Evolution: the dictionary has numerous definitions pertaining to this word. No, I’m not going to be giving a science lesson here, but it does have a significant meaning as it pertains to Gelbvieh and the American Gelbvieh Association (AGA). The primary definition means, “a process of change in a certain direction.”
Let’s for a moment look back in time as it relates to the evolution of the cowherd we now have here in the United States. First, we had the Texas Longhorns. These cattle were responsible for the development of the first cattle ranches and the first markets. Now as time went by, some well-known ranchers of that time period had the inspiration to improve the quality of the Longhorns. To accomplish this, they brought to the United States the English breeds of Hereford, Shorthorn, and Angus to cross on the Longhorns, which resulted in the
start of a crossbred commercial cowherd. The ranchers saw an immediate improvement in temperament, appearance and beef quality. So much so, that the decision was made to breed up to either a straightbred Hereford, Angus or Shorthorn. These three became the dominant breeds of the early livestock industry, and today, fall into the second definition of evolution, which is stated as a process of continuous change from a lower, simpler, or worse state to a higher, more complex, or better state.
Much like the early ranchers, some thought there were better livestock breeds out there to produce faster growing, heavier muscled feeder cattle and at the same time improve the milking ability of the cowherd— enter the Continental breeds.
One person that comes to mind for me is a member of the AGA Hall of Fame, Leness Hall. I had the good fortune of getting to become very close with Leness and had numerous conversations about the cattle business. It was during one of those conversations when I asked him why he chose Gelbvieh.
Before Nelson Gelbvieh Ranch was started and Leness became the manager, he held the title of breed procurement for Carnation Genetics. Carnation, through its research to find other breeds, had decided to send Leness to Europe, specifically to locate a breed called Simmental. While he was traveling across Europe, he noticed a dark yellow set of cows that really impressed him. Not knowing for sure what they were, his guide and he pulled into the small farm and asked the owner what he called those cows in his paddock. The farmer told Leness that they were Gelbvieh. This sparked his interest and more research was done, and as we know, they became a part of the initial importation of semen to the United States.
How many of us, as we drive down the road on a trip to somewhere, like Leness, wonder about the genetic makeup of the cows roaming the pasture along the highway? Sure, it’s easy to identify the Herefords, Charolais, and black baldies but after that, it becomes an educated guess. Our reason for wanting to know what they are is because of the outstanding set of calves with this group of cows. From our standpoint, they must be Gelbvieh or Balancer®-cross cows. We can say this because we know from experience and
research data, that Gelbvieh are the maternal breed. For Leness, that was the deciding factor. Of all the breeds he researched in Europe, none matched the superior maternal traits he saw in the Gelbvieh breed.
This issue focuses on the elite cows in the AGA database. In the future, and as part of the next long-range strategic plan, I feel it’s important that we further recognize superior females. Not only the cows that qualify for Dams of Merit and Dams of Distinction but also highlight the cows that have a significant impact on the genetic base of this breed, much like we do with the most heavily-used sires. As time has evolved, the tracking of maternal genetics has become more relevant, not only to Gelbvieh and Balancer breeders but also to commercial producers who want to develop a more efficient cowherd.
I started this article talking about evolution, and I may have wandered some, but the Gelbvieh cow we know today is not the same as the original. The process of evolution takes place over time and because these changes occur in small increments they can go unnoticed. For that reason, it’s important for the AGA to continue to monitor the effects of genetics and environment and at the same time, implement new research, keep abreast of industry demands, adapt to changing technologies and develop new programs to advance our place in the industry.
I would encourage every member to attend the AGA Annual Meeting in Lincoln. This meeting allows for the input of the membership with their participation in the committee meetings. Here is where the initial draft of the next long-range strategic plan will be presented by topic in each committee meeting. So rather than having to grasp the whole plan, individual aspects can be discussed and focused on, thus eliminating the chance to get sidetracked.
We have talked about evolution as it pertains to the Gelbvieh cow, so too does evolution relate to the AGA. Like the early ranchers, who envisioned a better type of cattle, we as members of this association must also have a vision for our future. The need to evolve is paramount to the future of the AGA. I’ll again state the second definition of evolution with a little twist, a process of continuous change from a lower, simpler, or worse state to a higher, more complex, or better state of GROWTH.