Although many livestock breeders were raising purebred dairy or beef cattle, the heat, drought, and diseases of the 1930s forced farmers to concentrate more on keeping their cattle alive than on selective breeding. As water supplies dried up, farmers could not harvest enough corn to feed all their cows and pigs. Many Nebraska farmers were forced to accept government payments for slaughtering their entire herds, including purebred livestock.
There were no vaccines (for animals or people) in the 1930s. Farmer Hollis Miller remembers that sleeping sickness (an insect-carried disease) killed many horses. Animals were valuable, but land was cheap. Miller said after the stock market crash of 1929, his grandfather traded four mules for some farmland. Selective breeding took a giant step ahead later in the decade.
In 1938 a group of dairy farmers organized into a cooperative to manage the selective breeding of dairy cows by artificial insemination. This scientific breakthrough made it easier for dairy herd managers to breed their cows to bulls that lived far away. Today, artificial insemination is used widely in livestock production because it’s easier to ship a small vial than a cow, horse, or sheep.
Written by Claudia Reinhardt and Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.