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There is no question that when it comes to understanding what cows will transmit and what cows will not, it is an enigma wrapped in a conundrum.  There is much that we don’t know and some would argue it is not meant to be known.  The problem is, for those of us with a passion for breeding great dairy cattle, we want to know it all.  For that I turn to the three greatest genetic geniuses in the history of the world, Darwin, Mendel and Hunt (No they are not a law firm).

Charles Robert Darwin He established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestors, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection, in which the struggle for existence has a similar effect to the artificial selection involved in selective breeding.

Charles Darwin

Ask anyone in the world to name a geneticist and the first name that comes to mind has to be Charles Darwin.  No better demonstration of Darwin’s theory of evolution exists in the world than in dairy cattle breeding.  While there is no question that artificial selection and selective breeding exist on a daily basis, a cow’s ability to reproduce and produce milk leads to a natural level of selection that epitomizes Darwin’s theory.  “The laws governing inheritance,” Darwin wrote, “are for the most part unknown.”  Moreover, while many modern geneticists have theories about the tendencies of the modern Holstein cow, their genetic transmission pathways in large part remain a mystery to this day.

Gregor Mendel

Gregor Mendel

Then along came Gregor Mendel who introduced the concept of “genes” to explain heritability.  Mendel changed the whole way we look at breeding when he introduced the theory that the chromosome is the carrier of genetic traits.  He also explained why a trait can disappear in one generation and reappear in the next and why these traits occur in a three-to-one ratio.  One of Mendel’s disciples, three quarters of a century later, was Thomas B. Macaulay.  Macaulay conducted his own studies, on his Mount Victoria Farms (Read more: Mount Victoria Farms – The art and science of great breeding).

Thomas Hunt Morgan

Thomas Hunt Morgan

Then along came Hunt. Well, more specifically, Thomas Hunt Morgan, but my ego wouldn’t let this go as my name is Andrew Morgan Hunt (Read more about my ego: I’m Sorry But I’ve Had Just About Enough Of… ).  In research that is now reproduced by grade 9 science students around the world, Morgan introduced the concept of X and Y-chromosomes.  Morgan concluded that a female has two X chromosomes and that males have both X and Y-chromosomes.  He also posited that the male of the species, because of the presence of the Y chromosome, transmits differently than the female.

To get a better understanding of this, let’s look at this from both sides of the story.

His side of the story (XY)

If you look at Holstein bulls throughout history you find four distinct patterns:

  1. Great daughters but no legacy sons
    These are the bulls that sired amazing brood cows but none of their sons were able to continue their genetic legacy.  Examples are Hanover-Hill Triple Threat, Carlin-M Ivanhoe Bell, and Braedale Goldwyn.  They all were able to sire brood cow daughters beyond compare, but no real sons to advance that genetic legacy.  Why did these sires seem to produce better on the female side than that of the male?  For that we need to turn to Morgan and his X and Y chromosome theory.  Since the Y chromosome is the only one that is inherited solely via the paternal  line, this leads  some geneticists to believe that it carries little genetic information, and as a result  a great sires genetic legacy rest more with his daughters than with his sons.  Therefore, with this first group of sires it is thought that much of their genetics were transmitted on the X chromosome rather than the Y.
  2. Great sons but not as many brood cows
    Bulls that sired outstanding sons but never produced a top daughter.  A couple of great examples of this are Montvic Rag Apple Sovereign, Maizefield Bellwood and O-Bee Manfred Justice.  All of these sires have left outstanding sons, but are not found as often in the maternal sire stack of the great sires.  There is no question as to their genetic contribution to the breed, but it was more as a sire of sons than their ability to leave an equal number of brood cows.
  3. Sons and daughters both extraordinary
    These are the sires that have gone down in history as the all-time greats.  Sires like Johanna Rag Apple Pabst, Governor of Carnation, Montvic Chieftain, Wisconsin Admiral Burke Lad, A.B.C. Reflection Sovereign, Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation, Pawnee Farm Alrinda Chief, Walkway Chief Mark, Hanoverhill Starbuck, Madawaska Aerostar and Maughlin Storm.  These are the bulls that not only displayed personal greatness but were also able to transmit both outstanding brood cows as well as legacy sons.
  4. Sons and daughters that were inferior
    Sons and daughters that are both below average.  These bulls left inferior daughters and as a result were never even given the chance to produce sons.  Bulls in this category are too numerous to mention and loads of their daughters go to the slaughterhouses every day.  No explanation necessary other than a lack of genetic merit and here enters the need for genomics (Read more: The Truth About Genomic Indexes – “Show Me” That They Work).

