Pedigree breeding

Brief theory guide on OB breeding – Pedigree breeding

The breeding method applied to Original Braunvieh differs from other breeding methods in terms of herd breeding and natural service. The bulls used are primarily young sires that have not been progeny-tested yet. Despite this “old” breeding method, OB breeding shows an incredible genetic improvement in performance, morphology and above all in udder and teat quality. One may wonder why, under these circumstances, such a genetic gain is possible. The answer is clear: the success lies in the use of pedigree breeding. 

What does pedigree breeding mean?

Pedigree breeding is a breeding method focused primarily on the parentage of animals. To increase the level of certainty, as much information as possible is collected on several generations of ancestors. In order to consider bloodline combinations as well, the system looks at as far back as the sixth generation, if possible. Including further generations is not necessary, as “blood dilution” would be too high and would no longer have any direct impact on breeding. The pedigree breeding method does not focus on direct mating partners, but rather on bloodline combinations. This is also the main difference from breeding with progeny-tested sires, that basically concentrates only on the sires used.

Origins of pedigree breeding

The pedigree breeding method was developed based on natural service. Through it, breeders obtained information on the quality of male and female genetics. Of course, progeny shows allowed them to monitor the breeding result on a regular basis. This is the reason why male progeny shows, that are still widely spread in OB breeding as well, are an important reference.

Pedigree and line breeding are closely connected. One of the main features of pedigree breeding is the evaluation of all recorded performance traits across many generations. To a certain extent, the trait evaluation anticipates modern breeding value estimation, although it has to start from absolute performance and type values. There is one main difference between pedigree evaluation and the breeding value estimation based on parentage. In the breeding value, performance and type data are combined into a single value; it doesn’t matter how the value was achieved. Compared to pedigree evaluation, the parentage assessment makes a step forward and analyzes the performance development among the generations and within the breeding lines.

Preserving and improving performance from one generation to the next is a proof that the breeding efforts were successful and that selection was sufficiently high. Similar developments within the lines testify a consistent breeding strategy and, last but not least, validate the genetic lines and bloodline combinations. This information supports future decisions on the line combinations to use in subsequent matings.  

Successful pedigree breeding

In order for pedigree breeding to be successful, it is necessary, on the one hand, to define a clear and consistent breeding aim and, on the other hand, to have deep knowledge of the qualities of lines and especially of line combinations. Not only must positive features be well known, but also the negative ones that are to be eradicated or at least not to be enhanced. 

The breeder is required to have both a critical and a self-critical attitude. To this purpose, he needs regular comparison, as it is the case in shows and especially when breeding families and bull progenies are shown in exhibitions.

Although female breeding families are at the moment in the spotlight, we shall not forget the pre-eminent role of male bloodlines. There is a simple reason behind that: in order for a strong maternal line to continue, you need a sire. Sires, however, cannot entirely pass on the visible quality of a dam’s line, as the maternal effect is lost by them. Based on this experience, it is also recommended that not only the main maternal line, but also the paternal-maternal bloodline are taken into account. Only by combining strong maternal lines can a sire be more effective and thus determine the success of a breeding strategy. Therefore, positive traits must be strengthened through the genetically different paternal and maternal bloodlines. To compensate for the maternal effect and be able to influence the genetic improvement, the strong performance lines in the sire must be combined in a blood-relation pattern in the mating cow.

As already mentioned, pedigree breeding requires deep knowledge of the hereditary potential of a sire. Examining the pedigrees of successful sires carefully is always important. Likewise, the pedigree of a mating can be drawn and evaluated in advance to identify any genetic trends, thus performing a selection prior to mating. This process allows to significantly reduce the risk related to the use of sires that have not been progeny-tested yet. In order for breeding to be successful in the long run, it is necessary to assess any possible genetic combinations in advance. This may be an extremely profitable breeding strategy also for the future, as it would partly avoid expensive progeny tests.

Pedigree breeding in suckler cow husbandry

Pedigree breeding plays an important role both in sire breeding and selection. The advantages have to be exploited not only in the traditional dual purpose breeding, but also in suckler cow husbandry. In other words, the advantages of an efficient and high-performing dual purpose breed must be applied to suckler cow husbandry too. OB breeding offers a sufficient number of female animals that can be used as dams; therefore, pedigrees come into play primarily when selecting a sire. The special situation in suckler cow husbandry lies in the fact that the sire used must be available for end products. Hence the pedigree evaluation, in particular with respect to muscle conformation, is of paramount importance while selecting sires. Besides the actual fattening and slaughter performance, however, calving ease has to be taken into account too. In suckler cow husbandry, pedigree breeding has to be combined with sib and/or offspring performance records of sires. Heifer calves and especially bull calves, if available, provide good indications on the beef conformation potential.