|(The following article is appearing in cattle publications across the nation. It provides an in-depth look at the background of the Irish Blacks® breeding program and why it matters to you as a commercial producer)
How a little-known breed could revolutionize beef quality for good
Maurice Boney is worried about the beef business. He says the U.S. cow herd is too diverse, comprised of too many breeds and too many gene-trait combinations, to ever produce consistently high-quality products for consumers.
So he's spent much of his life trying to do something about it.
Boney, who ranches near Johnstown, Colo., has been developing a linebred breed of cattle called Irish Blacks® and Irish Reds™ for nearly 40 years.
The breed, trademarked by Boney and marketed under an exclusive contractual agreement to a select but growing group of producers in 22 states, is gaining attention from cattle feeders, packers and restaurateurs as an answer to many of the industry's most pressing concerns.
Derived primarily from Friesian genetics and a small amount of Black Angus genetics (35 years ago) from the old "Revolution" line, the breed has been close-herd line-bred for built-in genetic predictability to transmit quality genetics for fertility, production attributes and superior beef quality.
"The genetic make-up of a large portion of today's beef herds is highly heterozygous," explains Boney. "Because most cattle in the U.S. cow herd are heterozygous instead of homozygous -- for important production and carcass traits, they've lost their ability to transmit desirable genetics for carcass quality and fertility to their offspring."
The result of all this heterozygosity, explains Boney, is genetic instability, inconsistency and diminishing beef quality.
"The extremely broad and ever-expanding gene pools of today's cow herds will only ensure beef's quality continues to decline," he says. "That's why we have concentrated on producing a highly concentrated, small genetic pool of cattle for correcting many of the problems the industry faces today. Less than 2% of cattle attain the Prime quality grade. The percentage of Choice-quality carcasses falls every year. Our program is built on correcting those problems by producing cattle with heightened predictability to transmit superior, proven genes to their offspring."
Boney's efforts trace back to 1971 when he began implementing a linebreeding program built on the teachings of Dr. Jay Lush, a professor at Iowa State University and world-renowned geneticist.
In doing so, Boney bred a 18 heifers back to their sire. He then bred 16 more of the same heifers to a son of their sire (sister X sib matings). By breeding related animals to each other, he was able to ensure his foundation genetics were pure, free of genetic defects and diseases.
During the ensuing four decades, he's stayed with the same bloodlines and the same breeding philosophy. And with each generation -- layer upon layer, year after year -- he's concentrated the union of genetically identical genes of his genetics for traits like fertility, marbling, muscling, and built in greater genetic predictability for all of these traits by doing so.
"Over the past 25 years, 75% of the people using our blood have never paid us a visit to see our herd," Boney says. "The bulk of our new customers during this time frame have been neighbors, relatives, or friends of those that are using our blood. Our cattle are doing exceptionally well in 22 states. The demand for our genetically dominant blood normally exceeds our supply."
|Testing for genetic superiority
To confirm the superior carcass attributes of the Irish Blacks®, Boney began ultrasounding all of their bulls and heifers more than a decade ago. The ultrasound research has helped confirm many of the superior carcass attributes of the cattle.
Recently, a pen of Irish Black bulls averaged 11.5 months of age. They had 0.19 inches of backfat, 12.91-inches of ribeye with an average marbling score of 5.74. One of these bulls had 0.18 inches of back fat, a 12.75-square inch ribeye and an astounding marbling score of 7.27. This same bull had a 65-pound birthweight and an actual 205-day weaning weight of 675 pounds.
"Typically, Irish Blacks® and Irish Reds™ score two to four scores higher in DNA gene testing for these traits than any of the other breeds have been able to achieve," says Boney. "Most breeds would be happy with a marbling score of 3.5. Our bulls averaged 5.74."
In another example, an Irish Black bull and his dam had the highest possible score for both marbling and tenderness on the Igenity test.
Needless to say, it's cows like this one that have made their way into Boney's embryo transfer program.