Her side the story (XX)

The female side of the story uses the same four distinct groups.

  1. Great daughters but no legacy sons
    These are cows with outstanding female descendants but undistinguished males.  Great examples of these are the cow families of Hanover Hill Papoose, Krull Broker Elegance and Plunshanski Chief Faith.  They all were able to leave outstanding female descendants generation after generation, but were never really able to accomplish the same feat on the male side of the story.
  2. Great sons but not as many brood cows
    These are the cows with potent transmitting sons, but daughters who didn’t outperform the average.  Examples of these are Wylamyna Tidy Kathleen (dam of Sir Bess Tidy and Sir Bess Ormsby Tidy Fobes) Lakefield Fobes Delight (dam of Lakefield Fond Hope, Lakefield Fond Delight Fobes and Carnation Royal Master) and Pawnee Farm Glenvue Beauty (dam of Pawnee Farm Arlinda Chief).  All of these cows had outstanding maternal lines but for some reason were just not able to transmit that legacy through their daughters.
  3. Sons and daughters both extraordinary
    Among the females in this category are Glenridge Citation Roxy, Mil-R-Mor Roxette, Comestar Laurie Sheik, Braedale Gypsy Grand and Snow-N Denises Dellia.
  4. Sons and daughters that were inferior
    Cows who, in terms of influence, failed to produce anything worthwhile.  Blame it on lack of genetics, bad breeding, improper management, or just bad luck, these cows just didn’t influence the breed. We have all seen examples.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There has never been a clear explanation of why some bloodlines seem to transmit better through maternal lines, others through the paternal, and still others do well in both.  Even genomics does not answer this.  There are high genomic animals that still have these same tendencies.  Maybe if we could genomic test the genes on each chromosome we might find the answers?  Until then Genetic Transmission in the Holstein Cow will remain a mystery.

To read more about this get a copy of The Holstein History by Edward Morwick and read the chapter on Inheritance Patterns.

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With the recent announcement that the iconic red barns of Mount Victoria Farms on top of Macaulay Hill are to be razed in the next two months to make way for a planned residential subdivision, a monument of Holstein history, unrivaled by any other, will be destroyed.  The invincible blood that pumped through the veins of Thomas Basset Macaulay led to the Mount Victoria herd influencing cattle populations in every land under the sun.  No Holstein exists in this world that is not a descendant of the great Johanna Rag Apple Pabst,  T.B. Macaulay`s foundation sire for Mount Victoria.

mount victoria key shot

To understand how one herd could have such a profound impact on the world of dairy cattle, you first have to understand the man behind the herd.  TB Macaulay, accomplishments would rival those of the late great Peter Heffering (Read more: HANOVER HILL HOLSTEINS: PETER HEFFERING 1931-2012).  Macaulay wasn’t born on a farm.  He wasn’t raised on a farm and, in fact, didn’t own his first Holstein until he was 66.  However, during an 18-year period he would change the Holstein world forever.

mount victoria tb plaque

Macaulay was actually a wealthy insurance executive who got into farming more by chance than by design.  Towards the end of a very successful career he was looking to invest in other areas.  When he discovered the farm he had purchased was more of a sand pile than great cropland, he started purchasing livestock to start building up the soil.  This ultimately led to him buying his first Holstein in 1924, and the start of a very distinct bloodline.  You see Macaulay had very definite ideas on the subject of genetics.  His studies in corn breeding were more advanced than any that had been made at that time.  This all traces back to his insurance career where he was an actuary.  Actuaries are the people who compile and analyze statistics and use them to calculate insurance risks and premiums.  It’s this love of mathematical theory that Macaulay would transpose into his breeding program at Mount Victoria.

Purifying the Bloodline

Inbreeding and line breeding work, when done correctly, because it involves concentrating the exceptional genes of the ancestors in the pedigree.  As Edward Morwick points out in his book The Chosen Breed, “It is essentially a mathematical process and a discipline in which an actuary’s training would stand him in good stead.  Through the lessons learned as an actuary which were cross-applied to the study of genetics, Macaulay became convinced of his ability to develop a strain of Holstein cattle pure for sound type, good udders and four percent test.” There is never ending debate about whether breeding great cattle is an art form or a science?  Macaulay’s favorite saying from Beattie sums it up “What cannot art and industry perform, When science plans the progress of their toil!”

mount victoria door

Macaulay would study the dairy publications of the time to get a better understanding of what bloodlines were transmitting the ideals he was looking for.  Specifically he was looking to breed four percent butterfat with heavy milk production and a high standard of type.

