Do the Shoshones make the best cows?


I was asked this question recently by an astute, observant, commercial cattleman.  It caught me somewhat off guard as a myriad of thoughts and images flooded my mind.

I think first off it is a tremendous credit to Larry Leonhardt that the question would even be asked.  To have the name Shoshone stand for a specific type that remains consistent over time is a great credit to the man that continues to husband the nucleus Shoshone gene pool.  One might ask about a sire, “Do the Final Answer daughters make the best cows?”, but to just refer to a herd and expect that one answer can cover the entire herd says a lot about the selection criteria and methodology behind the creation and continuation of the strain.

I thought about what was meant by the word “best”.  Thousands of Shoshone females have left Cowley, WY and it seems that almost universally the subsequent selection direction has been to change them from what they are to something else.  Human nature being what it is, we are not easily satisfied, but clearly most people who have had Shoshone cows have thought they could be made better with directional selection.  I remembered too the cows in my own herd that most people pick.  In any one moment in time people always like the bulkier young females.  They are deemed the “best” for that moment but as the moment passes into days and years the bulkier young “best” females seldom persist.

I thought about the vigor, strength, and production needed to be the “best” commercial range cow.  I know that a percentage of our closer bred cows can’t compete in those categories as individuals but as parents they can contribute the genetics for those qualities very well.  So maybe it isn’t the Shoshone cow at all but the underrated maternally prepotent Shoshone bulls that “make the best cows”.

I also had to think about my naivete and disillusionment as I have progressed through my first decade with Shoshone genetics in my herd.  I assumed that everyone would desire and value the same characteristics that I do.  Not so.  I am continually shocked at the contempt 4-H and FFA trained livestock evaluators have for slope from hooks to pins.  This characteristic which is universal in nature and vital for maternal calving ease, freedom from infection, and fluid movement is held in utter disdain by even the most experienced cattlemen.  The properly functioning endocrine system which produces fertility,  overall feminine grace and symmetry is completely misunderstood and undervalued.  And finally, in our blind lust for performance, low EPD’s are a non-starter,  even if the cow weighs 1350 and has a 700# calf at her side.

Finally, without first hand knowledge, people seem unimpressed with the intelligence, demeanor, and mothering ability of the Shoshone cow.  Calving these cows is an absolute joy.  They are good at it, wired up for it, and smart about it.  They don’t misplace their calves.  They are cooperative with humans.  They love being moms.  I had a heifer get bred to a Simmental bull.  When I got there in the morning the calf and cow were alive but neither could get up.  I pulled the calf around to see if he would nurse.  The heifer, so willing and helpful, put her leg back and rolled over on her back like an old sow to expose her udder so that her paralyzed calf could nurse.  In a day or two he got up and then she got up and then she bred back and weaned him and life goes on.  That cooperative, helpful, nurturing, attitude is invaluable to me.

Do the Shoshones make the best cows?  If one looks at the market, certainly the money flows to other types of cows that are perceived to be more profitable.  In an industry that does not and cannot measure inputs our perceptions are skewed by marketing, hearsay, and academic research.

So to answer the question, I can tell you without reservation that for either seed stock or commercial production I can see no reason to change our highly Shoshone influenced cowherd.  So in that sense I guess they are the best for me.

NOTE:  The preceding post was written in 2013.