The term "breed," as used by the farmer, signifies a group or class of animals having a number of distinctive qualities and characteristics in common, and the power to transmit those distinctive traits with a good degree of certainty. Such groups of animals have distinctive names, such as "thoroughbred," "Clydesdale," "Percheron," "Shorthorns" and recorded pedigrees usually tracing back for two, three or more generations. In the case of a long-established breed, as the Shorthorns, the recorded pedigree may go back a hundred years or more and for many generations.
A breed is usually started by selecting two or more unusually good animals from a group that has been produced in a locality by reason of better food, environment and intelligent selection, and which is usually superior to the animals of the same species in other localities. These few having been selected, inbreeding is practiced to a greater or less extent for the purpose of perpetuating and intensifying one or more desired characteristics. At first this work is usually carried on by one, or at most a few, of the most intelligent breeders, who, by improving conditions, have first improved the Quality of their own stock. From time to time animals with some superior characteristics are selected from the nascent variety, and these are inbred for a time, producing a variety which may develop into a breed. Again, a family may be formed within the breed by selection and inbreeding. For instance, the breed of Shorthorn cattle contains several quite noted families, such as the Duchess and the Waterloo. The term "tribe" is sometimes used instead of "family" in this connection. A small group of animals which have been improved but have not yet taken on all of the fixed characteristics of a breed should be called a "variety." Under skilful management it may, and usually does, ripen into a breed. When the breeders of a group or variety decide that the distinctive characteristics are reasonably well fixed, they publish what is known of the breeding of the better animals of this variety in a first volume of a stud-book, herd- or flock-book, and thus the breed makes it official appearance. In the United States and Canada there are now published by the various livestock registry associations twenty-one pedigree records of horses, twenty-five of cattle, thirty-one of sheep and twenty-two of swine. A volume for each breed is usually published annually. (See Appendix, for further information.)
It will readily be seen that when the attempt is made t6 launch a breed and establish a record of genealogy, or pedigree, for the various animals selected for such record, the first pedigrees must be based on unpublished records. Not infrequently, some of the foundation stock are recorded simply by name, and nothing is said of ancestors, because nothing is known of them. In the case of trotting-horses the pedigree may end abruptly on the dam's side by the statement "out of a good road mare." Fortunately, the launching of a new breed and the admission of animals to registry are placed in the hands of an expert and reliable committee or commission. The rules governing the registration of animals of different breeds in the first volume, and sometimes in a few subsequent volumes, are quite variable, and half-bloods, three-fourths bloods and even animals of unknown origin are sometimes registered in the first instance. As the years go by, the rules for admission to registration are made more strict, and finally no animal is eligible for record whose sire and dam are not recorded. Most recorded animals have three, four, or more generations of recorded ancestors on both the dam and the sire side. The Shorthorn Herd-book serves well to illustrate the subject of pedigrees, and has been selected for illustration because the first volume was compiled with great care and subsequent issues have been supervised most critically. The first volume was issued when pedigrees were little prized by livestock farmers, yet the utmost care was taken to verify the quality and breeding of animals admitted to record, as well as the reliability of the breeders.
The following records are taken from the first volume of Coate's English Shorthorn Herd-book. It will be seen that apparently no information whatever as to breeding was obtainable; nevertheless, we are not to suppose that these animals were not above the average of the cattle in their locality. In most herd books the males and females are designated by both names and numbers, while no number is given to the female shorthorns:
No. 77, Blossom. No. 84, Blutcher. No. 87, Booth.
So closely have the pedigrees of more recent recorded animals been supervised that it is possible to trace for from six to ten, and even to more generations, the ancestry of animals bred as far back as 1870 with scarcely a single break. One of many illustrations which might be cited is the pedigree, so far as the page will allow, of the Eighth Duchess of Geneva (Fig. 5), sold at public auction September 10, 1873, at New York Mills for $40,600. It would require a strip of paper some ten feet wide and three hundred feet long to give her entire pedigree and to record all of the names of her well-authenticated ancestors in ordinary writing in the form given below, in which but six generations are set down. As the number of ancestors in each generation increases in a geometrical ratio, the seventh generation would contain one hundred and twenty-eight ancestors, the tenth generation one thousand and twenty-four, and the fifteenth generation thirty-two thousand seven hundred and sixty-eight ancestors. There are many animals now living which have still more extended pedigrees then the Eighth Duchess of Geneva. Some animals are recorded in both the English and the American herd-books. The numbers in parentheses refer to the English, the others to the American records.
Fig. 5. A superior pedigree.