Stories of life on our farm in Northwest Georgia where every day is an adventure in this beautiful spot that God has entrusted to our stewardship.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Christmas Story

As our hearts and minds turn toward Christmas, here is a retelling of the Christmas story that I hope you will love as much as we do.

The Christmas Story

Many thanks to the brilliant people who made this video and to Elnini, who posted it on Keeping a Family Cow.  And may your hearts be warmed by this unique reminder of how much God loves us, to send His only Son.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Seventy Years After D-Day

Wherever I go in the world, I'm likely to find a couple of rocks and bring them home.  In 1991, while we lived in France, we visited the Normandy beaches where the Allied soldiers landed on D-Day, June 6, 1944.  While walking along Omaha Beach, I picked up several handfuls of rocks and carried them home to Provence.  In 2001, we moved back to the States, and the rocks came with us.  When I finally dug out my rock polishers this September, I found that bag of rocks.

These rocks were so smooth, tumbled by time and tide, that they could go directly through the tumbler with medium fine grit and then on to pre-polish.  They came out shiny and wet with the promise of a beautiful finish to be revealed.

The barrel wasn't full enough, so I used pellets to fill the barrel to the 3/4 full mark.

 Next came water and the polish.

A week later, the rocks were finished.

I put them in a place of honor in my curio cabinet--a reminder of Herb's father, who fought in France, and of the many young men who gave their lives on those rocky beaches.  Seventy years later, children still laugh and play on Omaha Beach . . . What better monument could those brave soldiers ask for?

This Hobby Rocks!

After our trip to West Texas in August, I came home all fired up to revive an old hobby of mine--rock polishing.  All our family are rock hounds, and over the years we've collected tons (maybe literally!) of rocks out on the ranch.  We spent hours sorting them . . . and then we had to fly back to France and leave them there.  European baggage restrictions just didn't allow us to carry back suitcases full of rocks, but finally, we were there with a TRUCK!  Herb loaded boxes of my rocks into every nook and cranny, and we hauled them back home.

Here's my Lortone Rotary Tumbler, which tumbles two barrels at once.  This is my best rock polisher because the barrels are easy to close nice and tight with no leaks.

When I started polishing rocks back in September, I was in a hurry to get some done to show the grandkids, so I picked some of the few that we found already smoothed out.  Most West Texas rocks are pretty craggy, but with these I could skip the rough shaping and go straight to the next step.  These had just been tumbled with medium fine grit and rinsed well, ready for the pre-polish tumbling.

In order to see what they'll look like when they're finished, I took a sneak peek by getting them wet.  This is a good way to weed out ones that just aren't going to look like much.

I started out with a full tumbler, but by the time the rocks had tumbled a couple times--and I had removed ones with deep crevices that weren't going to polish well--the tumbler wasn't quite full enough.

So I added plastic pellets from a hobby shop to reach the required fill line.  You can see the water level in the center, not quite to the top of the pellets.  (I forgot to take a photo of the polishing medium, but there will be one in a future post.)

Here are the same rocks after the pre-polish . . .

. . . and a different view, showing one of my favorites at far right.

This is the final result showing some of the same rocks.  They aren't all there because I mixed them all together before I remembered to take the photo, but you can see some of the same ones.  They're smaller--and shinier!

I love bringing out the beauty that God has hidden in these chunks of rock.  They were rather plain and dull at first, but now they are a witness to the beauties of His Creation.  That's why this hobby rocks!

(Stay tuned for more posts about rock polishing and what you can do with the rocks once they're polished.)

Monday, December 8, 2014

Parentage Verification: Some Interesting Statistics

Looking at online pedigrees the other night, I found some interesting statistics on Parentage Verification on the ADCA website.

  • 32,039 - The total number of cattle registered with the ADCA as of Dec. 7, 2014.
  • 20,182 - The number of Dexters born since April 2000, registered with the ADCA.  If you search the registry by "Birthdate," you will find animals born in April 2000 beginning on page 475 and running through the next 807 pages, for a total of 20,182 Dexters.  (There are 25 animals per page, although the count sometimes begins or ends in the middle of a page.  Some of those would be steers, of course, and not used for breeding.)  
  • April 2000 - Why is it significant?  Keep reading . . .

Searching by "Parentage DNA on the ADCA website brings up some interesting results:  
  • 791 Dexters have a genotype on file.  
  • 2,341 Dexters are “Sire Qualified."
  • 71 Dexters are “Dam Qualified.”  
  • 1,175 Dexters are “Sire and Dam Qualified.”  

