The pros and cons of animal breeding

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This week we’ve had visitors from all the largest husbandry breeding companies in Norway, as well as the national breeding associations for dogs and horses. The concept of breeding is such a delicate subject to discuss, because there are a lot of differing opinions regarding the motivation behind the breeding decisions.  What traits are weighted the most can vary between what will give the most profit, to what will give the healthiest animals, thus saving cost on healthcare expenses. In Norway we’ve done a lot of work to decrease the overall usage of antibiotics in our livestock populations, and are among the top two (and number one if we exclude the salmon industry) when it comes to lowering antibiotic usage.

It’s important to note that not all breeding research is done solely for monetary reasons, but rather to preserve the breeds indigenous to Norway, such as our cattle (Norwegian red), our sheep (Norwegian “spælsau”) and the several different dog breeds that have originated in our country. By securing their health and longevity as a race, we’re protecting a part of our natural heritage and the global genetic diversity.

Moreover, since animal and human health is so connected (I’ve written about it at length before in one of my first posts on the website, click here to read more about the “One Health” initiative), by improving animal health and dependency on antibiotics, we’re improving our own health and environmental conditions as well.

Still, there are some concerning factors that we cannot ignore as far as breeding goes, namely the over breeding on certain dog races, leaving them with retinal and respiratory diseases, and unable to mate or breed without human interception. When the focus on exterior goes from being about securing the best possible build to prevent hip dysplasia for instance, to making the cutest and tiniest dog, that’s when we cross the line into animal cruelty. This is sadly the case for the husbandry industry as well, where we see economic gain taking precedence over all other factors. I couldn’t help but notice that we weren’t visited by anyone from the poultry industry. There we’ve seen far too many examples of birds being bred to grow muscle tissue faster than the bones in their legs can support, leaving them with fractured legs due to their unnaturally fast weight gain. Another thing that left me with a sour taste in my mouth was when during the lectures, one of the guest speakers used the argument that increasing efficiency by having more animals per square feet would make the industry more environmentally sustainable. I’m not sure whether she misspoke or not, but surely, having more animals in a smaller space must be connected to a variety of different animal welfare and hygienic issues. Sustainability shouldn’t only be about how many resources you use when rearing the animals, but how sustainable the practice is in the long haul. The better and more consistent living conditions the animals have, the easier it is to determine their breeding value, thus streamlining the breeding process.

The next exam is five days away as of writing this, and although I’ve found the breeding part of the course to be not only interesting, but highly applicable to our future work, I can’t wait to be done with the statistics portion of the subject. I’m not big on calculating probabilities, so the sooner I can get everything connected to hypothesis testing and binomial formulas over and done with, the better. However, sometimes that’s just part of life. Even though I’m studying for my absolute dream job, not everything is going to be equally interesting. So I’m just going to suck it up, and cram for as long as I can for the next five days, and look forward to anatomy and physiology, which is the upcoming block.

By the way, if you're wondering what I'm currently listening to while studying, I've moved on from the Animal Crossing soundtrack, to this Studio Ghibli compilation. It's wonderful, give it a listen if you're looking for some relaxing study music.