Scurs are Superior
Gary Witherspoon, Ph.D.

While the title of this article may represent a bit of hyperbole, it is time for us as breeders of Hereford cattle in a merged association to take a fresh and more prejudice-free look at our attitudes toward scurred Herefords. For too long and to our breed's detriment, both horned and polled Hereford breeders have viewed scurred Herefords as a kind of bastard offspring.

Scurred Herefords represent some of the best genetics available to Hereford breeders. This is due in part to the fact that scurred Herefords represent a form of in-breed heterosis. The heterosis found in scurred Herefords probably makes them slightly superior on average to homozygous horned or homozygous polled Herefords. This is not to say that all scurred cattle are automatically superior to all homozygous horned or polled cattle, but it does contend that the average performance of all scurred cattle would be slightly higher than the average performance of homozygous polled or horned cattle for many important traits.

On numerous occasions during my 25 years in the business, I have heard breeders say things like this: "Unfortunately his best calf was scuured," or "The best calf in the flush was scurred," and "Why is the best calf always scurred?" There is a reason why this is so, and it is not Murphy's law. The reason is based in the laws of genetic inheritance, particularly as they relate to heterozygosity. To the breed's detriment, blind prejudice in the past has led many breeders to discard, sell commercially or steer genetically superior scurred bulls. It is very possible that hundreds of potentially breed-improving bulls have been underused or have been unwisely discarded over the last few decades. This is more applicable to the polled segment of the breed simply because that is where most of the scurred cattle have appeared.

Fortunately not all Hereford breeders have discarded the genetically superior scurred bulls they have bred, and many of these superior bulls of yesteryear have been rediscovered and are in active use today. The following is a hastily drawn short list of older scurred bulls that have contributed profoundly to the improvement of the Hereford breed: OR DOM 549 F243; MSU PROSPECTOR 508; SKYWALKER D103 08N; LS BEAU VICTOR 1 30; ANHINGA VIC 69R 579; KCF VICTOR O8N X4; JR P183 RIVAL T205; BHF BANNER KING 16J; REMITTAL KEYNOTE 20X.

Those who have been in the breed for a long time will know best how much these bulls have contributed to the economic viability of Hereford cattle, keeping us from going too far astray chasing unproductive fads. What should also be distressing to us is to think about how many F243s, 508s and X4s have been discarded or grossly underused over the years simply because they had scurs and nobody really discovered their breed-improving strengths.

With the merger of the two breed associations, it is high time we critically review our outdated attitudes toward scurred Herefords. We are fortunate to have two somewhat distinct gene pools to draw from in breeding Herefords to meet the demands of the beef cattle industry and to keep up with or ahead of our competition from other breeds. I believe Hereford breeders, whether horned or polled, would be wise to take advantage of the superior out-cross genetics available to them from the other segment of the breed. Personally I have benefited from doing this now for 25 years.

The merging of superior out-cross genetics from the polled and horned gene pools will produce a kind of in-breed heterosis. This merging will also result in a higher incidence of scurred cattle. This we should welcome, and we should recognize the scurs as signs and symptoms of progress and improvement. We should not de-value our own products and progress by barring scurred cattle from shows and sales. They are legitimate Herefords, not bastard offspring.

The beef industry is moving too fast and the competition from other breeds is too keen for us to languish behind because of outdated prejudices and myths. It is time for us to appreciate and maximize the genetic merit of superior Herefords everywhere, regardless of whether they are polled, horned or scurred.

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