USDA Circular No. 235: Utility value of pure-bred live stock

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USDA Circular No. 235: Utility value of pure-bred live stock was a USDA circular by Dallas Stockwell Burch published by the United States Department of Agriculture in 1922. It was revised in 1926.[1]

The circular was written to compare pure-bred livestock against non-purebred livestock. It begins by stating that: "Good pure-bred animals appear to have many advantages over common farm stock. In competent hands pure breds give sufficient additional returns to more than justify their greater cost and the extra care which they ordinarily receive."

Table of Contents

The table of contents in the 1922 version is as follows:

  • Sources of information: p. 4
  • Significance of term pure bred: p. 4
  • Earning power of pure breds as utility animals: p. 4
  • The superiority of pure breds analyzed: p. 5
  • Selling surplus pure breds as breeders: p. 7
  • Results obtained with pure-bred sires: p. 9
  • Experiences in obtaining good pure-bred sires: p. 12
  • Influence of pure-bred sire users on methods of others: p. 15
  • Incentives to raise superior live stock: p. 16
  • Methods of further improvement: p. 18
  • Special problems and difficulties: p. 20
  • Summary: p. 21


The circular states: "What results, from a utility standpoint, can I expect from pure-bred live stock?" This question, in substance, is being asked the department with increasing frequency by live-stock owners. They indicate a desire for better and more profitable farm animals, but comparatively few, judging from the inquiries, aspire to become specialized breeders. The demand is rather for knowledge of the earning power of pure-bred stock in terms of meat, milk, wool, eggs, and other market products.

"Simultaneously, field studies of the department in recent years show wide variations in the proceed received by farmers for live stock and their products. Under approximately the same set of conditions, some stockmen have operated at a profit while others have showed a loss.
"The higher price levels which constantly prevail for superior animals, meats, wool, eggs, and the like have indicated strongly that the type of breeding animals used has much to do with profit and loss. The more specific evidence and figures here reported have been possible through the assistance of stockmen participating in the "Better Sires — Better Stock" campaign, a systematic plan conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture and various States in improving the average quality of live stock in the country.


The study used data gathered from 525 farmers keeping a total of 25,000 breeding stock and 30,000 fowls. Some of the animals kept were pure bred whereas others were grade, cross-bred, or "nondescript." The farmers included came from 36 different states. The data was gathered in October and November 1921, "a period of unusual depression in the live-stock industry."

Significance of the Term "Pure Bred"

The circular states:

"Because of the frequent use of pure bred in this discussion, let us have clearly in mind what a pure-bred animal signifies. "A pure-bred animal," as defined by the Bureau of Animal Industry, "is one of pure breeding representing a definite, recognized breed and both of whose parents were pure-bred animals of the same breed. To be considered pure bred, live stock must be either registered, eligible to registration, or (in the absence of public registry for that class) have such lineage that its pure breeding can be definitely proved. To be of good type and quality, the animal must be healthy, vigorous, and a creditable specimen of its breed.""

Earning Power of Pure Breds as Utility Animals

The circular states:

"Based on utility alone — apart from its breeding or sales value pure-bred live stock appears to be over one-third more efficient than common stock in all classes of farm animals. The superiority is most marked among dairy cattle."

This is followed by a table titled: 'Superiority, based on utility alone, of pure bred over common live stock." The numbers reported are: Dairy cattle: 47.8%, Poultry: 40.7%, Swine: 38.3%, Sheep: 37.8%, Horses: 37.2%, Beef cattle: 36.8%, Goats: 36.8%."

The circular continues:

"Thus pure-bred live stock in the nine years' experience of the persons furnishing data have earned about 40 per cent more for their owners than the scrub stock used for comparison.
The relatively high percentages representing the earning power of well-bred dairy cattle and poultry over scrubs are explained doubtless by the better facilities for keeping production records of these classes of live stock, thereby contributing to their improvement. Illustrating this point for cattle, a New England dairyman attributes his increased returns from pure-bred dairy cows over scrubs to the fact that more attention is paid to testing and feeding. Consequently there is more weeding out of the poorer cows, which results in building up a better herd." A Florida poultryman described how by trap-nesting his flock he increased the annual egg production per hen from 80 to 150. This was accomplished by selection and feeding without introducing new blood."

