In 1962, a bull named Pawnee Farm Arlinda Chief was born. Little did he know that he would change the face of the dairy industry forever, to the tune of $30 billion. Of course, being a bull, his job was to mate with the females to produce more cows that produced milk. Let’s call him “Chief,” so when cows mated with Chief, they produced female cows that produced more milk than the average cow. There was something in Chief’s genes that produced superior cows that could produce more milk. In time, understandably, Chief’s genes became a prime commodity for every dairy producer in the country. His sperm was frozen and shipped to dairy farms across the United States. This ultimately produced many generations of above average dairy cows. Thus, Chief ultimately produced around 16,000 daughter cows, 500,000 granddaughters, and ultimately, 2 million great-granddaughters.
Because of Chief, the average dairy cows today produce four times more milk than in the 1960’s. If Chief were human, his dairy industry empire over the last 35 years would have him singing to the tune of an earned $30 billion. However, like everything too good to be true, there was a downside to Chief’s genes. His genes contained a single copy of a dangerous mutation strain called APAF1. Generally, cows with just one copy of the APAF1 mutation were not in danger. But when farmers began breeding Chief’s descendants with each other, some cows ended up with two copies, and this proved to be deadly. Cows with two copies of APAF1 died in the womb. Chief’s mutation is estimated to have caused over 525,000 abortions around the world. In monetary terms that’s around $420 million in losses to the dairy industry. Today however, the frequency of cows with double strains of APAF1 is down to about 2 percent. Dairy farmers are hoping to soon eradicate it completely.
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This is Chief’s legacy, and his bullheaded stud sturdiness accounts for 14 percent of all DNA in Holstein cows, the most popular breed in the dairy industry. And just as Chief’s genes changed the face of the industry forever, geneticists have now learned to study and watch out for anything extraordinary in the genes of selective breeding processes. If it wasn’t for the studying of geneticists the APAF1 would have lain undetected for more years, and so the losses would have been higher with more cow deaths in the womb. You could say Chief was born in the right place at the right time, just when artificial insemination was on the rise for selective animal breeding. Actually, Chief’s son, Walkway Chief Mark, also played a role in being part of history making for the Holstein breed. As a result, the semen from these two bulls could be frozen and sent to dairy farms around the U.S., saving time, money, and space for physical breeding.