|Granny Miller (AKA my lovely wife who puts up with me and my dogs) snapped this picture of my young Cur-dog at ten months old.|
That does not mean that cur-dogs were or are bred without direction. I never breed dogs, but have owned 7 curs from different lines. The breeders I know, hunt hard and cull hard when they need to. The result are healthy dogs with good temperament that can herd, tree game, babysit children, and even flush birds. Family lines of curs are now pretty stable. I owned two Ladner Blackmouth Curs in the 1990's, and they have very different appearance and character from Mountain Curs. However, if an outcross is needed for some characteristic, the hunting dog registries have a generic Treeing Cur option. The National Treeing Cur Association (Of which I am a proud member) works with all three registries to register dogs. The Association is mostly the dedication of two generations of one great family. In all, the Cur Dog world is a good balance between maintaining pure type to lessen the genetic dice role, while allowing for optional out-crosses to maintain health and some hybrid vigor.
I mention this because I am dealing with a genetic bottleneck with our Kerry cows. We started with a bull and five cows, which was possibly 5 percent of the known national herd in 2012. After discovering their poor milk production rates, and the fact that most cheese customers don't care a whit about breed conservation, We sold two cows to the nice folks at the Swiss Village Foundation for conservation a year ago. I now have a nice but ancient cow (born in 2001), a somewhat skittish 2 year old cow, and a two month old heifer. My young friend Adam Dean owns a six month old heifer as payment for the trouble these few cows have caused both our families. I own two crossbred Kerry heifers and Adam has a pile of them, thanks to LTR Kody.
I debate with myself whether to keep messing with these few animals. Registration is kind of boogered up. I found out yesterday that one of my cows had a different sire than previously thought. The Irish Kerry Cattle Society is both death on out-crossing as a means to upgrading and will not presently register ANY American Cattle. A large herd of Kerry cattle in Virginia was scattered to the winds last year. A large herd in New York shifted to beef production . Semen importation from Ireland is currently legally impossible and the selection of US bulls more or less goes back to the same 4 or 5 lines. Most Kerry owners are in New England, and the breed is removed both geographically and ideologically from the mainstream dairy farming world. By my guess, there are now fewer cows in large herds than two years ago, so conservation breeding will be a great challenge. Concentrated breeding for dairy production at even a homestead level will not happen without a major shift.
In my more caustic moments, my head tells me to send the remaining animals to the stockyards at take advantage of the current spike in cattle prices, but I wont.
As my wife says, I am getting to be an old duffer, so I need to make decisions about how to spend the rest of my days. I like raising young stock but have no interest in beef cow-calf. If I did, I would not look to the Kerry. I would look towards something like this.
As crossbreeding material, the Kerry has a lot going for it, but as a pure breed, its value is really more historical than commercial.
If I sell the purebreds, they will likely go on a bizarre life journey from one new owner to another, as that seems the way with rare breeds (it seems tied to the 3-5 year turnover in new farm owners, who are mostly the people interested in rare breeds).
My gut tells me to out-cross everything to Jersey then back-cross to upgrade, but that will take more seed stock out of a dangerously low population, and prohibit future registration.
I get no ego satisfaction out of owning rare breeds, though I find livestock breed history endlessly fascinating. The rare breed world is plagued with too many personality conflicts, as evidenced by the three dueling Dexter cattle associations. There is even an alternative Kerry cattle association in the US which is a whole other herd and story. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy strikes me as effete and feckless in dealing with such matters.