A herd of breeding cattle are going to pasture


Last updated 12/1/2020 at 12:37pm

Havre Daily News/Kimberly Bolta

A purebred Hereford cow stands on a lot in front of the calving barn at Northern Agriucultural Resource Center southwest of Havre, just minutes before the herd was loaded up to be shipped for sale. The herd, bred for research at NARC starting in 1966, is going up for sale Wednesday.

A line of horned Herefords that were instrumental at Northern Agricultural Development Center's development of early genetic selection indexes and models to break correlated traits are being auctioned off this week.

The herd is going up for sale Tuesday.

The line originated in 1966 as a closed herd where no external genetics were brought into the herd and were retained, Superintendent of Northern Agriculture Research Center Darin Boss said.

"We generate our own replacements and our own bulls to breed back on those cows, so it's a very line-bred herd," Boss said. "It's looking at various genetics potentials and combinations. By line breeding, we are able to select and make various genes homozygous, which is what line herding does."

Homozygosity is characterized by low birthweight with moderate height with easy fleshing ability. After years of breeding, the herd has experienced reduced early growth due to inbreeding depression. Bulls have experienced difficulty passing semen tests at 12 months of age because of early onset puberty.

"It was a genetically developed herd," Boss said, "for genetic research or genetic markers and that kind of trait research the research center did."

Genetic engineering is actually breeding, and the center bred the cattle for more than 50 years, to look at various traits and indexes. By doing that with a closed herd with no outside genetics they created a genetically made herd, Boss said.

"We closed those genetics up and refined those so they would put different genetics that were very distinct within their herd, passing on one set of genes," Boss said.

They take the effective traits through line breeding, Boss said, but that can cause some problems in the long term.

"There's inbreeding depression going on, where reproduction takes a little longer. It takes them longer to mature, I don't want to get down the rabbit hole that those are bad things," Boss said.

Some of the cattle being auctioned off will go to either the slaughter house or to feed, depending on the buyer. The ones being auctioned off are pregnant cows that will have a calf coming somewhere from March through April. They could also go to a pure-bred breeder who wants to bring those kind of genetics into their herd, Boss said.

"They can transfer the registration papers because they are a pure-bred herd, Hereford cows," Boss said. "Upon purchase, we can transfer those pedigrees so they can maintain them as a pure-bred animal."

A bull in this specific line in the 1970s and 1980s was valued at $20,000 to $30,000, because when a bull sold from a line bred herd, he passes on very uniform genetics. His calves are uniform and much alike. This is what line breeding was developed for, Boss said.

"This herd was used for genetic research, so some of the things that came out were using indexes to quantify and put different values on breeding traits," Boss said. "To break correlating traits, to look at lowering birth weights, but to increase yearling weights."

It was a difficult decision to move the herd, since they were there for more than 50 years, Boss said. It was just time to go in a different direction. They finalized performance evaluations of the herd and studied the genomes, he said.

Havre Daily News/Kimberly Bolta


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