What is the importance of animal breeding in economic terms?

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2009-05-11 07:04:31

The science of ANIMAL breeding is defined as the application of

the principles of GENETICS and biometry to improve the efficiency

of production in farm animals. These principles were applied to

change animal populations thousands of years before the sciences of

genetics and biometry were formally established. The practice of

animal breeding dates back to the Neolithic period (approximately

7000 BC), when people attempted to domesticate wild species such as

caribou, goats, hogs and DOGS. Domestication was performed through

controlled mating and reproduction of captive animals which were

selected and mated based on their behaviour and temperament.

Judging from cave paintings that have survived, selection was also

applied to some qualitative traits such as coat colour and the

absence or presence of horns. Without written records, there is no

certain knowledge of the evolution of animal breeding practices,

but written documents dating back more than 4000 years indicate

that humans appreciated the significance of family resemblance in

mating systems, recognized the dangers of intense inbreeding, and

used castration to prevent the reproduction of undesirable males.

Progress in the performance of domesticated animals through these

selection practices was very slow; improvements were mainly due to

animals adapting better to their environments. Robert Bakewell, an

English animal breeder of the 18th century, is considered the

founder of systematized animal breeding. He was the first to

emphasize the importance of accurate breeding records, introduced

the concept of progeny testing to evaluate the genetic potentials

of young sires, and applied inbreeding to stabilize desired

qualitative traits. He also promoted concepts such as "like begets

like,""prepotency is associated with inbreeding" and "breed the

best to the best." Bakewell and his contemporaries in Europe

pioneered the development of diverse breeds of BEEF cattle, DAIRY

cattle, SHEEP, hogs and HORSES. Most livestock breeds with pedigree

herd books and breed associations were established between the late

18th century and the second half of the 19th century. Colour,

conformation, geographical origin and some production

characteristics were the main factors that differentiated these

breeds. Wide geographical redistribution of animal populations was

also an important factor in the formation of new breeds, as

invading armies, migrating people and traders transported livestock

to new lands. Animal breeding as a modern SCIENCE belongs to the

20th century. Although numerous geneticists and biometricians have

made significant contributions to the development of this science,

J.L. Lush of Iowa State University is considered the father of the

modern science of animal breeding. Lush and his students developed

major scientific procedures applicable to the genetic improvement

of farm animals. Studies on crossbreeding were first performed at

the University of Saskatchewan in 1930, under the direction of J.W.

Grant MACEWAN and L.M.Winters. Studies on quantitative genetics in

Canada were initiated by Jack Stothart (1934). Since 1940,

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada RESEARCH STATIONS at Lacombe and

Lethbridge, Alta, Brandon, Man, Lennoxville, Qué, and Ottawa have

been active in animal breeding research. Among educational centres,

the universities of Guelph, Alberta, McGill and Manitoba have been

active in animal breeding research and training. The relative

scarcity of scientists and active research centres in this field

reflects the high cost of research on genetic improvement of farm

animals. Major crossbreeding studies and breed synthesis projects

have included the investigations of R.T. Berg and associates at the

University of Alberta and Howard FREDEEN and associates at

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. The results of long-term

controlled selection studies in hogs by Stothart and Fredeen, in

POULTRY by Robert Gowe (Ottawa), and in beef cattle by Berg and

scientists at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada demonstrated the

effectiveness of systematic selection, and were all in agreement

with theoretical expectations. The Lacombe breed of hogs was the

first livestock breed developed in Canada, by Stothart and Fredeen.

This breed is popular in many countries around the world.

Statistical Procedures

During the past 2 decades, scientists at the University of

Guelph (B.W. Kennedy, J.W. Wilton, L.R. Schaeffer), in cooperation

with scientists at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, have made

significant contributions in the development of modern statistical

procedures to compare the genetic potentials of breeding animals

(primarily males) by breed or by herd. These procedures use all

relevant information available on an animal and its relatives in

estimating its relative breeding value. Performance Tests

Show-ring standards, once accepted as authoritative criteria for

breeding merit, have been gradually replaced by performance tests

that objectively measure the differences among promising breeding

animals for traits such as growth rate and production of milk, eggs

or wool. Performance test stations have been established across

Canada to evaluate the individual performances of male animals,

primarily hogs and beef cattle, under standard conditions for

growth rate, feed efficiency and carcass merit. Livestock

exhibitions and fairs now serve primarily to promote breeds and to

sell breeding animals that have met performance test criteria


Animal breeding research in Canada proceeds on several fronts.

Work at McGill has emphasized the genetics of congenital defects in

MAMMALS, particularly humans (see GENETIC DISEASES). Guelph

continues to contribute to the refinement of mathematical

techniques for predicting the genetic potential of breeding

animals. GENETIC ENGINEERING techniques (recombinant DNA) have been

applied in the production of new vaccines for livestock diseases at

the Veterinary Infectious Disease Organization at the University of

Saskatchewan. Biotechnologists are trying to identify the genes

with major physiological and biochemical effects in farm animals.

Incorporation of "desired" genes into the genome without disrupting

normal physiological processes will be the challenging task of

biotechnologists in the future. Work at other research centres

embraces both theoretical and applied aspects of POPULATION

GENETICS in studies of mating systems, performance testing and the

biological interpretation of genotypic and phenotypic variation.

Results of these investigations are published in numerous

scientific journals, including the Canadian Journal of Animal


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