As Spring has morphed into Summer both the weather and pasture conditions have assumed a more normal pattern. The mud has finally disappeared. Given the excellent pasture we now have I am seeing a real growth spurt in the calves. The calves out of Whisper Royal Chief, Mandalong Super Flag, Boa Kae Royal Oak and Whisper Thunder have exceeded my expectations. Sale animals will be listed with pictures by August 1. I am proud to announce that our herd is the first dairy or beef herd in Oregon to achieve the highest classification (6) that is available for those pursuing Johne’s free status.
Shorthorn Bulletin Update
Moving forward all issues will be bi-monthly. Publications dates for the remainder of 2017 will be 9/1 and 11/1 with the first bi-monthly issue of 2018 released 1/1/2018. Support for the Shorthorn Bulletin continues to grow and I appreciate all the positive comments and reviews. Often it is difficult to decide which topics are most pertinent to readers interests while remaining relevant to the ever changing beef industry.
Bi-Monthly Topic: Black vs Red, White, and Roan
All Shorthorn breeders are faced with the reality of Angus dominance in the cattle industry. The question of why someone should raise Shorthorns constantly presents itself in both the press and from potential Shorthorn breeders. It doesn’t help when black Shorthorn Pluses are being promoted as the future of the breed. How anyone in the Shorthorn industry can believe “bowing to black” by becoming black is the way forward baffles me. Many cattle breeds have lost their individual identity as distinct breeds by taking this path, ex: Simmental and Limousin. Personally, as a Shorthorn breeder, I absolutely have no desire to become part of the Angus/ black cattle movement.
Looking objectively at Angus/black cattle versus Shorthorns must start with the status of Angus/ black cattle today. Separating hype from fact can be very difficult when the preponderance of a breed’s promotion is simply playing off of EPDs and the theme “our meat is better”. One only has to look back in history to see how breeds, such as Angus “evolve” as a result of selection or “enhancement”. Enhancement comes from cross-breeding which is the shortcut to change. A great article/slide review on the evolvement of breeds is Harlan Ritchie’s “Historical Review of Cattle Type” (https://www.msu.edu/~ritchieh/historical/cattletype.html). To demonstrate changing body types in Angus I’ve included a picture of “O Bardiermere” the grand champion Angus bull at the 1953 Chicago International and “Dameron Linedrive” who was the grand champion Angus bull at the National Western in 1988 with a 10+ frame score. A span of only 35 years—“Belt Buckle” to Giants. Much has been made of the possibility that Brown Swiss, Holstein, Limousin, Simmental, Chianina and perhaps other breeds were introduced into Angus to facilitate the transition in both style and size. Today the Angus breed’s website lists nine specific genetic defects that it is tracking within the breed. Did crossbreeding facilitate the entry of many of these genetic defects? The radical change in size, muscling and fat layering, with potential crossbreeding, has transformed the Angus breed. Is it a wonder that the validity of EPDs has been questioned by many breeders of Angus/black cattle? Are today’s Angus/black cattle closer to composite cattle that no longer retain the purity that made the Angus breed special? Logical examination of the many differences between Angus/black cattle and Shorthorns must be part of any discussion to make Shorthorns more relevant while remaining red, white, and roan.
Certainly Shorthorns have had their own issues with crossbreeding particularly with the introduction of the Maine Anjou breed when the Shorthorn herd book was opened. Modern Shorthorns have gone through a size transition like the Angus; however in comparison there are only four genetic defects that have presented problems in the Shorthorn breed that potentially may be attributed to crossbreeding. The purity of any modern breed of cattle can be questioned today. Retaining the distinct characteristics that makes a breed a breed always needs to be an important goal rather than simply acceding to trends i.e. Angus/black cattle or Shorthorn pluses.
I would be remiss without pointing out the importance of Heritage Shorthorns in maintaining true Shorthorn characteristics. Understanding the difference between full blood and purebred cattle is very important. Full blood cattle can be traced to a breed’s original herd book without the introduction of any blood from other breeds while “purebreds” may only be 7/8 to 15/16 pure depending on the breed. Purebreds are not necessarily “pure”. Heritage Shorthorns all trace to the original Shorthorn Coates herd book that was first published in 1822. Thus Heritage Shorthorns excel at being true to the special genetic makeup of the Shorthorn breed while further establishing themselves as the anti-Angus/black cattle breed. There are almost no full blood Angus left in the world (hence the black Limousin, black Simmental, black Chianina, etc.)
All breeders of Shorthorns should try to maintain the special attributes of what makes a Shorthorn a Shorthorn. Heritage Shorthorns, with all the genetic diversity available through the existence of old semen from the great bulls of the 50’s, 60’s and 70, provide an enormous opportunity for the Shorthorn breed to move in any direction without resorting to crossbreeding tricks for change. Getting caught up in the black cattle trend will only hasten the demise of the Shorthorn breed and your own existence as a Shorthorn breeder. The continual dilution of the Shorthorn breed by some has produced problems that will make it difficult to convince buyers to “buy” into the Shorthorn breed. If this happens everything that makes Shorthorns special will be lost to the Angus/black cattle movement.
Shorthorns have always been known for their maternal characteristics, easy marbling, foraging ability and docility. No breed brings these characteristics together like Shorthorns. Angus/black cattle have never had the capability to match the dominance of Shorthorns in these areas. For instance there is an old joke about Angus that says “the first thing you see in an Angus is its tail as it runs away from you”.
When discussing breed choice with prospective buyers I believe it is easy to make the case for Shorthorns. The list is long when detailing their benefits whether it be the aforementioned Shorthorn positives or the natural beauty of the red, white or roan color patterns; however the continual promotion of Shorthorn Pluses by both breeders and the American Shorthorn Association could make the differences with black cattle an ever narrowing gap.
A catalog of the most desirable traits and advantages of the Shorthorn breed would include the following:
1. Docility. Very important for the smaller breeders.
2. Maternal traits. Cows have excellent mothering ability under any conditions.
3. Milking ability. Depending on the particular Shorthorn, line milking ability can reach the family cow level.
4. Marbling. No other breed of cattle can the marbling capability of Shorthorns.
5. Foraging. Shorthorns are the perfect grass fed breed because of their capacity to convert grass to meat.
6. Genetic diversity. Between the genetic base of Heritage Shorthorns and the inventory of full blood older Shorthorn bulls that exists in semen tanks Shorthorns can be bred to emphasize many different traits without resorting to crossbreeding.
7. Beauty. Seriously, is there another breed of cattle that can match the color variations and eye appeal of Shorthorns?
8. Longevity. It is not rare for Shorthorn cows to be productive into their teens.
When everything is taken into consideration it is no wonder that Shorthorns were the most popular cattle breed in the world for over 100 years. The potential exists for Shorthorns to return to their glory days if breeders embrace and promote the characteristics that made them great, instead of trying to make them “black”.
Joseph A. Schallberger, DVM, PhD
Whispering Hills Farm
Member Academy of Veterinary Consultants