If you search the “Sire and Dam Qualified” animals by "Birthdate," you will see several things:
  • The first two animals have no birthdate listed, and one was born in 1994.  Excluding these three animals . . .
  • April 2000 was the birthdate of the oldest “Sire and Dam Qualified” animal.  
  • 20,182 - The number of Dexters born after April 2000, any one of which could be “Sire and Dam Qualified.”  
  • 1,172 - The number of Dexters born since April 2000 that have been "Sire and Dam Qualified."  
  • 5.8% - The percentage of Dexters born since April 2000 that have been "Sire and Dam Qualified."  

Let's go back just to 2010, the last four years . . .
  • 7,564 - The number of registered Dexters born since 2010.  
  • 960 - The number of Dexters born since 2010 that have been “Sire and Dam Qualified.”  
  • 12.7% - The percentage of Dexters born since 2010 that have been "Sire and Dam Qualified."  
  • On the rise -  The percentage of fully PV'd Dexters born since 2010.
  • 87% - The chance you still run when buying any four-year old registered Dexter that its parents have not been qualified.  You can hope for the best, but you have no guarantee that that animal's pedigree is what it says it is.
  • 215 - The number of breeders accounting for the 1,175 "Sire and Dam Qualified" animals.  (It’s important to realize that sometimes it is an owner rather than the breeder who “Sire and Dam Qualified” the animal, as is the case for one of ours.)  Keeping this in mind . . .
  • 4 - The number of breeders accounting for 321 of the 1,175 fully PV’d animals, a whopping 27% of all “Sire and Dam Qualified” Dexters!  
  • 9 - The number of breeders accounting for 465 of the PV’d animals, almost 40%.

I did not have a way--short of counting the number of breeders on 1,282 pages of the ADCA registry--to calculate how many breeders currently have Dexters registered with the ADCA.  It would be interesting to know what percentage of all breeders are actually doing PV.  Considering that nine breeders have done almost 40% of all PV'd animals, I would guess the percentage is not great.  However, I have two more very significant statistics for you . . .
  • 12 - The number of Area Directors plus the President of the ADCA, currently in the process of discussing Parentage Verification and the direction the ADCA will take in the future.  And finally . . .
  • 1 - The number of breeders it takes to effect change.  If that "one" is you . . . and you . . . and you . . . and you . . . change will happen, one person at a time.  Contact your Area Director and let them know you support full Parentage Verification as a requirement for registration.  Thank your director and the Board for moving in the right direction.  And even more importantly, don't wait for the Board's decision.  Start getting your herd PV'd today!

Parentage Verification Questions & Answers

Q:  What is the difference between genotyping and parentage verification?

A:  Genotyping uses a sample of your animal’s DNA to read its genetic fingerprint.  It is a DNA profile that identifies your animal.  Parentage verification goes a step farther:  It compares your animal’s genotype (genetic fingerprint) to those of its sire and dam in order to qualify them as its parents.

Q:  What if I’m not sure which are the parents of my calf?

A:  Parentage verification can be done for multiple possible sires and even dams.  Comparing their genotypes with your calf’s genotype can exclude any sire or dam that could not be a parent of your calf.  For the most accurate exclusion, both sire (or sires) and dam (or dams) must have their genotypes included.  VGL has an excellent explanation on their website.  

Q:  All my Dexters are registered.  Why should I bother to PV my calves?  Their parents are both registered, so they can be registered, too.

A:  VGL’s website says:  “For over four decades, parentage verification has been utilized in animal registration programs. Breeder experiences have proven that parentage testing, in combination with well run breeding programs, can ensure accurate pedigrees.”  A breeder’s integrity and reputation depend on the accuracy of their animals’ pedigrees.  When a breeder sells a calf as having a certain pedigree, and subsequent PV by the new owner shows that the pedigree is wrong, the breeder’s breeding practices and even their honesty can be called into question.

Q:  But surely such things rarely happen?

A:  Just this year (2014), one Dexter owner PV'd two cows they had bought and learned that the prestigious sire on their pedigrees was not, in fact, their sire.  With the breeder's cooperation, it was finally determined that two different bulls had actually sired the two cows in question.  

At almost the same time, another Dexter owner had the same problem happen with three different cows.  Two of the cows eventually had the correct parents identified, but although this owner has been trying for more than seven months to get the breeder to determine the correct sire of the last cow, at this time the sire is still unknown.  None of the three cows ended up having the bloodlines for which the owner had bought them.  So unfortunately, these kinds of situations are not that uncommon.

