While all cattle breeds have genetic defects, most are rare and inherited in a recessive manner so that the condition is seen only if a calf inherits the gene from both parents. Two gross physical deformities with lethal consequences in Jersey cattle have been documented and declared genetic abnormalities by the American Jersey Cattle Association: Limber Legs (LL) in 1972, and Rectovaginal Constriction (RVC) in 1975.
If this is news to you, there’s good reason. Both abnormalities were brought under control in the early to mid ’80s through a program of reporting affected animals, expert veterinary examination and pedigree documentation, followed by Board designation and labeling of carrier animals. About all most Jersey owners know today of Limber Legs and RVC is to note the “Designated Abnormality Carriers” list when it is published in Jersey Journal, or to occasionally find a bull with (LL) or (RVC) as part of his registration name on ancient registration certificates.
Why bring this up? Because unrecognized or ignored—for whatever reason—abnormalities that prove to be genetic in origin can wreak havoc on and devastate the finances of cattle owners, as most famously happened to North American Herefords because of dwarfism. The lesson of Professor L.P. McCann’s story, The Battle of Bull Runts, is this.
Any time, every time an abnormal animal is born, or an abnormality develops in an animal—no matter what one suspects the cause to be—the only correct action to take is to report it to the breed association.
There are three important ingredients in controlling genetic abnormalities: reporting, labeling carriers, and making this information available to the people making breeding decisions. Accordingly, the American Jersey Cattle Association adopted in 1983 and has since updated the Policies Regarding Undesirable Genetic Factors.
It is built upon the foundations of documentation, scientific research, due diligence, and openness.
The policy, has served the Jersey breed well in the past and will do so again if it ever becomes necessary, “but only to the degree that all cooperate in the acceptance and enforcement of this policy.”
Effectiveness depends almost entirely upon reporting—reporting to the Association, reporting through the communication channel defined by policy, reporting at first observation, and reporting in full detail.
The incidence of an abnormal condition—by definition—is low. It’s out of one’s daily experience. The possibilities for an affected animal to not be found, much less reported, are endless. Thirty years ago, we talked about “the eye of the master.” Most milked their own cows most days of the week. Today, more are managing labor than being labor, herds are larger and heifer raising may be done at some distance from the milking herd. Seeing and reporting is in the hands of others who may not have the same personal investment you do. Without being vigilant, and training employees to be equally attentive, a costly, perhaps even lethal abnormality can be perpetuated at the expense of all.
The question always arises, “What do I report?”
The answer is simple. If it’s out of the ordinary in your experience, pick up a phone and dial 614/861-3636. Time does matter and nothing can happen without a complete report received in the Association office. “Complete” starts with identification of the animal and its parents. Take a tissue sample as you would for genotyping, or pull hair and store it in a baggie clearly labeled with the animal’s ID. Or, have your veterinarian take a blood sample. Get pictures. Download the Report Form for Abnormalities, fill it out, and fax it to the Association office.
It doesn’t matter what you see. It matters that you report it, if it doesn’t look right.