The Superiority of Pure Breds Analyzed

The circular states:

"The respects in which pure-bred animals excel ordinary stock include a great variety of points, which fall into the convenient groups listed in Table 2. Figures in the table show the relative importance of each group in the opinion of the live-stock owners reporting."

Table 2, labeled "Points in which pure-bred animals surpass common stock" reports the percent of comments received from the farmers who responded about each "point of superiority." These are: Better conformation and quality: 14.6%, Better selling price of animals: 12.8%, Increased production: 12.1%, Stock more salable: 11.9%, More product for the feed: 9.2%, Owner's interest and pride (results in better care and greater returns): 9.2%, Uniformity (factor in making sales): 8.9%, Early maturity: 7.8%, Ease of fattening and finishing: 5.7%, Better prices for products: 3.0%, Increased vigor: 2.7%, Docility and ease of handling: 2.1%.

Listed below are some of the comments received:

"My pure-bred stock weigh as much at 15 months/' a Virginia farmer remarks, " as my scrubs did at 3 years — a saving of 21 months in feed and labor, besides getting a better price. They are early maturing, easy keepers, and good producers."
"A Pennsylvanian adds: "My cows have more than doubled in milk production. Scrub and grade cows used to give me about 4,000 pounds of milk a year, while my pure breds average over 8,000 pounds.""
"A breeder in Washington State makes this observation: "I find the young of pure-bred stock are uniformly good, while with scrub stock there usually are 1 or 2 good ones to 8 or 10 poor ones."
"Many stockmen emphasize the greater salability of pure breds. "Buyers in this locality always come to me first," is a typical comment. Another remarks, "Sales are easily and satisfactorily made and higher prices are received.""
"The influence of good breeding on uniformity is illustrated by the experience of a Colorado breeder, who says: "Ten years ago I bought 200 head of scrub cows. They were all colors of the rainbow. I have used pure-bred sires and now the cows are all smooth and every one has a white face, besides being 50 per cent larger.""
"Others lay emphasis on the better care and management through greater pride in possession, with resulting increase in returns. There were frequent references also to the gentler disposition and intelligence of pure-breds and pleasure in handling them."
"Besides obtaining the benefits of greater utility value from their pure breds, about four-fifths of the live-stock owners report sales of surplus animals for breeding purposes. Their success in this venture is presented briefly in Table 3."

Table 3 is labeled "Success in selling surplus pure breds as breeding stock." It concludes:

"The figures show a majority report on successful sales of surplus pure breds. Difficulties are so numerous, however, that they merit additional comment. Lack of demand was due to various conditions partly within the control of breeders. The quality of stock offered was mentioned in several as the reason for difficulty in making sales. "I have never had anv difficulty," one man writes, "in selling surplus pure breds as breeders since I improved the type."
"In the case of dairy stock, lack of production records in both the male and female lines of ancestry is a damper on sales. Several stated frankly that the quality of some of the surplus stock offered was not particularly good. In other instances difficulty was due to the type of stock raised locally. It was reported difficult to sell pure-bred beef animals in dairy districts and vice versa. Even in the same class of stock, a breed not popular locally was hard to sell. Others had only a few head of surplus stock and they preferred to sell at an unsatisfactory price rather than to incur the expense of advertising. Especially in cases of local surplus, failure to advertise or to show stock at fairs contributed to the difficulty in making sales
"According to comments that accompanied the reports, bull calves were most difficult to sell. This was especially true of dairy breeds in the New England States and in New York arid Pennsylvania. There were certain other special reasons, such as cattle ticks in the quarantined portions of the South.
"In contrast to the comments reporting lack of demand and failure of prospective buyers to appreciate the value of pure-bred stock was the much larger number of reports telling of success in making sales. Briefly, the sales problem appears to be largely one of satisfactory quality of the stock offered, combined with personal enterprise in maintaining breeding and production records and in attracting buyers."

