We started in the cattle business in 1971 in a partnership on a 1300 acre commercial cattle ranch in Mills, Utah (population 26). We ran a herd of horned Hereford cows, using both Hereford and Angus bulls. Our first registered females were 7 Polled Hereford heifers we purchased in 1972 from Vern Mangelson of Levan, Utah. These were mostly of Lampliter and Mischief breeding. In 1973 we purchased 7 more heifers from Vern Mangelson, and today maybe half of our herd traces back to those 14 heifers. They were very fertile, easy fleshing and highly productive. We purchased our first Polled Hereford bull in 1973, and joined the APHA as a lifetime member at that time. We joined the AHA in 1978 as a lifetime member. We have been in Guidelines since 1976 and TPR since 1982.
When our ranch partnership dissolved, we took the registered cattle to Ignacio, Colorado and started Witherspoons' Nizhoni Herefords as a strictly registered cattle operation.
However, we continued to run our registered cattle the same as if they were commercial cattle. We wintered them on 6,500 acres of winter range land in New Mexico, and summered them on irrigated pasture in Colorado.
They never got any grain or even any hay. We did put out range blocks for them during the toughest part of the winter from January 15 to March 15. They were on range land from November 1 to June 1. They calved on their own, as we usually never saw the calves until they were a few days old. We felt that if we had something to offer the commercial cattle industry that would improve commercial herds, our cattle would have to be able to out perform commercial cattle under the same conditions. This they eventually did, and we soon developed a very strong following for our Polled Hereford bulls in an area that had been dominated by Horned Herefords, Red Angus and Brangus. We have never tried to breed exclusively Polled Herefords, although polledness was one of our breeding priorities. But it was our number seven priority. We have always used horned genetics to help us reach our higher priority performance goals .
Original Breeding Philosophy
We decided to build our herd on a diverse genetic base with an emphasis on performance in the traits important to the commercial industry. We wanted to combine an emphasis on line breeding and line crossing, so we purchased cattle and semen from four major lines of performance cattle: (1) Line Ones; (2) Prospectors; (3) Victor Dominos; (4) Maxes. Two of these were polled and two of these were horned. For about a decade, we ran separate lines of cattle prefixed as L1, L2, L3, and L4. The LX prefix means "Line Cross", representing that the animals were a cross of two or more of our straight lines.
The original herd sires we selected for these distinct lines were HHR L1 DOMINO 960 for our line ones, MSU PROSPECTOR 843 for our line twos, LSU VICTOR G37 for our line threes, and 5D&S MAX 223 for our line fours. These bulls can all be seen in our herdbook ad in the July, 1997 issue of the Hereford World.
When we reduced our herd from over a hundred cows to about 40 in the late 1980s and moved to the state of Washington, we were forced to abandon our strict pattern of line breeding and line crossing. However, we started another plan of line breeding and line crossing that will be explained a little later.
Our basic philosophy has always involved the maintaince of a diverse genetic base, utilizing line breeding patterns to reach peaks of performance, then out crossing to reach the next level of performance and progress, followed by more line breeding of the elite outcrosses to take them to their peak of performance before outcrossing again. Line breeding of genetically superior animals accentuates their advancement, but in three or four generations line bred animals reach a point of diminishing returns, and they need to be outcrossed to surge toward another peak. The top end of the line crosses can then be line bred again to rapidly reach another peak before outcrossing again.
This pattern of interspersed cycles of line breeding and out crossing avoids the stagnation that besets the never-ending line breeding programs and the slow progress of unpatterned outcrossing, which is the seedstock equivalent of unpatterned cross breeding. The result of undisciplined cross breeding in the commercial segment has been the mongrelization of the nation's cowherd and the inconsistent beef that we market today. The Line Ones and the Prospectors of today, both heavily inbred, represent the stagnation that sets in when line breeding is taken to diminishing returns. In the polled segment of the breed, we see the same thing in the heavily inbred Victor Dominos. We believe in a combination of line breeding and patterned out crossing about every fourth generation.
Current Breeding Plan
The first task in formulating a line breeding plan is to identify sires and/or dams worthy of being line bred. Only a very few sires or dams are worthy of being line bred. A foundation sire or dam in a line breeding program, however, does not have to be perfect, but does need to be excellent in many desired traits.
