It happened by dint of genetic accident, but a herd of White Angus cattle is contentedly grazing the pastures at the University of Florida Range Cattle and Research Center at Ona, Fla.
The cattle are not pure Angus, of course, but a composite that is genetically three-fourths black Angus but with a white hair coat and dark skin. The remaining fourth is a combination of black Angus, Charolais, Brahman and Simmental, according to John Arthington, Center director.
It’s a genetic combination that offers some significant advantages in warm climates. One study found Ona White Angus heifers had an 83% greater sweating rate compared with black Angus heifers and another study found the Ona White Angus cattle had lower vaginal temperatures during peak heat. “These data suggest a greater ability for the Ona White Angus to cool themselves during instances of heat and humidity pressure,” Arthington says. “As a result, we have detected a significant decrease in the mount of daylight hours that the Ona White Angus expended in the shade.”
The White Angus line at the Ona research center originated basically by accident, Arthington says. “We still do not fully understand the traits that resulted in this distinct phenotype, but attribute at least part of the outcome to the dilution effects of black hair coat dominance found in the Charolais and Simmental,” he says.
The herd originated from a long-term breeding project led by F.M. Peacock, a genetics professor at the University of Florida. That study focused on productivity traits of purebreds and crossbreds from three breeds—black Angus, Charolais and Brahman. In the early 90s, his cowherd was transitioned to a new study aimed at evaluating reproductive efficiencies when bred to Simbrah bulls. Heifers from these matings were retained, therefore introducing a fourth breed.
In 1999, the cowherd moved into a third project and were mated to black Angus and Brangus bulls. “In 2002, we began to recognize a small but significant number of white calves in the herd,” Arthington says.
Researchers began isolating these heifer calves and breeding them to black Angus bulls. Over the following 12 years, they were able to identify and increase the number of individual cows that were responsible for passing the white color trait on to their offspring. “From these cows, we formed the foundation herd for the creation of the Ona White Angus,” he says. The herd now numbers about 90, including pregnant cows, yearling heifers and bulls and mature bulls.
The center will sell the entire herd in late 2015 or early 2016, Arthington says, citing the significant investment in reproductive technology needed to expand the herd’s genetic base, coupled with the growing age of the foundation cows. “Private investment in the herd is now warranted so that these genetics can be made more broadly available to individuals around the world,” he says.
Click here for more on this unique herd.
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