Cattle are raised as livestock for meat (beef
and veal), as dairy animals for milk and other dairy products, and as
draft animals (pulling carts, plows and the like). Other products
include leather and dung for fertilizer or fuel. In many cultures,
cattle take part in spiritual, economic or political significance far
ahead of the monetary worth of the animals themselves. As a response to
these many uses and habitats of cattle, a broad array of breeds have
Spanish explorers initially brought cattle to
the Americas inauguration in the initial 1500s. These cattle were hardy
and rugged, and the adapted readily to the new-found environments. They
make up a breed family called criollo cattle; the term criollo means "of
European origin but born in the New World." North American criollo
breeds include the Corriente, Florida Cracker, Pineywoods, and Texas
Cattle from England and Northern Europe were
imported to North America commencement in the the first part of 1600s.
[The imported European breeds] served a variety
of subsistence niches in America for over 200 years. A more intentional
introduction of cattle breeds began around 1800. Several improved cattle
breeds were imported from Scotland, England, France, and the
Netherlands. The Shorthorn [from England] (also known as the Durham) was
by far the most valuable. People needed multipurpose cattle, and the
Shorthorn combined excellent dairy and beef qualities as well as the
size and strength needed for aid as oxen. It soon became the largely
well-liked breed in America.
By 1900 the marketplace had shifted to support
the use of specialized beef and dairy breeds. The Hereford and Angus
came to dominate the beef industry, while the Ayrshire, Jersey, and
Guernsey were the most numerous of the diary breeds.
Imports since 1900 have further increased the
diversity of cattle breeds in the United States. The huge quantity of
beef cattle breeds - and the genetic diversity they stand for - has been
a keystone of achievement for the beef industry, allowing producers to
respond to changing marketplace demands. Yet diversity has been
conserved not deliberately because of the broad range of habitats in
which beef cattle are raised, the accessibility of markets, and
decentralized approaches to selection. It is for the reason that of this
informal conservation process that farmers and breeders have access to
the diversity they required for new production and market niches.
The dairy industry presents a critical contrast,
as it rests almost entirely on the use of a single breed, the Holstein.
The Holstein is famous for is adaptation to confinement dairying, and
the cows yield more milk under such conditions than do those of any
other breed. As a consequence, it has prospered at the expense of all
other breeds in the previous fifty years. The success of the Holstein,
however, rests on the availability of high levels of inputs, together
with large amounts of grain and veterinary support.
The revival of lower cost, grass-based dairying
as a production niche is causing dairy farmers to rethink the industry's
reliance on the Holstein. Grass-based production requires cows that are
active grazers, able to keep up body condition, churn out milk, and
reproduce efficiently on a forage diet. Farmers looking for these
qualities have turned to the Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, Jersey, and other
"colored" dairy breeds.
The pressures of economic consolidation and
vertical integration, substantial in the swine and poultry industries,
have had less obvious influence on cattle. Nonetheless, there is
increasing consolidation along with the companies that buy milk and beef
from farmers. This process is progressively having two negative effects:
The overall lowering of prices paid and the further discounting of
animals which do not conform to a standard industrial type. The cattle
industry, built upon a foundation of genetic diversity, cannot afford to
let short term market pressures eliminate rare breeds and thus the
diversity essential to its future success.
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