Results Obtained With Pure-Bred Sires

This section refers to livestock produced with pure-bred fathers and mothers that were in some cases pure-bred and other cases not. The circular reports findings that "with slight exception, [results] show either a general satisfaction or a desire for still further improvement. Comments in the reports frequently stated that greatest progress was possible only when sires of superior quality were used and that a desire for still further improvement was the basis of success in breeding."

It says, "Many placed stress on getting a high quality of pure-bred sires at the outset instead of starting with cheap, untried sires." It tells the story of a dairy farmer who bought a pure-bred bull who had no past breeding experience. The bull was expensive but his offspring were disappointing.

"Another breeder declared that progress depends largely on the ability to recognize good individuals. But the majority of comments on the progeny of pure-bred sires included expressions like these: Better feeders and fewer runts; mature quicker with less feed; pure-bred sires bring good calves from scrub mothers; heifers more sure to be good milkers and more persistent; in beef cattle and hogs it is the ease with which they gain and finish for market; ready sale and good price at any time of year."

It then discusses the higher prices farmers received for selling off-spring from pure-bred fathers, compared to those that did not have pure-bred fathers. On average, 49.4% percent reported receiving better returns on livestock sold that had purebred fathers.

Out of 459 farmers, 380 reported general satisfaction with pure-bred sires, 71 were satisfied but wanted something better, and 8 were dissatisfied. Additionally, on average, farmers reported an average of a 48 percent increase in financial returns from using pure-bred sires. However, the circular continues:

"Since pure-bred sires have a higher money value than scrubs or grades, the earning power of pure breds must obviously be at least proportionately greater in order to make them profitable — especially to such an extent as 48 per cent. The profitable results are due largely to the fact that a pure-bred sire gradually improves an entire herd or flock. The influence of pure-bred females is not so extensive, but I here is nevertheless an accumulative profit resulting from the natural tendency of live stock to be prolific. Especially in the case of poultry and hogs, which multiply rapidly, a few animals of pure breeding may in a few years become the ancestors of hundreds of pure breds."


The circular concludes:

"Based on utility alone — apart from breeding or sales value — pure-bred five stock has an earning power from a third to one-half greater than scrub stock. The average superiority of pure breds over scrubs for all classes of farm animals is about 40 per cent.
"Of the principal points in which pure breds excel other stock, the most prominent are: Superiority and uniformity in conformation and type, greater sale value, early maturity, and economy in the conversion of feed into meat, milk, wool, and work.
"Surplus pure breds are readily salable at satisfactory prices in a majority of cases; but much depends on the breeding and production records and the business ability of the breeder.
"With rare exceptions, pure-bred sire users are satisfied with the quality of the offspring obtained, except that the desire is created in many cases to improve the quality still further.
"The progeny of pure-bred sires has practically a 50 per cent greater sale value than the progeny of sires not pure bred.
"Pure-bred sires of good quality are readily obtainable in the experience of three-fourths of the breeders reporting. The principal difficulties are: Paying the price and finding the desirable type, but there is practically unanimous agreement that the results justify the cost.
"The average increase in financial returns, from live-stock raising, traceable to the use of pure-bred sires is 48 per cent.
"Most breeders of pure breds exert a noticeable influence in improving the quality of live stock in their neighborhoods.
"Of the chief influences which cause farmers to become breeders of pure-bred live stock, the three foremost are: Reading agricultural periodicals and bulletins, general observation, and county agents.
"The principal methods by which breeders expect to continue to improve their stock are: Use of superior sires, careful selection and mating, and use of superior females."

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