One of America’s leading cattlemen, John Tennyson of Skagvale Holsteins, addressed a large group of Canadian Holstein breeders a few years ago. In the course of his speech he chastised Holstein breeders across Canada, suggesting they avoid single trait selection to improve their cattle. Tennyson stated continuous single trait selection was a dangerous course for livestock breeders to follow. He cited examples of several livestock breeds destroyed by the practice.
Tennyson then focused on the Holstein cattle bred in the United States. He suggested his fellow breeders, ever breeding for greater performance, had sacrificed all else for R.O.P. He concluded his address stating the average American-bred Holstein cow is in production for less than three years. Structurally these cows break down and must be shipped.
Horsemen can be guided by the wisdom of this respected American cattleman. Belgian, Clydesdale and Percheron breeders across North America have placed inordinate emphasis on one trait this past decade. This is length of neck. Other traits that are basic to the health and utility of a draft horse are being ignored. Continued attempts to increase the length of neck in the draft horse breeds, at the expense of structural correctness, conformation, soundness and action, is a recipe for disaster.
The draft horse industry currently has a wealth of long-necked horses. While a long-necked stallion bred to a long-necked mare does not ensure the production of long-necked offspring, Belgian, Clydesdale and Percheron breeders must give serious thought to breeding for traits of equal or greater importance. These are masculine or feminine traits, plus the length of a draft horse’s hindquarter. These traits are essential to the fertility of all draft horse breeds.
There is a growing body of evidence that suggests the long-necked draft horse has a shorter hindquarter and a smaller pelvic girdle. Couple this with the fact most draft horsemen breed for increased size and we have problems, reproductive problems, which will reduce or destroy the ability of a brood mare to conceive and/or foal. No draft horse breed is better known for the length of its neck than the Shire. However, far too many mares of this breed currently drop but one or two live foals in a lifetime. This is a draft horse breed whose fertility has sparked growing concern in breed circles. Too many horsemen today appear ignorant of this fact. They continue to select stallions and females as they would select a hitch gelding. This is wrong!
Nobody likes an upstanding draft horse with a neck of good length, which arches upwards from a shoulder of proper slope more than I. However, it is time greater emphasis is placed on structural traits other than length of neck. Conformation, structural correctness, bone, bottoms and action cannot be overlooked. Long-necked stallions bred to long-necked mares, generation following generation, at the expense of other important traits, will result in serious foaling problems. Seedstock breeders must address this, otherwise horsemen new to each draft breed will soon be discouraged, for the veterinarian bills each foaling and breeding season will skyrocket.
There is no question, some of the best Belgian, Clydesdale, Percheron and Shire horses ever bred can be seen today. However, if single trait selection continues, we will soon have too many exceptionally long-necked draft horses, that are so incorrect most will have no utility. A growing number of draft horses the likes of these will destroy the market for each breed.
At least this is how I see it!