'Rear your own' is wise advice to the man who wishes to build a pedigree attested herd. It takes a brave and skilled man to buy mature cows without buying trouble, especially if he is buying pedigree attested stock.
By far the best way of founding a pedigree herd is to buy a bunch of heifers, either in calf or bulling heifers (in my opinion the younger the better), and allow your herd to grow slowly alongside your experience. But I had a good milking non-pedigree herd when I decided to go pedigree and wished to maintain the income from that source while building the pedigree herd. So I decided on a gradual change over.
As I was aiming at attestation simultaneously with my efforts to build a pedigree herd, the first step was to have the herd tuberculin-tested. The first test showed twenty-seven reactors out of sixty-five head of stock, and all of the reactors were cows.
An interesting thing which, if not a coincidence, may be a useful guide to others, is that all the reactors were among cattle normally wintered indoors. A part of the herd was at that time housed in open-backed, exposed sheds, and not one of these cows reacted.
I decided to dispose of these twenty-seven reactors and replace them with cows in full production. With a limitation on capital, I had to purchase oldish cows which, besides being cheaper, would produce immediately a higher yield than first-calf heifers. If they had good records behind them, they would be useful for breeding young stock for the future herd.
How riddled with pitfalls is the business of buying pedigree cows. There are still breeders in all breeds who make much of the gullibility of the new breeder in the disposal of their duds. Smart as a farmer may be at the ordinary market, it takes a genius to avoid trouble when starting in a new breed.
Even in the purchase of animals that have passed all the present-day tests there is no sure safeguard. I have brought home more than one animal with a T.T. certificate, and even from an attested herd, to react badly immediately on arrival home.
The fact is that it is possible for a cow to pass the tuberculin test and yet show sufficient signs of being a subsequent reactor to enable her owner, if unscrupulous enough, to dispose of her as T.T. before she does react.
This practice of sending doubtful reactors and potential reactors to T.T. sales is bound to continue until something is done by the Government about the disposal of, and compensation for, T.T. and agglutination test reactors. Or until, failing action by the Government, farmers themselves, through their own organizations such as the National Farmers' Union or T.T. Milk Producers' Association, institute their own scheme of insurance, whereby owners of attested herds should pay a small insurance premium, the proceeds of which could be used to compensate for the isolation and treatment of reactors. It is in ways such as this that the National Farmers' Union might be better employed. A union which can help its members to be self-reliant and more efficient, and competent in their work, is a far greater asset to the nation and the world, and consequently to farmers themselves, than just another trade union concerned only to extract the highest possible prices for its members from a reluctant and disgruntled community. And the only alternative to self-organization, self-discipline and self-help is the inflicted dictatorship of a Government which may not understand our problems. If we cannot produce what the consumer wants, then compulsory regulations may force it from us in ways we don't like. Schemes such as this need only be used by the organic farmer in the costly transitional period, for in the long run it is evident that organic methods, with the supplementary use of preventive and remedial herbs, will make the need for the disposal of reactors extremely rare.
Other and perhaps greater sources of confusion in the choice of animals are the published records. I am sure more buyers are misled by records, upon which so much reliance is placed, than by any other factor. For records carelessly read, especially if they have been more carefully and deceptively produced, might mean everything or nothing at all.
In the first place, isolated yields have little or no relevance; neither have yields that bear no relationship to the age of the animal.
For instance, a heifer that produces 650 gallons with her first calf, beginning at two years old, is far more valuable than the heifer that produces 1,000 gallons with her first calf commencing the lactation at three and a half years old. Or a cow that produces a big yield after a long rest may never produce such a yield again, nor breed heifers capable of repeating her single high yield.
I had one cow that never produced more than 1,000 gallons, but after eighteen months' rest, during which time I had difficulty in getting her in calf, she did a lactation of 1,700 gallons. The important thing about that cow was not the 1,700-gallon lactation, which would be printed boldly in a sale catalogue without any reference to the rest which preceded it, but the under 1,000-gallon lactations which she did in several successive twelve-month periods.
