Livestock breeds (Pig Tales)
(Editor’s note: Dr. Rich Barczewski is a Professor Emeritus from Delaware State University.)
I was once told by a professor that I really respected, that the one thing that he was most disappointed in, during his lifetime was the loss of integrity by purebred livestock breeders.
Even though I heard that statement over 40 years ago, in all honesty, I have to say that the situation with the pure breeds of livestock has only gotten worse.
One of the major advantages of a breed, is that they were developed with specific traits in mind.
The original breeders who developed the breeds actually selected breeding animals for certain characteristics that they determined to be of the most importance to their needs.
Granted, some of the traits may have been physical characteristics such as color, size, etc., other traits were productive in nature such as carcass quality, reproductive performance, growth rate or maternal traits.
Ultimately, it was those physical and performance characteristics that set the breeds apart.
Over time and in the commercial industry, certain characteristics were deemed to be more important, commercially, than other characteristics.
With the advent of direct marketing, eating qualities are often considered one way that a producer can set themselves apart from the status quo.
So, all of a sudden, cattle, hogs and sheep that had desirable eating qualities (i.e., marbling, lean tissue, tenderness etc.) offered a producer a way of providing something that was not typically available to consumers through the traditional markets and making direct marketing more advantageous.
It has always been known that certain breeds of livestock have better eating qualities than others.
Angus cattle are known for their marbling (there are other breeds that are also good at marbling as well), but they also had the identifying feature of being black in color.
While there are other cattle breeds that are black in color, the popularity of Black Angus, and a major push by the Angus breed association resulted in the “Certified Angus Beef” marketing initiative. Almost every store and some restaurants current provide “Certified Angus Beef” as a marketing ploy.
Now, some traditional breeds that were not commonly black in color have evolved (through cross-breeding I might add) to become black because that is one of the traits used to identify an animal as Angus.
When they were originally bred, many of these breeds were not black in color but currently, many breeds have registered individuals that are black in color.
The problem with this is that in making these crosses, as a way of getting the black hair coat, some of these breeds diluted the genes in the breed that impacted some of the physiological traits that made the breed unique to start with.
Currently, many breeds of all the species have been crossed up to the point where an individual who desires to raise a particular breed of cattle, swine or sheep will have to search far and wide to identify individuals who possess the characteristics that were originally associated with the breed they are raising.
One time I even heard a swine producer say that whenever he purchased breeding stock for his purebred herd, he would often purchase both male and female littermates, breed those together to determine the animals were in fact pure.
He did this because crossing a brother and sister in a test mating of a particular breed would result in offspring of varying physical appearances (often colors) that indicated they were in fact, not purebred. If the offspring of the breeding possessed the appropriate phenotypes, then he would know that the animals were in fact, pure to the breed.
Ultimately, if a livestock producer, wants to have specific traits in their animals that are not present in the breed they raise, they should either change the breed they keep or raise crossbreds. The bulk of the commercial livestock industry relies on crossbreeding to combine traits from various breeds in their herds.
However, purebred animals, should be pure and bred to the standards set forth by the breed characteristics by which those breeds were developed.