Sunday, November 13, 2011
The Case of 244
Separating bull from the facts
The Case of 244
L. Neil Burcham logic
By Stephen L. Wilmeth
Most travelers on the freeway passing the NMSU campus will never notice the assortment of calves in the pens near the university’s new equine facility. Fewer would have interest in stopping and walking through them. What they are missing is an extensive body of work and insight. The genetic information in those pens is immense.
Those bull calves come from the university’s breeding program. They are offered to private producers in the annual NMSU auction. It is a fabulous benefit to producers seeking improved genetics.
When selecting a candidate, a learning process should be undertaken. It can start with a walk. A walk through those pens is going to reveal a lot to the close observer. The information will build a profile of selection preferences to the potential buyer. Body characteristics are important, but so are other things. Unobserved genetic information can be obtained through data provided by the university, but certain things must be determined by observation and inspection.
For example, the personality of a calf at that age has lasting implications for the eventual owner. Good dispositions are important. Good dispositions usually mean the cattle will perform better under conditions of stress. Good performance under stress usually equates to more pounds of beef. A good cowman wants to know how that bull calf is going to behave because his offspring will be prone to the same tendencies.
The Show Ring influence and 244
The fascination with fairs has created an image of preferred livestock that is not always correct. Big strapping, finished steers standing in the middle of a show ring have formed the image of what “good” cattle should look like. The more important question should be is what that same animal would look like if he and his mama were exposed to only natural conditions. “Pretty” may not be as pretty if only natural conditions prevail.
Such was the case in a NMSU bull calf that became known as 244. Professor Neil Burcham remembers that calf and his mother very well. The cow didn’t fit any model for good disposition.
In describing her, Professor Burcham harbors no fondness. “She would clean your *** and give it back to you in a sack!” he described in his scientific fashion. “But, that little sorry sack of bones was the 13th calf in a row that would eventually be 18 calves without a miss before we led that old cow into the meats lab for her last hoorah!”
Something special existed in the genetic makeup of that cow. It needed to be perpetuated.
“We selected him only on a subjective basis because of that old cow”, the good professor concluded. “All the numbers suggested we should separate him from his knackers!”
The rest of the story
The numbers supported Burcham’s assessment of the bull. He was heavier than the elite bulls at birth. He weaned back in the pack and he was a slow grower. In short, he was far from spectacular.
“I finally took his picture so I could remember how ugly that **** really was,” Neil admitted. “But, what a bull he became.”
All the bull did was to make Angus history. Bull 244 produced Pathfinder cows in numbers, and, over time, probably had more to do with the improvement of the NMSU herd than any other bull. The challenge that 244 presents to this day is to understand how to find his counterparts to breed elite cows.
The Angus Association has a program of merit for outstanding cows. These rare cows are called Pathfinders. In order to qualify as Pathfinder, the cows must calve before 25 months. They must then continue calving within the period of “365+30 days”. They are then measured on a three calf string and the calves must wean 105% of the weight of their peers.
When 244 was being described in 2003, NMSU had 12 Pathfinders in its herd book . . . nearly every one of those cows had direct linage to 244.
I have a firm belief that elite bulls come from elite bulls . . . and elite cows. Neil Burcham believes that elite cows come from . . . elite cow families.
“Elite cows come from elite cow families . . . just like elite sled dogs and elite girl basketball teams,” Neil Burcham continued, but . . . THAT story must be told at another time . . . with a bit of qualification!
Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “I am not sure what gift is greater to NMSU history . . . Neil Burcham or 244. Neil will argue that he is because of his looks as compared to 244!”
THE WESTERNER sez:
Randy Upham and I tip our hats to the "elite" professor, Dr. Burcham.
Why even Dr. Burcham's favorite President feels compelled to give him a tip of the hat.