Best Breeds?

A post tonight by the fabulous DocHollandD about an ag class exploded, and quickly involved into a discussion of everyones fave breeds and crosses, and the dreams of what we we chose to raise.

For me that’s California Red sheep, mini Jersey cows (about three), and a complex assortment of horses. Oh, and a herd of fertile mules. You read that right. It’s been an obsession of mine since freshman bio.

Most animal folks can answer in a heart beat.

But what informs our choices? How do those choices effect conservation…and the communities those breeds and types are imbedded in? I touched on this in ASEH 2018 Tweets, and it has been central to a lot of my public history coursework. It was even a large part of my comprehensive exams. And it is part of why I explore what breed has meant in the past.

What, to you, makes a breed worth having?

What makes them worth conserving?

Header image: GF Hamids Tamora with colt GF Brigadoon, by the Al Khamsa stallion Mohummed Kazam, at Four Oaks Arabians, Breezewood, PA.

#EqHist2019 Speakers: Genetics and History — Equine History Collective

The panel will be at 9:00a.m. on Thursday November 14th, opening the second day of the conference. It will be chaired by Alyssa V. Loera from Cal Poly Pomona. This is a new feature this year, and we are delighted to include more methodological variety for investigating the past. Two of these papers have agreed […]

#EqHist2019 Speakers: Genetics and History — Equine History Collective

This was the panel I was on. My presentation is being called the “Dead Pony Manifesto” and argues for interdisciplinary collaboration and communication. Let me know if you want a copy of the paper or the video!

That’s Ag Hist

I just returned for the Agricultural History Society Centennial meeting in D.C. It was my first year at AHS, and I expect I will be back! I shouldn’t have been surprised that I already knew so many scholars there, either digitally or from other conference. It was a very collegial conference, and absolutely packed with papers of interest. I was, of course, especially happy to see that our roundtable was not the only equine history being represented, and AHS kindly scheduled the other equine panel back to back in the same room.

And, of course, we did pop over to the museums.

Global Gaits: 19th-century World Trade in ‘Vermont Trotting Horses.’

Or, A Trotter is a Trotter of course, of course.

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Take a look at my presentation on 19th century trotting horses for ASEH 2019 Tweets here.

The full ASEH 2019 Tweets program is here.

Mr. Ed, aka Bamboo Harvester, would have been called (unsurprisingly) a saddle-horse, not a trotter. He was, however, descended (like many American Saddlebreds) from a number of trotters, including Hambletonian 10 discussed in the presentation.

#EqHist2018: Why Equine History Matters

     This past weekend, seventy people from six countries gathered at CalPoly Pomona– once the site of the Kellogg Arabian Horse Ranch and the Pomona Quartermaster Remount Depot– to discuss “why equine history matters.” It was a spectacular weekend, with twenty-six papers on horses, mules, donkeys, and the occasional zebra, ranging from ancient Egypt to the effects of cloning and genomics on highly traditional industries. We had tours of the W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Library and the W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse, and were able to consider the effects of history on practice. In all, presenter agreed equine history matters because it is our history, and because it makes us look outside ourselves. We had the first official meeting of the Equine History Collective. The future of equine history is wide open, and as an organization we will be “cheeky” and aim high.

     Equine History 2018 was made possible by the W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Library (and their spectacular staff), the Don B. Huntley College of Agriculture & W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Center, UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, UCLA 17th & 18th Century Studies, and the Western History Association. Because many of us are horsefolk, and because as an organization we are committed to making historical research available and accessible to the public and the equine industry, we were also thrilled to have donations from SmartPak, Cowboy Magic, Mane ‘n Tail, and Exhibitor Labs. And, as our keynote Richard Nash noted: it’s hard to top being serenaded over lunch by one of the conference organizers!

Mariachi Los Broncos
Mariachi Los Broncos called EHC Treasurer Kathryn Renton up to perform with them

The Research Trail

   Two years ago I went to the National Sporting Library with a mission. I was looking for more information on the Hanoverian Creams and Whites; I was convinced that early modern breeders could meet their own production goals– which meant not indiscriminately crossing these two pale phenotypes. And more, I suspected they had a greater understanding of trait inheritance than we generally attribute to breeders before Darwin and Mendel. I did find suggestions of an understanding of multigenerational inheritance; usually in terms of an animal taking after its sire or grandsire, but also with occasional asides about individual animals being more or less likely to have offspring that resembled themselves. And I found dozens of tantalizing mentions of my unusual case studies, but not a huge amount of new information on the unusual Hanoverian horses. What I did find was not only an aversion to inbreeding (for more on trends in inbreeding, see Margaret Derry’s Bred for Perfection), but also an avoidance of breeding “like to like.” While this was about type, rather than color, it was still startling. These breeders, mostly late eighteenth and early nineteenth century English breeders of animals other than Thoroughbreds, employed a method of crossing that is still common in the production of warmbloods; indeed, their discussions of mare and stallion selection– the one heavy, the other light, unrelated for several generations, and preferences for certain production regions– was not unlike my own choices in Morgan breeding. The “golden cross” in Morgans has long been Government stallions with Lippitt mares. I also started formulating my definition for early modern usage of the word “breed” as one predicated on land, not blood. The word was used in the early eighteenth century primarily as a gerundive: “to have been bred, to have been produced by or at.”

   At the Linda Hall Library this summer I once again had to reorder my thoughts on the history of breeding. I had been focusing pre-1866: before Darwin and Mendel. While I had evidence prior breeders had some understanding of inheritance, I still expected the development of evolutionary science and genetics to effect the choices breeders made. Instead, I found that Robert Bakewell– the sheep breeder who popularized inbreeding, as discussed by Derry– had a much greater effect. And, that breeders in the early twentieth (yes, 20th!) century still used the land-based conception of breed, even in the same treatises in which they discuss the new Mendelian model of inheritance.

  Like fine wines and cheeses, the land lent unique “flavors” to the animals raised on it. This was a concept that pre-dated Darwin, and one that his studies could not challenge; rather, they reinforced the idea that the land itself selected certain strengths in animals, making the selection and arrangement of place as important to breeders as the selection of broodstock. Because the new science supported these views, they survived through the tumultuous rise of eugenics, with breeders of the mid 20th c. selecting desert landscapes on which to raise Arabians, and setting down on paper the breeds produced in each region, from the bluegrass to the Rockies. This reliance on terrain was not unscientific. Adequate fodder, suitable hoof wear, and space encouraging exercise in youngstock is as important to raising sound, healthy animals as genetics. Early modern breeders understood both were necessary for a program to produce consistent quality.

   Today I start research at the National Museum of the Morgan Horse. Morgans developed a separate breed identity much earlier than other non-Thoroughbreds. And the early American “golden cross,” for trotters to saddlers to quarter mile horses, was “Kentucky” or Thoroughbred stallions and “Vermont” or Morgan mares. I love the breed, but I never expected them to be so central to my research!

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