Investing in the Next Generation of Animal Breeders
Jackie Atkins, PhD, American Simmental Association and Sue Finley, The Midwest Herdsman
As a teenager, Robert Walton’s goal was to breed cattle “homozygous for all the good genes”. Walton pursued this mission as an exchange student with Dr. Ivan Johansson in Sweden followed by a doctorate in Animal Breeding with Dr. J. L. Lush at Iowa State. Dr. Walton started his career in academia at the University of Kentucky followed by nearly 30 years in industry with ABS Global, Inc. Dr. Walton served as president of ABS for 20 years and began many key programs in animal breeding including the earliest progeny test program in 1962, the Genetic Mating Service and database, and a sire evaluation program later adopted by the USDA as the Predicted Difference system. Dr. Walton is also a long-time breeder of Simmental cattle and raised Simmentals at his home in DeForest, Wisconsin for roughly 40 years before the dispersal in 2011.
In 2013, Jim Berry of Wildberry Farms, Hanover, IL, started a grant to honor Dr. Walton’s dedication to animal breeding and Simmental cattle. In an environment of less grant money available, and fewer graduate students interested in applied agriculture, it is increasingly difficult to conduct research in animal breeding. The Walton-Berry Graduate Student Support Grant provides $8,000/year (one $5,000 and one $3,000 grant) to faculty in order to advance graduate research programs with preference given to the area of genetics in livestock species. In return the recipients write editorials about their research for publication in both SimTalk and the Register.
Recipients: Past recipients of the Walton-Berry Graduate Student Support Grant are contributing to our understanding of economically relevant traits in beef cattle. The Animal Breeding Group at Kansas State University (Drs. Jennifer Minick Bormann, Robert [Bob] Weaber, Dan Moser, and Michael MacNeil) used this grant to support research for a Master’s student, Kelli Retallick. Retallick is studying feed efficiency in beef cattle at the USDA Meat Animal Research Center. Two recipients study temperament in beef cattle from two different angles.
Dr. Jennifer Thomson at Montana State University and her student, Andrew Williams, are working to “1) develop and deploy electronic measurement devices for evaluation of beef cattle temperament and using these technologies 2) evaluate temperament in feedlot animals in relation to their feedlot performance and carcass characteristics”.
Dr. Stephanie McKay from the University of Vermont aims to understand the role epigenetics play in cattle temperament. Epigenetics, the modification of expression of genes, can change based on environmental influences like nutrition. Little is known about the epigenetic control of temperament in cattle. Dr. McKay and her student, Bonnie Cantrell, are comparing epigenetic patterns in brain tissue from extremely docile vs. extremely wild Red Angus/Simmental crossed cattle to see if epigenetics plays a role in temperament.
Faculty members can submit an application explaining their area of research and how these funds will be used. The application should include a description of the research and a letter of support from the Department Administration. The Award is payable as a gift to the research account of the selected faculty member(s). Applications may be submitted electronically or in hard copy to the American Simmental Association, One Simmental Way, Bozeman, MT 59715 or simmental@simmgene. The application deadline is on April 15 each year and announcements of the grants by May 15.
Donors: The main contributor to the funding for this grant has been Jim Berry. Jim Berry is committed to funding research that will improve genetic selection and the Simmental breed as a whole. Additional donations have come from Dr. Walton himself, Dr. Jerry Lipsey and last spring, Bill Graber generously added to the pot by donating the sale proceeds from one of his heifers.
The 2014 Wisconsin Simmental Association Spring Spectacular Sale was led off by the donor lot from the Graber Simmental herd, Livingston, WI. In the footnote, Bill Graber writes, “In the fall of 2011 I had the opportunity to purchase Walton’s Stein Fancy at the fall Roundup Sale in Wisconsin. On February 17, 2012, Ms Bobbi Walton was born. I decided to put Bobbi in the sale to help out the Dr. Robert Walton Graduate Student Support Award, which is managed by the American Simmental Association”. BGSF Ms Bobbi Walton, a daughter of Dikeman’s Sure Bet sold bred AI to TNT Ever Ready R232. She sold for $3,250 going to Andrew Manthe, DeForest, WI. The award and donation are ways these breeders can thank Dr. Walton for all he has done for the Simmental breed and livestock industry.
The American Simmental Simbrah Foundation has a number of worthy missions bringing more benefits to members willing to donate proceeds from selling cattle. Donations to the Foundation raise money for deserving causes and donors also benefit from the following:
- Use of the ASA Foundation logo (with specific mission) to promote the sale of the donated animal
- Free advertisement in ASA electronic media for the sale of the donated animal
- Continuous recognition of the donation (and the purchaser) on the ASA Foundation website
- Tax deduction for a charitable donation to a non-profit organization
If you would like to contribute to the Walton-Berry Graduate Student Support Grant, contact the American Simmental Association at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 406-587-4531 for more information.