There is an old adage among livestock raisers that holds that blue ribbon-winning animals seldom make good parents, but generally make crackerjack grandparents. The one word answer for why this happens is, I believe, adaptation. A top Texas-bred bull, boar or ram whisked away to our Northern Missouri climes or someone else’s Maine environment is going to struggle to adapt and must go through a time of transition.
This is especially true if the move is made in a time of temperature and weather extremes. The changes an animal can face when moved from point to point on the map are many and varied, and some are too often overlooked in that flurry of activity.
The differences between a Northern Missouri and a Southern Texas winter are quite obvious, but there are also differences in soil types, water composition, ration mixtures and forms, owner temperaments and skill sets, differences in facilities, differences between gene pools, new parasite and disease challenges, different pasture varieties and a great many more.
Quite often, the animals being moved are young, inexperienced and lacking in natural immunities for their new environments. The more artifice and “push” that went into creating that animal the harder it will be for that animal to make the needed changes.
Altitude, for example is a real factor in how beef cattle perform with some lines clearly denoted as “high altitude” cattle. An old and very much kept off the books rule of thumb for swine breeders held that for every young boar going through a test station, a full or half sib should be retained at home to replace it should it fail to perform for the new owner.
The boar grown out in a very small group, fed a very complex and costly ration to accelerate growth in a limited space, living in such a stifling environment, may hang up some real performance figures but then fall apart quickly in the real world of the breeding pen.
In founding a new herd or flock or upgrading or replenishing an existing one it is necessary to look to outside sources for the needed genetic material, the genetic pieces to make corrections and accomplish desired goals.
We were 35-plus years in the purebred swine business and are 10-plus years now with the production of purebred poultry and have had a fairly good look at the “genetic material” business. I have seen folks buy blue ribbon-winning boars and sale barn sow fresheners and make the same mistakes with both while trying to get good performance out of them.
Perhaps the first and worst mistake is waiting to buy a breeding animal until you absolutely have to have one. When you have females in standing estrus it does no good to return home to tell them you bid on a good male or open the gate and immediately turn in a too-young, overmatched and inexperienced male.
Today’s livestock industry seems to be based on a fast turnover of everything including breeding stock. The truth is that each and every successful herd or flock is an individualized creation. They have been in place and producing for an often extended period of time — they are a part of a farm biota.
The reason that outside animals, even blue ribbon-winners, tend to make better grandparents than parents is that the genetics that they present have had the needed time to fit in and meld with the scheme of things particular to that herd or flock. There has been the needed time for the animal to adjust and adapt to the new environment, to have developed the needed natural immunity for the “bug” population on that farm or ranch, and for the producer to have recognized how best to deploy the animal’s strengths throughout the breeding program. There are good producers who are always thinking three generations and more ahead.
And, quite honestly, the very best bull at this year’s Texas or Missouri State Fairs will not be the best bull choice for every producer in Texas or Missouri. In those 35-plus years in the purebred hog business the one question I dreaded most from buyers penside was, “Which boar is the best one in the pen?” There were two reasons for that; a time or two my pick as the best boar in the pen was the last one to sell and I knew little or nothing about the sow herd and production system that hog would be entering.
Often, when a new animal is purchased, especially a breeding male, there is a desire to put it to use right away and use it with every animal and breeding line in the herd or flock. The better approach is, I think, to be very slow and deliberate in the shopping and buying phase and perhaps even slower still in bringing the animals into use. We once paid a good price for a very young boar sired by one of the first show boars with a five figure selling price in modern times, owned him for several months, never bred a single female to him, and sold him to a feeder pig producer for a commercial boar price.
We bought him young, the way I like to buy seedstock, and had time to watch him grow and develop on our farm, eating our rations, and growing under our system of care. Another time, after deciding to add another Duroc breeding line, we went through nearly half a dozen foundation gilts before finding the one that best fit our farm and our markets.
In establishing our flock of Buff Orpingtons we went through a great many false starts and found what we needed in but a single trio of birds bought at about 18 weeks of age.
Livestock on the Move
A recently transported animal has undergone substantial stress, will be dealing with possible ration changes, will be uncomfortable in a new setting, and may even be dealing with a few health issues.
A lot of animals are like a lot of farmers; they are just not good travelers. When I was showing hogs in high school it was commonly said of hogs coming back from the fairs that they would have a bout of “flu.” It was mostly stress and disturbed routine, but a lot of “fluing” show pigs did go on to die from pneumonia and all needed some TLC once back home.
