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The possibilities of genetic trait research
By Lee Pitts
One of the many benefits of being a syndicated columnist is I get to read many of the fine publications that carry my column. The Livestock Weekly out of San Angelo, Texas, is a good example. One of the columns I read religiously in that great paper is The Computer And The Cowboy by C.A. Rodenberger, PhD. According to one of C.A.’s columns, “Scientists have developed a method to produce male pigs, goats and cattle that pass along desired genetic traits from a donor rather than their own genome in their offspring.”
This means that scientists have figured out a way to use a scrub bull to breed your cows because the bull is not passing along his traits but those of the very best bull in the world. According to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “Scientists edited a fertility gene in the embryo of surrogate mice, then translated stem cells from a male donor into the surrogate’s testes (OUCH!) so that offspring would carry only the donor’s genetic material, acting as surrogate fathers.”
You know what this means, don’t you? The worst bull imaginable, a light muscled, structurally incorrect mongrel of a crossbred bull when mated to your cows could produce the very best calves in the world. You could buy a Holstein x Corriente x Marchigiana bull out of the slaughter run at your local sale barn for $700 and have this procedure performed on said bull and he would be passing along the genes of your choice of the finest multi-trait leading bull of any breed. Can you imagine the replacement heifer calves you’d get?
At this point I can’t say what effect this procedure will have on purebred producers. When I first started writing for livestock publications 48 years ago, it was generally thought that in a few short years every commercial cowman in the country was going to be using artificial insemination. Didn’t happen. And this “testes test” may turn out to be just an interesting study for researchers and go no further. But it certainly raises some interesting possibilities. You could raise your own bulls, for example, by just keeping back the tail end of your calf crop and not castrating some bull calves. After the operation one of your bulls could breed his mother or sisters and there’d be no danger of genetic deformities as a result of inbreeding. If one of your bulls gets snuffy and tries to kill you just perform a little Winchester-otomy on him, what do you care, it’s not like you spent $10,000 on the bull.
Can you imagine the shock and awe after a feeder calf buyer has purchased your calves and hung them on the rail, was blown away by the carcass data and came to you and said, “I gotta see the your bull battery. You must have the best range bulls in the world!”
Then you show the buyer your herd sire battery that consists of a pipe gutted 900 pound #2 Okie, a 15-year-old lame Mexican stag and a Holstein Jersey cross with less meat on it than a Beyond Beef Burger. Think of the identity crises a mature anorexic dwarf bull that wouldn’t make a decent box lunch for a mountain lion would have as he stood atop a hill overlooking all the wonderful calves he sired. He’d probably say to himself, “ZOWEEEE!  I did that?”
The article didn’t say how much the operation on your bull’s testes would cost or if it would have to be repeated every year. I am quite sure that if you asked your veterinarian today if he could perform the testes transformation on your bull’s testicles he’d look at you like you belonged in the Loony Bin, the Funny Farm, the Mental Marriott or the Haha Hilton.
The more I think about this interesting idea the more I hope it doesn’t catch on. It would probably destroy most purebred producers because only a few very top bulls would be needed and without purebred producers most of the livestock publications that carry my column would go broke without advertisements for their bull sales.
On second thought, forget I ever brought up the subject.