Q:  If I bred my cow to a registered Dexter bull, isn't the bull already "Sire Qualified" or even "Sire and Dam Qualified?"

A:  Not necessarily.  The ADCA merely requires all bull calves to be genotyped for registration:  
  1. When registering bull calves, geno lab results must be included with registration. 
Of the 34 AI sires listed on the ADCA website, only six are "Sire and Dam Qualified."  Twelve are "Sire Qualified," and 16 simply have their genotype on file.

Q: Why do some ADCA AI bulls have a blank next to Genotype?
A:  One important consideration for your future success in having your offspring PV'd is where a bull's genotype is on file.  Only 9 of the 34 ADCA AI sires state that their genotypes are on file both at TAMU and VGL.  Ten have their genotypes on file only at TAMU.  Fifteen of the bulls do not have the location of their genotypes specified, leaving a blank next to Genotype.  If you have your cows' genotypes on file at one lab and use a bull whose genotype is on file only at the other, it could be more complicated for you to PV your calves, especially if the bull is deceased.  You might need to have your cow genotyped at the same lab as the bull to accomplish it.  

If your cow and the bull you use are both at TAMU, you can "Sire and Dam Qualify" your calf simply by listing the parents' names on the test form.  For VGL, you will need to ask the bull's owner for a Case Number in order to "Sire and Dam Qualify" the calf.  

If you are using an AI sire, it would be wise to get an extra semen straw to send to the lab of your choice if the bull is not already on file there.  It's worth the extra expense to have the peace of mind that your calves are PV'd.

Q:  I’m convinced that I should genotype and PV my animals, but I’m not sure how to do it.  Who can help me?

A:  Contact your Area Director.  There is a list of the Area Directors and their contact info on the ADCA website.  They should be able to answer any questions you have. 

There are several posts about the process on this blog, and if you still have questions, I would be glad to help.  You can contact me using the "Contact Susan" form under the ADCA logo on the upper right hand side of this blog.

Q:  I genotype and PV my calves, but the results are my private property.  I don’t send results to the ADCA because they are no one’s business but my own.  Why should I publicize my animal’s test results?

A:  You hurt yourself and your animals by not sending test results to the ADCA.  More and more people are buying only "Sire and Dam Qualified" breeding stock, and when people look at your animals' pedigrees, it appears that they have not been tested.  With so many sellers offering fully PV'd stock, many buyers will pass you by.  However, when you send results to the ADCA that your animals are fully PV’d, you provide a public guarantee of their pedigree to interested buyers.

NOTE:  The ADCA Registrar does not make public your animal’s genotype nor your TAMU Accession Number or VGL Case Number.  The test results merely serve to authorize the Registrar to designate your animal as “G5” or “Sire and Dam Qualify.” 

Hopefully this has helped answer some questions about Parentage Verification.  If you have any other questions, please ask them in a comment or through the "Contact Susan" form so I can answer them publicly for the benefit of others.  I'll also be glad to email you or call you if you give me your phone number.

Thanks to S&H Hilltop Sara, our first cow, and our first calf, her heifer ZH Zephryhill Siobhan, for gracing this post with their photos.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Jet Is a Canine Good Citizen

Jet and I have spent the past six weeks going to an AKC Canine Good Citizen class every Thursday evening.  Tonight we had a test to see if he passed . . .

Jet had to walk on a loose leash, sit, lie down, stay while I walked 20 feet away, come when called, wait with a stranger while I disappeared for 3 minutes, have his feet and ears handled by a stranger (the examiner), be brushed by the examiner, walk among a crowd of strangers making lots of noise, and come close to a strange dog.
As you can perhaps guess from my face, Jet passed his test!

I had a test to pass, too--I had to promise to fulfill a list of responsibilities toward Jet.  A Canine Good Citizen deserves a human good citizen!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Parentage Verification: Why Is It Important?

Parentage Verification is something that has been my goal to achieve for our entire herd ever since I understood what it meant.  I posted previously about our whole herd now being "Sire and Dam Qualified."  Here I'm all excited, while you may be asking, "So what?  What's the big deal?"

We have two black polled cows, Ebony and Siobhan.  I can easily tell them apart, but the rest of my family can't.  This year we had two calves born on our farm.  Ebony, above, had a black polled heifer we called Tiggy.

Six weeks later Siobhan had a red polled bull calf named Wellie.  My previous post ended with the account of how Wellie was parentage verified at the UCDavis VGL.

