Trends in agriculture are always interesting to follow.
Having grown up in the purebred livestock business, and having attended livestock shows from the time I was knee high to a cowboy boot, it has been particularly interesting to see how the size of cattle have changed through the years.
While not even a forethought in the 1950s, I have certainly seen enough pictures from that era to understand what they mean when they talk about ‘belt buckle’ cattle. For the 50s, and well into the 1960s, the champion cattle in most shows were just that, about as tall as the showman’s belt buckle. That is almost impossible to imagine in this era, but that is the way the industry viewed perfection at the time.
The arrival of the so-called exotic breeds from Europe, were led by Charolias. The first Charolais into Canada actually arrived in the late 1950s, but it was the mid-1960s before the breed really arrived in numbers and began to significantly change the industry.
Charolais were simply bigger cattle, and the North American cattle sector was quick to see value in larger frames on which to put pounds of beef.
Of course Charolais were not the only big breed to arrive and help the conversion to bigger cattle here. They were followed by breeds such as Simmental, Limousin, Maine Anjou, Gelbvieh and a rather long list of European breeds.
Some, such as Charolais and Simmental are now completely ingrained in our cattle industry and have become cornerstones.
Other breeds, such as Chianina, Marchigiana, and a few others arrived in the pursuit of ever bigger cattle, but then all but disappeared again.
While some of the largest European breeds imported to Canada ended up having limited impact, through selection the cattle industry more, or less adopted the adage ‘Go Big, Or Go Home’.
You certainly saw that in showrings for years, where the eyes of judges’ were drawn to bigger.
The days of bulls reaching only a cattleman’s belt buckle were gone, and cattle become behemoths.
But like many things, the size of cattle eventually went too far. Cattleman would talk about how efficient 1300-1400 pound cows were, but their pastures were populated by animals several pounds heavier.
But recently there has been a moderation. That was evident this past week at Yorkton Exhibition.
At the Regional 4-H Beef Show at the Ex’ Wednesday, Judge Gerry Bertholet talked about moderate frames in his comments, and in heifer classes big females were not always red ribbon winners over more moderate ones.
The Saskatchewan Angus Gold judge Garner Deobold in an interview with this writer also talked about how big might have been the key to winning a decade ago, but it was no longer automatic. He said while small cattle don’t have the efficiencies needed by the industry, and suggested in some situations big can work, moderation is where the industry is now focused.
Like a pendulum the size of cattle went from one extreme to the other over some 40-years, and is not settling somewhere between the two creating more efficient animals to match producer needs in the process.
Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor with Yorkton This Week.