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Genetics & Fluffy Cows

June 5, 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt seems odd that something I’ve seen for decades is a fascinating internet sensation among people who have never seen them. It’s been coined fluffy cows – what they really are is groomed beef cattle for show and sale!

In reading many of the comments on several articles, I see confusion about genetics, questions about genetic breeding, some accusations of genetic species crosses (of the “they’re crossed with sheep!” or “they’re part poodle!” variety).

While we don’t have “fluffy cows” we do show rabbits. And be it rabbits or cattle or hogs or sheep when breeding for a goal we get that goal. Eventually. Many show steers are crossbreds. This isn’t unlike the crossbreds we do here – hybrid vigor, hoping to get the best traits from unrelated breeds. As an example, here is the difference between a purebred Giant Chinchilla and his crossbred offspring:

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Clearly the one on the left is not identical to the one on the right. The genetics from another breed, a Silver Fox, altered his appearance. If bred Giant Chinchilla to Giant Chinchilla we expect to see this:

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Now these youngsters have a tinge in their baby coat – we call that “brassiness” or a coat that is “brassy” – that will shed out when they get their adult coat. At that time they will all be a shade of the grey chinchilla like their parents, with a consistent genetics for that color.

Genetics is more than color. Look again at the side by side pictures – the shape of the body. Now the one on the right is a baby – he has a lot of growing to do, but the basic body shape is very similar between the two rabbits. This is good, because they are father and son – so I want to see that carbon copy look. I don’t want one looking like a cement block and another looking like a passenger train. That consistent body structure, long topline, deep body, plenty of room for muscle – all of those add up to not just a winning show animal (in the case of purebreds) but in the case of the younger buck, the production of meat to feed customers.

Cattle selection is much the same – but with more hair to manipulate that can alter the view somewhat. Savy judges see through it. With rabbits, judges will pick up animals, check their teeth, look at the straight structure of legs, the amount of bone and the body shape. We call that “type” and, like cattle, hogs and other livestock, it can vary among breeds.

Some examples:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARight is a castor (that’s the color, a rich brown) Rex doe. The Rex is a large breed with a particular soft, “fluffy” coat. They are the ultimate for the fashion industry, but also make a good meat rabbit as well.

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This is a Tan – they’re a smaller, spunky breed many describe as having a Doberman paint job. They have distinctive markings required to show, where our Giant Chinchillas don’t have markings (no spots or other characteristics!).

 

When livestock people talk genetics, we’re talking about the blue print – the characteristics in the building blocks of the animal. Some not in agriculture are hearing that to mean genetic engineering – that we’re crossing species to produce multiple characteristics. Bunnypig April fool jokes aside, that just isn’t done.

We stick to old fashioned breeding and selection towards a goal. Whether it’s dairy cattle, pigs or “fluffy cows” we listen to demand and seek to bring out those characteristics in living animals. For racehorses it’s soundness and speed; for dairy cattle it’s soundness and milk production. Show operations may have their own set of goals in addition to practical meat or milk or fiber.

Genetics is the way to get there.

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