Humans always have taken to heart God’s behest to “have dominion” over all the animals. They practiced artificial selection in their breeding programs in order to produce what they thought would be better animals.
They kept rabbits that had long ears and cows that happened to have no horns. Sure enough, sometimes those choices showed up in the animals’ offspring, which made the animal breeders happy. So they continued by keeping the animals that possessed the desired traits and not keeping the others. Eventually the whole herd had the desired trait.
For example, cattle breeders who preferred cattle with no horns kept those when they appeared and sold the ones with horns. They ended up with hornless — called polled — cattle.
Also about that same time (the 1940s and early 1950s) cattlemen decided they preferred short, stocky animals, so they kept that type when it appeared. They believed what they called “compressed” cattle were the most desirable they could raise. It worked. The grand champion bulls at a national show one year were so short the tops of their backs were waist-high to the showmen.
The downside to these successes soon became apparent, and the cattlemen learned the hard way about unintended consequences inherent in “single trait selection.” Yes, some developed herds of cattle with no horns, and others had herds of short, stockily-built cattle.
But the polled cattle had hardly any rear end, the part of the animal that produces the most desirable meat. The compressed cattle had a worse fate. Suddenly, cows began giving birth to dwarf calves. They were tiny and malformed. Some could barely walk.
Breeders had taken their single trait selection too far, and they also learned single trait selection wasn’t such a great idea after all. The total animal must be kept in mind throughout the selection process.
I’ve been thinking about the similarities between animal husbandry and other human selection practices. Let’s think about our politician selection for example, here in America. I don’t know if it would apply in other parts of the world.
About the same time the cattlemen were making their unwise breeding selections, they and all other Americans were selecting political leaders using interesting trait preferences. Actually, those parameters continue today.
The selection criteria for politicians includes: charisma, good looks, public speaking finesse. Other criteria — like intelligence, honesty, optimism and common sense — don’t seem to be at the top of selection preferences.
Cattlemen remember their mistakes, and recall the Longhorn cattle. They were left, or escaped, from the Spaniards and for hundreds of years they developed according to Mother Nature — natural selection. They have long horns for protection from predators, long legs the easier to run. Their baby calves are born small, needing no help in the birthing process.
They are not exactly pretty according to cattle breeders’ nomenclature, but they are survivors. Now, many cattlemen have rediscovered these admirable animals.
So….do we want political leaders who are pretty and charismatic, or do we want statesmen/stateswomen who can help us survive?
I’ll leave the answers up to you.