One of the appeals I have found to poultry-keeping is that most of the new breeding stock arrivals on the farm are hatchlings. They have months to adapt, to grow into their roles on the farm where they are expected to live, thrive and perform. The very first bite of feed they receive is our ration and the first drop of water they drink comes from our well.
There are numerous herds and flocks where there have been no outside additions for literally decades. A closed herd certainly represents the maximum in
bio-security. Many producers, however, are beginning an operation, doing repopulation work, need to add new lines or need to address a breeding deficit.
Also, many, due to space limits or costs, add female replacements from outside sources and producers of butcher and feeder stock often buy breeding males from multiple sources to continue on-farm crossbreeding rotations designed to maintain optimum levels of hybrid vigor in the resulting offspring.
The key is to not go too far afield when buying foundation and replacement animals. A good plan of breeding stock acquisition would incorporate the following points:
- Budget plenty of time and resources for the shopping and selection process.
- Buy from producers that operate from systems and facilities as similar to your own as possible.
- Buy animals as young as possible and grow them to breeding age yourself. Even when buying service-age males, for example, buy them 45 to 60 days ahead of first service.
- Select for middle-of-the-road type and from herds or flocks with across the board type and genetic consistency. Do not buy the extreme individual from an uneven crop or sibling group. Such extreme animals seldom breed on with desired predictability.
- Try to breed up no more than one or two lacking traits at a time lest you lose ground in other critical areas. Nor should you neglect type basics in the pursuit of current extremes in fad types.
- Learn as much as you can about a potential breeding male’s female ancestry and be guided by it. His greatest impact will be through daughters and grand daughters going back into the breeding herd.
- Shop smart and transport carefully. For example, the best time to buy a bred gilt is shortly after service or a short time before farrowing. One of the reasons livestock auctions follow seasonal patterns is not because that is when notes become due, but because certain seasons are often more conducive to livestock transport than others.
- Do not transport during extremes in weather. If an animal must be moved during warm weather wait for the coolest part of the day (early morning or late evening) and use a truck or trailer bedded with damp sand. In cold and damp weather cover the racks, position a tarp or plywood over the front of the bed or trailer to deflect wind and provide plenty of deep, dry bedding material. A couple of extra bales of straw are very cheap health insurance.
- Buy as close to home as you can. It keeps money in the immediate area and the animals should be hardened into local climates. A lot of livestock auctions are held in spring and fall, but October in Wisconsin and October in Arizona can be two very different fall seasons. Transporting livestock is always kid gloves work. Work them at their own pace, put away the whips and prods, keep them well hydrated, keep your temper in check, and monitor them often in transit.
- New arrivals need special care and separate facilities. A place for isolation should be provided for all newly arriving livestock. They should be held there for at least 30 days and it should be very well made while providing easy access to the animals.
- Fencing needs to be, as Dad used to say, horse-high, bull-strong and baby-chick-tight. It is best if out of line of sight and sound of other livestock.
- If the animals have been receiving a ration much different than yours buy at least enough of their old ration to carry them a few days and then allow a gradual, five- to seven-day transfer over to your ration. Provide plenty of clean, fresh drinking water and bolster it with a vitamin electrolyte product.
- Tend this pen last when doing chores to reduce the potential of tracking a health problem from one group to another.
- Bring new acquisitions into the herd or flock slowly and carefully. While most isolate new arrivals for a period of at least 30 days, 60 to 90 days would not be unreasonable. Drop a freshly transported young male into a breeding group and he may be injured or cowed for a lifetime, he could develop a fever rendering him sterile for a time, trigger flu-like symptoms in the females impacting their ability to breed and settle, and it will certainly void any warranty made as to his breeding ability.
- Consider transferring wastes and spent bedding between enclosures after the time of isolation so that an element of natural immunity can begin building before direct contact. Every farm has its own “bug” population and it is dealt with naturally only through exposure and time. The next step, ideally, would be fence line contact. It is a very controlled situation and yet crucial factors such as temperament and libido can be evaluated. It is a practice that can often trigger estrus onset in young females.
There is far more to successfully introducing new stock than opening the pasture or lot gate to newcomers and slapping a couple of them on the rump. There must be a plan of care and management in place long before they start up that chute toward a new home. There must be an acceptance of their abilities for change and adequate time and care given to them for that change to occur.
By Kelly Klober. This article appeared in the September 2012 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine. Klober specializes in raising livestock using natural methods. He is the author of Beyond the Chicken, Talking Chicken, and Dirt Hog, available from Acres U.S.A.