to be given an opportunity to see what was going on at Waihora, and it was proposed that we needed to have proper "open days" which would prevent managers and scientists being constantly bothered by interested individuals (both serious and skeptics) and groups wanting to keep up with progress. It was a good idea that never worked.

About 1974 we had an Angus field day where visitors traveled to each of the three main blocks - Waihora, Otutira and Kakaho. At Kakaho the feature was to show individual bulls and their performance and progeny test results. One famous Angus stud breeder from Te Kuiti was almost apoplectic when he saw the top progeny tested bull! Others were very kind and said they'd enjoyed their day.

Waihora Angus herd c 1975

There were many other visitors from all over the world who came to view both the sheep and cattle schemes. One memorable group was from Kansas State University who were so impressed with the cattle work that Eric Gibson was invited to speak at their Cattlemans’ Conference. The scheme was also a special feature during the first World Sheep and Cattle Group Breeding Conference which was held in New Zealand.

Using yearling bulls
To speed up genetic gain, we Whatawhata scientists persuaded Eric Gibson that we should be using yearling bulls. The problem with this was that a yearling had not matured like a 2-year-old so there was always a fear that if you picked a top bull on records, and his yearling physical traits, all sorts of things could go wrong with his conformation and feet as he aged.

We won the day, but the yearlings got extra special scrutiny at their final inspection - as seen from the photo below.

Yearling bulls getting intense scrutiny

Dr Geoff Nicoll with the Mac computer in the cattle yards
Note the carrying box made by one of the staff

No comments:

Post a Comment