Breed associations need to assure that new breeders are entering the breed. New breeders are the only mechanism for providing continuity of the breed, but their recruitment is frequently overlooked as a deliberate and necessary activity for breed associations. Not only must new breeders be recruited, they must also be welcomed and then trained to be able to make critical selection decisions that conserve breed type, heritage, and utility. Failing in this is to fail in effective breed conservation.
In order for a breed to remain viable, it is ideal that all breeders be seedstock producers. This means that all breeders should be producing animals that will be useful in purebred breeding programs. This broad base of contribution to the pure breed assures that no single breeding program, and therefore single bloodline, dominates the others and narrows the genetic base. For this ideal situation to occur, though, new breeders need to easily and openly be able to receive the fruits of the experience of more experienced breeders.
Secret techniques for breeding superior animals all too easily pass into oblivion with the deaths of those breeders that zealously guarded them. Such secrets are notoriously slow to be rediscovered. Breeders need to set aside extremes of the competitive spirit, and instead need to take pride in watching the next generation grow in knowledge and competence. Effective mentoring of new breeders is not only satisfying, it is also invaluable to a breed’s survival.
Developing the next generation of breeders has several important facets. One of these is conveying the cultural heritage of the breed, and this is where a rich history of stories about the breed and its breeders becomes useful. Stories such as boyhood deer chasing in the South Carolina swamps on the backs of Marsh Tacky horses enrich and inform the continuing use and selection of the horses. The preferential use of four-horned Navajo-Churro rams in certain Navajo ceremonies similarly puts the maintenance of this variant in an important cultural context. All breeds have a heritage and culture that needs to be collected, safeguarded, valued and preserved in order to maintain the cultural relevance of the breed.
In addition to the more historical lore the fine points of selecting breeding stock need to be taught. The details of what to select, and why, are extremely important to convey to the next generation. For standard turkeys the selection of birds that are both large as well as sound and functional is a tough call, and the knowledge of how to do this is carried in the heads of poultry breeders such as Frank Reese who have long and effective experience in selecting birds for function in what has become a miniscule (but important) part of modern turkey production. The rarity of the system means that only a few breeders survive with the knowledge to make that system work. Only by having older, experienced, successful breeders eagerly and generously convey the subtleties of points of selection is it possible to assure that this rich knowledge is not lost. Transfer of this sort of knowledge usually takes personal interaction, for much of the detail is difficult to condense down to a written format. Breeder training short courses and field days can be very helpful in transmitting important details of breed selection to the next generation.
A great deal of knowledge and observation goes into successful breeding programs, and it is difficult to articulate and share some aspects of these. Breed type, for example, is more easily appreciated visually with live animals than by a written presentation. An appreciation for the interaction of breed type and breed function is also important, and needs to be conveyed to younger breeders so that the conservation of type has an appropriate and logical context rather than being a triviality of purebred breeding that appeals only to fanciers.
Established breeders have responsibilities in training new breeders, but new breeders also have a set of equally important responsibilities. New breeders need to cultivate a combination of attitudes and abilities. To successfully acquire the knowledge that is required to progress towards being a successful breeder it is ideal to have a passion for the breed (akin to falling in love), commitment to the long term success of the breed, adequate financial resources to manage and maintain a breeding population, a clearheaded commercial or utilitarian outlook that does not sacrifice breed type or heritage, personal integrity, an "eye" for good stock and for type, pride without arrogance, an ability to listen and learn from diverse resources, and to be reasonably free of assumptions.
Passion for the breed is critical for long-term success in the breed. Certain breeds "click" with certain people, and these are the combinations that work best. When new breeders select breeds, or strains within breeds, it is important that they find a project that inherently appeals to them. Passion is difficult to force into a situation where it is not already present, and passion about a breeding program is a key component for the dedication that is necessary for success.
Commitment is important because breeds benefit from long-term programs much more than they do from short-term endeavors. It is almost invariably damaging to breeds when breeders acquire stock and then disperse it all after only a few generations of breeding. While dispersals occur for a variety of reasons, a committed breeder will work diligently to place key breeding stock in the hands of committed breeders rather than dispersing them indiscriminately or sending them to slaughter. Similarly, informing family and friends of wishes for a herd’s dispersal may be a final gift to the breed that a breeder has invested so much in. Breeding programs can only really contribute to breed maintenance if they take a long view rather than a short one, and commitment is key to this.
Finances must be adequate in order to maintain breeding stock. In most cases the products of the breeding program should cover the cost of maintaining breeding stock. Some people, however, find it difficult to deal with outright commercial aspects of breeding most breeds of livestock. When it becomes impossible to send excess animals to slaughter or to other breeders, then animals accumulate and numbers become greatly in excess of what is needed for breeding programs. These excess animals do not contribute to effective breeding programs, nor do they contribute to positive cash-flow that is needed to maintain breeding stock. This can have a decidedly negative effect on a breeding program. This is a very important aspect, and must be carefully considered before embarking on a breeding program for any breed.
Most breeds benefit from a practical commercial approach that also acknowledges breed type and breed heritage. An extreme commercial approach can ignore breed type, and this results in changing breeds away from breed type rather than a more subtle and productive selection within the constraints of breed type for commercial utility. Morgan horses, for example, have a number of bloodlines that are a park-horse type rather than the earlier, traditional multipurpose farm horse type. This change was largely driven by market forces and breeders willing to sacrifice breed type for commercial gain. The uniqueness of the breed was eroded by this, and the result has not been an effective strategy for breed maintenance.
Moral integrity of all breeders is necessary to safeguard the reputation of the individuals, the association and ultimately the animals themselves. Records must be honest, and animals must be honestly represented to both registries and customers.
Developing an "eye" for breed type and good stock is a subtle but important ability that master breeders possess. For many people this is almost instinctual, and therefore difficult to describe. It is even more difficult to train other people in how to achieve "eye," but eager young breeders can go a long way by seeking out older breeders and not only talking to them, but in trying to see with their eyes when inspecting animals. It is especially helpful to inspect and evaluate animals along side an old established breeder, because this activity brings many subtle but powerful details to bear. Livestock judges can help greatly in this by inviting young breeders to evaluate livestock alongside them, asking the young breeders “what do you see?” rather than telling them up front what the experienced breeder sees. Forcing younger breeders to actively inspect and evaluate stock is an essential component of evaluating an eye for type and evaluation.
Taking pride in the fruits of a breeding program without being arrogant is also important. Most successful breeders are reasonably unassuming, and listen effectively to others. They can sort through what is said, and can learn something from just about anyone. They put this stored knowledge to good use. Arrogance precludes the receipt of much information, and defeats many breeders because they are missing important bits of information or technique.
Becoming a master breeder is slow, complicated work, but deliberate cultivation of these abilities and attitudes by older breeders and associations can help greatly in the process. The greatest master breeders have all of these attributes, but these true masters are few indeed. Nevertheless, knowing what is needed for the breed to carry on is important to associations. Knowing what is needed can enable associations (and breeders) to identify and nurture young breeders with potential to succeed. Both associations and experienced breeders can help young enthusiasts understand the level of personal commitment needed for the personal and intellectual education they need in order to master the breeding of livestock or poultry.