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  • Jeff M. Chambers

A Modest Plea

I was at a Dexter sale recently that was a fair representation of the national herd in my humble estimation. There were some really good ones, some okay ones, and some that should not be used as breeding stock. Based upon the bidder numbers being shouted out there were a goodly number of buyers in attendance at over 50.

As the sale developed some animals were selling for modest prices while some were not getting opening bids or reaching modest minimums. As I examined the stock being paraded in front of the collected crowd; I was at first confused and thought after a long day of showing and looking at cattle my eyes and mind were playing tricks on me. Then I started looking at the descriptions of these animals in the sale catalog; I no longer thought I was losing my senses but I sure felt like losing my lunch when the pattern emerged. Those animals that were receiving bids and reaching minimums, regardless of their phenotype being displayed were of a specific milk protein type.

I saw very nice females, with calf on side, AND bred back that were not getting close to a fair price because of their milk protein type. I saw animals with more substantial flaws in my opinion that met their minimums. I was sickened and angered by this. I was not angry at the buyers, not at the owners selling, nor at the sale staff but by the fact that we, collectively, as a breed have allowed this to occur.

This is not a new phenomenon in our breed of course and it has occurred in other breeds over the course of history and very much to their detriment. We’ve seen similar and to some extent continue to see non-essential, non-functional, and on-off genetic switches drive markets in the Dexter breed and that will always be a part of the cattle market. I have no doubt of that and that it will remain as a part of the market and selection, which is fine.

However, when these types of traits become the primary selection drivers for the national herd we have a very significant force that will not result in the betterment of our breed as a whole. Yes, I know there are breeders that specify: “All else being equal…”, and that is tremendous and I hope that stipulation rules within these herds but I witnessed the end result of that mind set at the national herd level at this sale. At that level “All else being equal…” looks a hell of a lot like “Give me this switch and that switch and we’ll work on the good cattle part later.” It made my heart hurt imagining the impact of this continuing in our breed for any significant period of time.

As a point of clarity and context, our herd is almost entirely of a certain milk-protein type that “makes” a bad cow a GREAT cow and we have all the colors that “make” a bad cow a GREAT cow but you likely won’t make it on to our list to be notified of upcoming stock availability if the criteria list you provide begins with on/off switches. In fact, we don’t want our cattle in those types of herds. We’ve spent too much time, sweat, capital, and heart break on trying to develop excellence in cattle to reduce to a couple of genes.

Seek out good cattle and work to develop good cattle. The color, the milk protein, the horned status, and a pedigree to Methuselah do not make good cattle. They may be nice extras on good cattle but are worth less than nothing on bad cattle.

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