10 JUNE 1960, Page 10

Down on the Farm

Semen's Union

By JACK DONALDSON IN February of this year the Milk Marketing Board announced a pilot scheme in the north of England to be the forerunner, if successful, of a nation-wide service by which the vast number of dairy farmers using artificial insemination for their cows (at the present day more than 50 per cent. of the whole) would get the benefit of the semen of proven bulls only, instead of that of young bulls picked by the ordinary methods of selection on pedigree and conformation. This scheme, although imaginative and progressive, was not entirely unexpected, since the one certain factor in breeding is that a bull may be told by his 'get' and by no other means, while the MMB have both unprecedented and unrivalled methods cf testing their bulls and a tried system of dis- tributing semen hundreds of times more widely than is possible by natural service.

It might have been expected, therefore, that the announcement of the pilot scheme would be received with approval and satisfaction. But there were immediate objections from the Friesian Society (theirs is the breed chosen for the experiment), which quickly received the sup- port of the National Cattle Breeders' Association. The Breed Societies feared the genetical results, they said, of so reckless a concentration of blood as might follow the tremendous use of only a comparatively few sires. They argued that the number of blood lines will be so reduced as to cause damage and deterioration through in- breeding, and that the gentle art of breeding will pass out of the hands of practical, knowledgeable breeders into those of scientists whose chief con- cern is for performance records.

The Milk Marketing Board is well served by objective and scentific minds, and was prepared for opposition. Before the announcement of its intentions the views of thirteen distinguished geneticists from the British Isles, the United States, Sweden and Australia had been canvassed on whether 'two million dairy cattle may be bred annually to 200 sires of known breeding merit without genetic deterioration.' There is no space here to deal with their replies, but this much can be said : Even if there are unforeseen risks in the scheme, there are safeguards. If the national herds ever became so inbred that the possibilities of an outcross to correct the results of the close con- centration of blood no longer existed, the semen of bulls alive today banked in a deep freeze could do the job without consequences more serious than a return to standards of the greatest excellence of the present time. In any case, the view of the scientists to whom the proposition was addressed is that there is no real risk of dangerous inbreeding, except in the case of breeds of small numbers, where special safe- guards would have to be undertaken. According to Professor Lush, of the Department of Animal Husbandry, Iowa State College, Of course we would like to know the magni- tude of some of these forces more accurately than we do now, but it is my considered opinion that the proposed plan is absolutely safe for at least fifty years and probably for three times as long. If our successors are worth their salt, they will recognise any dangers (almost certainly mild ones) in plenty of time to avoid or correct them.

The breeders, however, are not happy. The situation is very critical,' Mr. W. H. Bursby, sec- retary of the Friesian Cattle Society, told the Friesian Cattle Breeders' Club at their annual dinner: 'We believe it is working definitely against the interest of pedigree breeders by taking capital from them and weakening them.' And later, 'The Board should not try to usurp the rights and livelihood of its own members.'

Who are the Breed Societies? For generations they have been the representatives of the men responsible for the national breeds of cattle as we know them today. They may fairly claim all the improvement that has been achieved since the eighteenth century. But they must also accept the burden of any dissatisfaction that may be felt. The Breed Societies who today are making this stand against the MMB have a record—a pedi- gree, one might almost say—not wholly free from the blemishes of the artistic temperament, nor the characteristics of other monopolies.

They are, in effect, the grandchildren of the gentlemen who, meeting regularly round a table, used occasionally to issue such edicts as that a black and white breed of dairy cows might have black on the body but not on the tail switch' or legs; the cousins of those others who fought a bitter rearguard action to prevent the importa- tion of polled Herefords from America. They are, to abandon the use of metaphor, the very same gentlemen who today oppose the importation of bulls from the Charollais breed, and who have unnecessarily delayed the export of semen. They are the men who, with long-term results never foreseen by themselves, have driven the average intelligent breeder of commercial dairy cattle— that is, the man interested in the improvement of his own cows but without the resources or ,i1/1 ambition to set up as a breeder of bulls for ott: people—into the arms of the Al service by r; methods they have used to keep up the price`l well-bred bulls for natural service (an impart' observer of the pedigree cattle sales once cor pared them to a game of poker played over a I period between friends, where the final NO was likely to be that nobody lost or gained %‘'s much. At these sales the breeders have al‘d,• been ready to perform for each other a se° based on the fact that the roles of buyer and sdl€ would on a subsequent day be reversed).

At first sight the hostility of the breeders still seem difficult to understand, becauso necessity to prove so large a number of bulb the national scheme would require must me' that the Milk Marketing Board would buy m')( I not fewer, young bulls from private herds 0; it has in the past. But the announcement of tr pilot scheme was also an indication that the c13. has arrived when breeding has ceased to be.1 highly profitable art for the very few succes,1 practitioners, and become a science which be directed in the national interest by Pul,1 bodies with far greater resources. The sales 01 large number of bulls to the Board will not co' pensate for the loss of the market for high-pricc' bulls to the individual herd; and, once the dal farmers of England understand that they c'", expect precise and immediate improvement the performance and genetical make-up of the" herds for the price of an AI fee, power prestige will pass from the breeders.

• The Breed Societies may be compared in I situation they find themselves to the NW workers of Lancashire in the days of the sr ning jenny, or more appropriately, perhaps. th' the House of Lords in the early days of this ec''' tury. The forces of history are against thenl• can expect them to go through the • period 11 irrational objection and irritating obstruction t' which men are subject on occasions of Iran'. ition of power; but in the end they will settle (101 to perform, with a lesser return, the lesser task co-operating with the MMB in breeding the bull to be tried every year for the national sell ice.