Animal breeding is not an exact science, but the study of genetics is! I have found that many cattle stud breeders are very good stockmen but, despite breeding very good animals to common standards, precious little genetic science is applied in their breeding policy. When asked to reproduce their feats or explain the methods used to achieve the desired outcome, the answers are often vague. I call this the ‘BEST’ philosophy where you breed the best with the best and hope for the best!
The Nguni cattle breed has a unique origin where natural selection formed the basic stock from where we carry on with the breeding today, whereas many other breeds are so-called man made breeds or have been subjected to decades and centuries of human selection to enhance the qualities required for human consumption, or to conform to the fashion trend of the time.
When the ‘BEST’ philosophy is applied we are merely creating more and increasing the number of animals in the breed, but we are not necessarily enhancing what we have, or deleting unwanted genes from the gene pool.
Under Nguni facts we discuss the phenotype and breeding standards of the Nguni and it is these qualities and standards that we want to enhance in the breed or, at the very least, preserve in the following generations. In some cases we also want to impress on our own herd a unique identity according to any of the traits we find desirable. Fertility ranks high on any list of desirables, but early maturity, milk qualities, pigmentation, longevity and uniformity can all form part of the end goal of a breeding plan.
Most breeders unknowingly follow a policy of outcrossing by introducing completely unrelated bulls to each successive generation in the thinking that ‘fresh blood’ would enhance the qualities of the herd. The result of this is increased genetic variability as the genes are diluted with each successive generation and the progeny becomes less predictable with each new generation. This also has severe consequences in terms of unwanted genes, which I’ll explain later.
In order to build an identity around one’s product and market it as such, one needs to be able to predict what one is going to breed and be able to repeat that performance in order to satisfy continued demand. With outcrossing this is almost impossible as each new generation will represent a variable cross-section of genetics that is difficult to quantify and almost impossible to repeat. Consumers appreciate consistency and feel safe with predictability and it is no different with cattle.
In order to achieve this every stud breeder needs to have a breeding plan with well-defined goals and a clear picture of what the end product should look like and how it should perform. One has to form an identity and a reputation around one’s specific herd that could be sustained over many generations – and not just produce occasional genetic wonders which in turn produce average offspring.
Prepotency and homozygosity are terms used to define this concept and in genetic terms it means that genes are concentrated through very selective breeding on highly selected parent animals to produce this sustainable predictability in following generations. In concentrating genetics, unwanted, recessives genes are also exposed and could be eliminated from the genetic pool, instead of being diluted and spread throughout a whole next generation – which is what happens under out crossing!
At ZZZ Nguni Stud our breeding plan aims to produce small to medium frame animals which are highly adapted to and efficient under Highveld conditions and to repeat this in continuous generations. Our female animals must conform to various fertility criteria including, but not limited to, early maturity, regular calving, raising strong calves, overall vigour and longevity. Our male animals must display these prepotent traits in their respective offspring.
Other selection criteria include -
- Mothering abilities
- Pigmentation and hide quality
- Resistance to disease
- General physical conformance
Genetic inheritance follows rules and by understanding these rules and allowing for them in our management of the herd, we are already seeing the early signs of success.
The genetic base of the ZZZ Nguni Stud damline is varied and ranges from Mkhaya, Modjadji, Nandi and Msulusa genetics as well as from the older state owned herds like Loskop, University of the North and small-framed cattle from the Bartlow Combine herds.
For siring we rely heavily on the proven Impi bloodline, with strong input from the Imvelo, Mfelane and Vundisa bloodlines.
By combining these highly selected dams and sires we are concentrating the wanted genetics in our offspring to produce the next generation that displays the traits we set as goals in our breeding plan.
To fix these genes and create homozygosity and prepotency, we breed selected individuals back to common ancestors in a process of linebreeding. Because they are somewhat closer related to each other than the average of the population, this process gives us the predictability we desire.