Most of you may not recognize the name of Fred W. Owen (Homerville, Ohio) but his “Owenlea” herd of purebred Holsteins was well-known in Ohio as a productive and uniquely bred seedstock herd until his retirement in the 1990s. His most famous cow was a World Dairy Expo winner, Owen Marquis Wanda EX-96 , a product of linebreeding within the sire line of ABC Reflection Sovereign.
Mr Owen was not a “show type” breeder with an off-farm job milking just 24 cows in an old wooden stable— at its peak size in the 1980s, Owenlea had a 24,000 pound herd average on 300 cows in milk.
By all measures, production, type and profitability, Mr Owen was a successful large-scale dairyman.
Following is Mr Owen’s approach to breeding, in his own words:
I would suggest that “linebreeding” is definitely not a high risk venture. It is pretty darn hard to get a dangerously inbred animal using sire side linebreeding.
I used over 40 different sons of Rosafe Citation R over a long period of time. [“Citation R” was a son of ABC Reflection Sovereign, and the last calf of Glenvue Nettie Jemima, who had 240,000m lifetime.]
In one particular case, we started with an own “Citation R” daughter and bred her to a “Citation R” son. The resulting calf was 50% “Citation R”—or the SAME AS an actual “Citation R” daughter.
We followed this with seven consecutive generations sired by other “Citation R” sons. So for eight generations, the sire was a “Citation R”son.
Why did I do it? I did it because I had the resources, and the capability, and no one could stop me. I did it because I could [and wanted to see first hand what would result].
To the unthinking, this may seem like extreme “inbreeding”—but it wasn’t!
All along these eight generations, the percentage of genetics from Rosafe Citation R remained the same as an own daughter of “Citation R”—exactly 50%. If you doubt this, chart it out on a blank pedigree.
Most of those eight generations scored Very Good [above 85 points] or Excellent [above 90 points]. They definitely did not deteriorate toward the end. They got better every round. And guess what? They looked exactly like own daughters of Rosafe Citation R.
We linebred our herd for decades to bulls as near as I could get to ABC Reflection Sovereign. (He was the sire of Rosafe Citation R.) I suppose there is a possibility my linebreeding wouldn’t work without “ABC”… But he did exist and made many breeders look like a genius in his era. But if he hadn’t, there would have been another. Anyway, that linebreeding worked great.
I had a fabulous run, that produced over 100 homebred “Excellent” cows. This great run included homebred cows scored up to EX-96, homebred winners at national shows (Waterloo, then Madison), many 30,000-pound and even a couple 40,000-pound producers, high priced consignments to national sales, and uncountable high-priced exports sold to many foreign countries. I made money from cows.
During all this great run, I never paid more than a passing interest to progeny tests or PD [now PTA]. I did it MY way, ALL the way, and never once selected a sire based on milk production. It was all done based on type. I never thought about milk. In fact I felt pity for the people struggling to wrench milk out of ugly cows. When I was younger, I thought what they were doing was meaningless.
Yet we got great production, far better than any other big herd around Ohio at the time. At one point it was over 24,000 rolling herd average on almost 300 cows. We just kept our eyes on the ball, and tried to keep putting together pedigrees with ABC Reflection Sovereign in there as often as possible.
It would be very hard to convince me that “linebreeding” is a questionable practice. I know it works. I am not talking theory. I lived my life immersed in it. It worked great here and it worked that same era in Canada [ABC Reflection Sovereign was born in eastern Ontario in 1948]. I settled on “ABC” after seeing his Get of Sire from the small Rosafe herd dominate the Waterloo International in 1954 against all the moneyed show herds across the continent. “ABC” had four All-American gets of sire in those years, which included many individual All-American winners.
Anyone who ever visited Rosafe in the 1950s or Romandale in the 1960s would never doubt the wisdom of linebreeding [to ABC Reflection Sovereign].
GREG’S EXPLANATION OF THE PREPOTENCY OF “ABC” AND “CITATION R”.
ABC Reflection Sovereign was the result in “aAa” terms of using a “sharp” (tall, dairy, style) sire on a “round” (smooth, strong, open) cow. The dam of “ABC” was 20 years ahead of her time in her udder symmetry, teat shape and placement, housed within a wide and long rump. She lived into early teenage with a moderate life production total.
His highest type average son, Rosafe Citation R, was the result of using a “round” (style, smooth, strong) sire—ABC—on a “sharp” (dairy, open, tall) cow who was a milk wagon and lived to be 16 years old, producing 240,000 pounds of milk in eleven lactations prior to 1960.
Unlike his sire (ABC) and more of his paternal brothers (Marquis, Roeland, Perseus, Caliban, et al), “Citation R” in his physique leaned to “sharp” (dairy, tall, open) qualities. But his overall weight of qualitative possession was quite balanced. Thus this balance made him more additive than subtractive across broad mating choices.
This “balance” is essential for success in any linebreeding system. To linebreed from more extreme physiques, the tendency is for physical balance to disappear—followed by depression of health, then fertility, and eventually production longevity.
Keep in mind that as Mr Owen was selecting from the many “Citation R” sons developed in both AI and by private breeders, they had different dams—the more successful sons having dams that complemented “Citation R” in qualitative [physical] mating balance. In place of “PD” he wanted sons of high quality cows—traditional breeding attitude was “a bull rarely sires a cow better than the cow who birthed him.”
Thus in his linebreeding, he accumulated genes 50% from good bull dams, and 50% from the sire line anchor to a sire and his son who were ahead of their time for type while bred for longevity of milk.
In an era where genetic experts are so disillusioned by “index selection” results in commercial dairy herds that many will recommend “crossbreeding” as a solution, Mr Owen’s success is worth a thought.