Sunday, January 28, 2007

Jacob's Breeding Program

For the first time in several years I have been diligently trying to read through the Bible in a year. My excuse for not doing this in so long, well I really have no good excuse. So I bought a new Bible, a one year chronological bible,(NIV). I chose this particular edition for three reasons.

First, I have perused a chronological Bible before and I like the idea of putting the events in an order more consistent with time of the events rather than the writings of one author.
Second, I have never read all the way through the NIV, and (lets not get sidetracked here)reading something other than the KJV which I normally use, might help my understanding of or stimulate further study of passages that I would be very familiar with in the KJV.
Lastly, I have tried several times to read through the Bible with a list of passages stuck in the pages as a bookmark, but each time I ended up losing the bookmark. This Bible has each day listed ie. January 28.

All of this to say, that I was reading in Genesis 30:25-43 where Jacob is feeding Laban's sheep and goats and the arrangement that they made between them to establish Jacobs wages was very fascinating, he clearly understood the role of genetics in the coloring and the health of the herd.
I'm going to explain the events that occurred the way I understand them, I am not speaking with authority, only injecting my understanding of genetics and breeding.

Jacob and Laban reached an agreement that from that day forward, all of the goats and sheep(livestock) born into Jacobs's herd that were not solid white would be Jacob's. Now this would be very difficult after Laban removed all animals with any color from the herd Jacob was tending and sent them off three days journey away. I believe that Jacob knew, and we now know, that some of the animals carry a heterozygous(recessive)gene(color) even while appearing to be homozygous(dominate)solid white.
Now the first couple of years must have been very slow and frustrating while a small number of colored animals were born. But after a couple of years when Jacob got some colored males in the herd he began to breed all of the best animals with males that were dominate colored. This sharply increased
the number of colored animals in the herd. Add to this the use of some kind of aphrodisiac in the watering troughs, which induced the females into "heat" allowing the selective breeding of the best, strongest, healthiest animals. I think the rods contained some substance that increased the estrus in the herd.
Today we have similar substances that come in a bottle, are injected into the animal and are very effective in starting the estrus. In cattle herds and swine herds, it is common to inject a certain number of animals that the operation intends to breed for a given period of time, in that way inducing the estrus at a time convenient for the operator. Much better to inject a cow on Friday afternoon so that four days later, Tuesday morning, the cow is ready for breeding, than to let it occur the natural way and wind up with cows to breed on Sunday morning. All of this is exactly what I understand Jacob to have been doing with the peeled rods in the drinking troughs.
The end results were that after six years Jacob had a herd of colored animals, with very few if any of the white animals left. By the 4th or 5th year every animal born in the herd was showing some sign of color, because the selective breeding on Jacob's part meant that every animal carried the colored genetics. Even the white female animals were throwing colored offspring because of the colored males used as sires and the fact that the females carried a recessive trait for color.

In the post with the pig pictures below I talked about the effect that breeding for lean in the hog herd had on the hog feeding business. As the animals got leaner, they had less and less ability to tolerate the cold temperatures in the midwest. To gain efficiency in feeding hogs, ie feeding for growth rather than just to keep the pig warm, it was necessary to put the pig in a closed environment. A warm comfortable happy pig will grow much faster than a cold, uncomfortable unhappy pig. So the direct effect of selective breeding resulted in a change in the makeup of the animal. Just like adding color to Jacob's flock.
Earlier this week I received a newsletter from a relative in the cattle breeding business. Let me quote a short excerpt form an article in that newsletter. "Robert Bakewell, an eighteenth-century Englishman, is referred to as the "father of livestock breeding". He did not know about DNA or genes but observed that mating superior animals produced superior progeny more than other matings. He translated his observation that "like begets like" into a breeding strategy for animal improvement." "For decades, one of the tools producers have had available is expected progeny differences or EPD's. Bakewell sorted through his records and pedigrees, to select for the most favorable traits." We still do the same today with high speed computers and massive data sets. There is a National Beef Cattle Evaluation Consortium (NBCEC), which advises the beef industry with the EPD's needed for selection. But times are changing, EPD's rely on pedigree and performance data to provide their information. We use EPD's to predict the genetic merit of an animal, without knowing the individual genes that determine a given trait in the animal, good or bad. Now with modern genetic and DNA testing it is possible to isolate the differences in expression of a trait, use color as an example, one DNA test is for red/black color. (Black is usually considered desirable, ie higher price at sale. ) The test allows us to identify which animals have two copies of the black allele (homozygous) and which have one black and one red allele (heterozygous). Before this test one could only suspect an animal of being a "red carrier", using previous EPD's. This search for traits related to color used to be done with EPD's, which lead to more testing, by breeding that animal to a know homozygous black animal to see if he sired red offspring. Now with DNA testing we can know for certain the animal color, parentage(if you pay big money for a animal that came from some high dollar sire, its nice to know that the parentage is what you paid for), even and maybe most important, there is a DNA test for the trait that relates to the tenderness of the animals meat. That alone will radically change almost all cattle breeding, because the number one concern of the consumer in meat tenderness.

Well, enough about EPD's and DNA, meat tenderness etc. Isn't it amazing that Jacob's breeding program is so similar to what we do today in the livestock business.