Thursday, February 11, 2010

British White Cattle - Selection and Breeding for Color Pattern

Many thanks to Diamond C British Whites in Smithville, Texas for these photos of her Tom Sawyer sired calves. The first photo shows a newly born bull calf from this past week, having a very nice low birth weight of 64 lbs, with his sister, Diamond C's Taffy, relaxing beside him.  Taffy is about 2.5 months old in the photos.  Both calves are well marked and well made youngsters.  (Visit Lazy A Ranches for a series of charming photos of their Tom Sawyer sired heifer.)

Among British White breeders there are some who perceive a 'perfect' marked British White as one that is a pretty white one with black points and as few spots as possible.  However, historically, as in for several hundred actual years, there has always been varying degrees of speckling and spots about the neck and body in the herds of England of our quite ancient polled 'Park' breed. Even today many of the most revered British White bulls of England exhibit those very traits.

What we all strive to over come is the appearance of the line-backed markings, which are clearly 'over-marked' calves as defined by our breed standards.  Eight or so years ago, when I bought my first British Whites, I was unaware of any prevalence of over-marked calves occurring, or of a stigma attaching itself to the dam, or sire, of those over-marked calves.  I even sold one over-marked bull calf into a starter seedstock herd in my ignorance.  The bull was bought at the side of his dam and was registered, and actually did a fair job of producing nicely marked calves.

Of course, in the beginning, I largely fell hard for the breed's storied history and unique beauty, and bought what I found available to put in my pastures, without any actual knowledge of what I should be asking or looking for in judging the cattle I purchased.  I was quite fortunate to get some really nice foundation animals to start my British White herd.  However, had I been so very judgemental and critical, I would have not have purchased what became significant females in my herd, such as CRae 215G, who had scurs, but was in all other traits an outstanding female; or HRH Bountiful, who is quite spotted, and has had two over-marked calves, one before I purchased her, and another sired by DFTX Watson.  Regardless, I wouldn't think of letting her leave my pastures.  I've no doubt that the two over-marked calves resulted from her genetics, but in a rare breed such as British White, I certainly can live with that.  (Note the linebacked calf in the British White Cattle Society photo below, and the strongly spotted and handsome English bull in their photo above.) 

Today, I find that buyers are much more informed and particular than myself when they approach the decision of choosing the British White breed and in the selection of their seedstock herd.  As well, I am more informed and try to take great care in providing a buyer with all the information of consequence that may impact their buying decision; whether it be scurs present in a cow, an over-marked parent, or an unruly nature.  Eight years ago, I had no idea what a scur was, or that it was undesirable.  I'll never forget my young niece, she was about 11 years old then and my pasture buddy whenever she could come and visit, gleefully pointing out to me all the cows in my herd that had scurs, she was quite proud of herself, and she was remarkably dead-on in her assessment.

I've no idea why now some aspects of our breed are more focused upon than eight years ago, perhaps the breed has made greater strides in the last ten years versus the thirty breeding years in the USA that preceded.  Regardless, this new focus on 'perfect' and zero spot markings is perhaps leading to the dreaded 'single-trait' selection that over time leads to breeding and buying decisions that introduce undesirable traits as to conformation of individual animals, and may as well lead to under-marked animals, such as occurred in the ancient horned Chillingham herd at different points in its storied history.

On the other hand, the education and focus of breeders on rooting out scurs is one that should be addressed; and in fact in England a scurred animal is not permitted registration under the breed standards of their British White Cattle Society.  As scurs are fairly commonplace in our American herds of British White cattle, the eradication of scurs from registered animals would certainly require a structured approach and goodly period of time. 

As well, the Society began a structured closure of their breed-up program in 1996, in order to ". . .further continue the process of ensuring that the British White remains true to the type that has graced our countryside for centuries."  This very topic comes up from time to time among our members, but is generally tabled as just not the right time.


The most recent English semen imported to the USA was that of Huckleberry Finn.  Huck Finn has lots of spots, and I don't recall anyone being terribly concerned about that in the odious ordeal most sustained in finally acquiring semen on this English bull.  Use of his semen has declined a great deal as there is a perception that he will mostly give you over-marked calves.  However, only one over-marked Huck Finn calf was ever born in my herd; and the fault lay equally with the dam -- one of my original foundation heifers of standard markings.  But, the tendency for Huck Finn to throw over-marked calves is certainly present in his genetics, as I learned in England that his dam was in fact an over-marked pedgiree English female.

That said, generally an over-marked animal is the result of a 'nicking' of similar genetics with the female he is mated with.  Probably one of the single most important questions breeders should ask about animals they are considering purchasing, is whether the animal has any overmarked females in at least the prior four generations, on either the dam or sire side.  Relatively new breeders such as myself would not be able to answer that question, as it is not revealed on registration pedigrees; and I breed just as blindly as everyone else with my older females.  This information would require a call to the BWCAA and a look up of individual animal records.

If you're really interested in trying to understand why within the British White breed there are speckled, roaned, and line-backed animals born to standard marked parents -- I recommend a close reading of the in-depth research on the genetics of color presented by the Double Helix ranch, a prominent breeder of Texas Longhorns.  The English Longhorn and the horned White Park were inter-bred in their long history -- the horns of the Longhorn leaving their mark on many examples of the horned White Park today, and the color pattern of the horned White Park leaving its mark on the English and the Texas Longhorn today.

  Moorside Black Knight, Sire of Hevingham Polaris, Gr. Grandsire of Tom Sawyer
Hevingham Polaris, Awesome Sire of Huckleberry Finn, Grandsire of J.West's Tom Sawyer, Follow this link for a photo of an aged Polaris at pasture, note he is blue-skinned and does have speckling.
De Beauvoir's Huckleberry Finn, Sire of J.West's Tom Sawyer

J.West's Tom Sawyer
J.West's Zeus, Son of Tom Sawyer, Maternal Grandson and Paternal Gr. Grandson of Popeye
Lazy A's Little Beauty, Daughter of Tom Sawyer, Maternal Granddaughter and Paternal Gr. Granddaughter of Popeye

(For a nice selection of photos of examples of British White cows and bulls in some of the herds of England, visit this Bohaty's British White page.)