These things I have discovered out of sad experience. But I also discovered that published information can operate in one's favour if studied with the cow's obvious potentialities observed, especially if one has some knowledge of the previous management of the cow.
I purchased one cow at a dispersal sale where I was able to gather that the management of the herd had not been as efficient as the herd deserved. The cow was stated to be giving 29 lb. a day, several weeks after calving, on the day of the sale, but I felt sure that from her appearance and udder she should do much more.
She came home to rise in yield to 56 lb. a day, and did 1,200 gallons in the lactation, although she was eight years old and had never done more than 700 gallons before.
One often reads in sale catalogues that a cow has done a certain yield in 365 days. This figure may mean that she has given the particular yield in one lactation, or that she has been got in calf again quickly and fitted one lactation and part of another into one year, thereby giving the impression from her 365-day yield that she is a better milker than a study of several lactations might reveal.
One cow in my herd completed a lactation of 980 gallons in 280 days during a recording year, but she calved again and went on to produce 1,150 gallons in the recording year of 365 days; a figure which would look much better in a catalogue but which would not deceive the buyer who studied her performance deeply.
My journey from a nondescript herd to pedigree and attestation has taught me the importance of gaining the following information about the females in the pedigrees of animals that I buy, whether cows or bulls:
- The total yield in each recorded lactation.
- The age of the animal at the commencement of each lactation.
- The number of days the animal was in milk, and whether the figures refer to a continuous lactation or a recording year which may include parts of two lactations.
(All the above information is shown in the annual 'Register of Milk Records', which reputable breeders will usually allow buyers to inspect. An inspection of this register is probably the surest guard against being misled in the matter of records.)
- Butterfat figures for at least six or eight tests in each lactation. In view of the growing emphasis on quality, these are almost more important than milk yields. Before I changed over to Jerseys I had a Friesian cow which was a regular 1,000-galloner, but she was equally consistent with her 2.4 to 2.6 per cent butter-fat. If I had continued to breed from her I might have built up a very high-yielding herd, but I might also have found myself without a market for my poor-quality milk, to say nothing of the interest of the law in this matter.
- To see the actual figures of the measurements taken at the last T.T. test and, if possible, to obtain an individual certificate with each cow. It is possible then to see whether the cow passed the test easily or whether she was a border-line case.
Don't be afraid to splash out on your bull, even if it means buying fewer females; and don't mind how long it takes to find the right one. If I were starting again I should be prepared to set aside as much for the purchase of the bull as for all the females put together, in order to get the bull I wanted.
But don't be swept off your feet by freak yields or butterfat tests in the pedigree records. I recently saw a Jersey bull sold for 1,500 guineas at an auction, because his dam had averaged butterfat tests of 6 and 7 per cent in two lactations only. Her previous lactations had been normal and her ancestors showed normal butterfat tests. It is clear that such freak tests are never likely to be transmitted to the bull's progeny.
If you pay well for the bull you should be well satisfied with his potentialities. That means seeing as many of his female ancestors, and their records, as possible -- certainly his dam, and go to the ends of the earth to see his grandam and sire's dam, if they are living. It will be all the more valuable if they are old, for then you will see how they wear, particularly in the udder.
Even more important are the half-sisters; and if there are any full sisters in the herd you will be a lucky man, for if the herd from which you are buying is a good established one, and the yields and butterfat tests consistent for several generations, it is almost certain that the bull will breed females as good, if not better, than his full sisters.
But when the solid foundation of a good herd is laid, on the basis of sound advice and costly experience, all the advice in the world isn't going to deprive you or me, or any other farmer worth the name, of the thrill and excitement of an occasional exercise of judgment pure and simple in the purchase of a cow.
Next: 17. Pigs and Poultry on the Fertility Farm
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