"So," you might say, "that seems like a whole lot of trouble and expense just to prove what you already knew--that Wellie is Siobhan's calf by Cash!"  It's true that there's no way I could confuse Tiggy and Wellie, so why did I bother with all the PV stuff?

It all started this past summer when someone made this statement on the Dexter forum I belong to:

"The very term "Sire Qualified" describes a useless status. Comparing the genotypes of an alleged offsprin (sic) with an alleged sire can not show any meaningful level of assurance that the two are related. The only parentage verification worth anything is "Sire and Dam Qualified."  (I will not identify the poster by name because they have since deleted their post and I cannot provide a link to it.)
I was confused, so I called VGL to get an explanation.  The person I talked to was astounded that "Sire Qualified" had been called useless.  However, as she further explained Parentage Verification, I understood that the poster was trying to say this:

"Finally, it is important to remember that while parentage exclusions are 100% accurate parentage qualifications are not. The accuracy of most animal parentage tests is greater than 99% when both parents are included in the analysis and drops to around 95% when only one parent is included in the analysis. However, this accuracy will decrease when the potential parents are part of a large group of closely related animals." 

The very helpful lady at the lab gave me an example using actual genetic markers from a case they were working on.  (She did not tell me the name or even the breed of the animal.)  I can't remember the markers and numbers she used, but here's a simplified version of what she told me using a fictional "Marker A":

If the lab compares the calf's and sire's genotypes:
Calf: Marker A 100/200
Sire: Marker A 100/300
This bull qualifies as this calf's sire.

If the lab compares the calf's and dam's genotypes:
Calf: Marker A 100/200
Dam: Marker A 100/400
This cow qualifies as this calf's dam.

However, if the lab compares all three animals at the same time:
Calf: Marker A 100/200
Sire: Marker A 100/300
Dam: Marker A 100/400
One of the parents does not qualify.

Remember what I wrote in my previous post?
"You'll remember that an individual (in this case, a cow) gets half of its genetic material from each parent, so this animal got the 217 from one parent and the 221 from the other. Hold that thought; it's going to be important."
Well, now it's important.  This calf cannot have gotten the "100" from both parents; the "200" had to come from one of them, but neither of the parents has a 200 on that marker . . .

Somebody's got a problem!

The example above is very simplified, but this scenario has actually happened, even with Dexters.  People have bought cattle . . . and when they tried to PV those animals, they learned that one or even both of the parents on the pedigree did not qualify as the sire and/or dam.  Here is a recent discussion about just such an issue on the Dexter forum.

If you read the entire discussion, you will see that experienced breeders shared some excellent advice:  The only way to be sure that something like that does not happen to you is to buy only "Sire and Dam Qualified" animals for breeding stock.  

We have owned Dexters since December 2009.  Our first calf, Siobhan, was born in 2010, over four years ago.  She was PV'd--because we had her genotyped at TAMU and they did it automatically.  When we bought Ebony, we got her genotyped at VGL so her previous owner could PV her calf because the sire was there.  They had bred Ebony and had her sire's genotype at VGL, so it was easy enough for me to get her PV'd.  I could see that it was the highest "G" level accorded on the pedigree, but I still didn't understand why it was important!

Two things helped me realize how vitally important PV is:
1)  My conversation with the lady at VGL, and
2)  My acquaintance with the serious problems a few fellow breeders were facing as they discovered that their prized Dexters didn't even carry the bloodlines for which they had purchased them.

Accidents happen.  An AI'd cows slips her calf and gets field bred by a different bull . . . A bull jumps into a pasture, breeds a cow, and jumps back out again without anyone knowing . . . A neighbor's bull does the same thing . . . Two cows switch calves with each other . . . A bull calf gets left with the herd too long and breeds an open cow . . . The steer running with the open cows wasn't completely castrated . . .  These are actual scenarios that have happened, and they cause nightmares for the new owners and headaches for the breeders who have to sort out the real parents.

This is why we wanted that highest "Sire and Dam Qualify" designation.  Now that our herd sire and cows are all fully PV'd, one simple test for every calf born on our place will guarantee its lineage.

We believe that Parentage Verification is an indispensable part of good breeding--the crown of all our efforts and the final stamp of certainty for our clients.  If we've gone to the trouble to breed an animal, we ought to guarantee that it's everything we say it is.  With PV, we rest assured that the animals we sell are exactly who we say they are!

Feel free to use the "Contact Susan" form under the ADCA logo on the right of this blog if you have any questions.  If you prefer to talk on the phone, send me your phone number and I'll be glad to call you.  Stay tuned for an upcoming Q&A on Parentage Verification.