The Big Six

In his research Macaulay identified the Prince Colanthis Abbekerk bloodlines of Oxford County in Ontario to have what he needed and made trips in 1924 and 1925 to purchase the seed stock he needed.  This lead to many purchases highlighted by what was coined by William Prescott of Holstein-Friesian World as “The Big Six”.  They were Oakhurst Colantha Abbekerk, Ingleside Pietje Posh, Dixie Colantha Hartog, Lady Meg Posch and Bonheur Abberkerk Posch 2nd.

The Foundation Sire

He also needed a herd sire.  Searching the Holstein-Friesian World, he found “The One” in Johanna Rag Apple Pabst.  The bull that become the center of Macaulay’s line breeding vision.  A vision that included using all the tools – testing, classifying, showing, culling and advertising would be utilized and outcross sires would be used sparingly when needed.

Johanna Rag Apple Pabst combined with the Mount Victoria foundation cows to create the Rag Apple bloodline.  His progeny from the Posch-Abbekerk cows handpicked from Oxford County would go on to change the Holstein world.

Johanna Rag Apple Pabst sired three All-American Get of Sires and two reserve gets.  51 daughters with 100 completed records averaged 15,753 lbs. milk, 626 lbs. and 4.0% Fat.  Realizing the dream that Macaulay had set out to achieve.

Famous Pabst daughters include:

  • Montvic Rag Apple Colantha Abbekerk (EX-11*)
    The highest producing daughter with a world 3X record of 1,263 lbs of fat
  • Montvic Rag Apple Bonheur (GM)
    A four time All-American
  • Montvic Rag Apple Bonheur Abbekerk (EX)
    Fat production of 1,047 lbs.
  • Montvic Rag Apple Pietje (GM)
    Produced 1,043 lbs. fat, 22,980 lbs milk, 4.54% as a three-year old

Highlights of his sons include:

  • Montvic Rag Apple Paul (Extra)
    Pabst’s only Class Extra son.
  • Montvic Rag Apple Baron
    Sire of Montvic Rag Apple Baron 2nd, foundation sire of the Texal family.
  • Montvic Rag Apple DeKol
    Out of Pauline Dandelion DeKol.  One of Western Canada’s biggest impact sires.  Sired show stock.
  • Montvic Rag Apple Hartog
    A show bull.  Sired Hays Supreme.
  • Montvic Posch Rag Apple.
    Out of Lady Meg Posch.  Tyler Farms Posch Letha,  his daughter, was the dam of Osborndale Ty Vic (EX-GM), sire of Osborndale Ivanhoe (EX-GM)
  • Montvic Pabst Rag Apple
    Lady Meg Posch son.  Daughters provided part of the foundation of the Glenafton herd.
  • Montvic Rag Apple Dandy
    Line bred, a son sired Rosehill Fayne Wayne (EX), three times All-American aged cow.
  • Montvic Chieftain
    Son of Triune Papoose Piebe, and the sire of the Pathfinder, who in 1962 when the All-Time All-American’s where selected all four milking aged females where Pathfinder daughters.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Mount Victoria has produced eight Class Extra sires.  This is something only surpassed by Hanover Hill and more recently Ferme Gillette.  Unlike the other two, Mount Victoria did not have the aid of embryo transfer or artificial insemination to spread their bloodlines.  One could easily make the case that T.B. Macaulay and his use of mathematics to develop a line bred bloodline was the greatest cattle breeder of all time.  His outstanding collection of Holstein cattle pushed the boundaries of what was considered possible.  Macaulay stretched the limits of what was thought achievable.  All this from an actuary who loved the artful science of animal breeding!

Special thanks to Sheila Sundborg for the great shots.  Read more about Sheila and the great donation she made to the Friends of Andrea Crowe Fundraiser that raised over $83,000 for one of the brightest lights in the dairy industry.

For a full history of the Canadian Holstein breed check out “The Chosen Breed” by Edward Young Morwick and watch for our interview next week with him.


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