As the decade of the 1990s has closed, one can see in reverse that two Polled Hereford bulls gradually rose to the top in influence and prominence and have remained there while lesser contemporaries have receded into minor roles or oblivion. MSU Optimum Z03 and Feltons 517 are still being used and still making a major impact on the breed through their sons and daughters. While not perfect, these bulls have proven that they have traits of enduring value and importance, and breeders are capitalizing on these traits.
Another significant factor about Optimum and 517 is that they are very complementary in their assets, and have proven to mate with each other in ways that improves upon both. If one were to try to identify the Mating of the Decade, it would certainly be the mating of Feltons 517 to WNH Ms Optima 9401.
9401 as a Cow
Optimum’s assets are his beautiful and near perfect phenotype, his easy doing ability, his soundness and longevity, his lean muscle, his eye and scrotal pigmentation, his growth and performance. 517’s assets are his extraordinary combination of low birth weight, high growth and high milk. In addition, he is correct phenotypically, cuts white and sires huge testicles in his sons. Optimum is best known for siring beautiful and productive females, while 517 is best known for the outstanding bulls he has sired. That is also reflected in the performance data on each where a look at the average performance ratios of their progeny shows that Optimum daughters significantly out perform Optimum sons and 517 sons significantly out perform 517 daughters. This further illustrates why they have a high degree of complementarity when they are joined, and also indicates that on the average matings of 517 to Optimum daughters is a better match than mating Optimum to 517 daughters.
The latter part of this decade has shown how powerfully these two bulls complement each other. Most prominently these include the most prolific and most powerful mating of the decade: 517 X WNH Ms Optima 9401. This mating has produced 8 herd bulls that have won numerous championships in the United States and Canada, have been used widely throughout the world, and whose progeny are already making big impacts.
The 1998 National Grand Champion Heifer combined Feltons 517 on the top side of her pedigree and Optimum on the bottom side of her pedigree. The 1999 National Reserve Grand Champion Bull combined 517 and WNH Ms Optima 9401, as did four other divisional champions at the 1999 National Western Stock Show. Both the 1998 Canadian National Reserve Grand Champion Bull and the 1999 Canadian National Grand Champion Bull was a Feltons 517 son out of an Optimum daughter, 9401.
9401 as a Show Heifer
Both 517 and Optimum were born in 1990. We
Optimum from MSU and named him as a calf in the Fall of 1990. He
was put into AI service late in our breeding season in 1991, and his
calves arrived in 1992. There were only seven, but the first three,
9230 and 9231, were dynamite: an eventual Dam of Distinction and dam of
Picasso and donor cow 9525, an eventual number two PH bull in America
Maternal Milk, and a National Grand Champion Heifer that has already
two divisional champions at the National. Shortly thereafter we
he was worthy of being line bred, so we formulated a plan to eventually
produce fully linebred calves where the grandsire on all four lines of
the pedigree would be Optimum. It has taken 8 years to complete
first phase of our breeding plan.
In 1994 we also decided that it would be wise to line breed Feltons 517,. The long range plan (15 years) eventually involves the crossing of linebred Optimum calves with linebred Feltons 517 calves. Beyond that, these linebreds and linebred crosses will be used on two outcross lines of cattle we have begun to assimilate and breed. In essence, we are returning to the line breeding and line crossing breeding philosophy that served us so well in the 1970s and early 1980s (see Ranch History and Breeding Philosophy).
WNH DECATHLETE 9824: Two Generation Line bred son of Feltons 517
Line breeding is a useful and powerful breeding technique if it is used selectively and appropriately. First, the foundation sires must be excellent and worthy of being line breed. This does not mean that they have to be without flaws but they need to be sires that combine important traits that few others combine as well. Second, the foundation females must be just as superior as the bull, representing outcross lines that complement the sire’s assets and, to some extent, cover for his weaknesses. Third, the progeny to continue the line breeding must be, in many or most ways, better than their parents, so that it is the best of the genetics of the foundation sire and foundation females that are being concentrated and accentuated through the line breeding process.
Line breeding will develop a more consistent
or genetic package by narrowing the normal distribution curve. It
can concentrate and accentuate excellence, or it can proliferate
or even magnify inferiority. Therefore, careful selection is
at every level.