Animal breeders and technicians help breed, raise, and market a variety of animals: cattle, sheep, pigs, horses, mules, and poultry for livestock; pets such as canaries, parrots, dogs, and cats; and other more exotic animals such as ostriches, alligators, minks, and many zoo animals. Technicians who are primarily involved with the breeding and feeding of animals are sometimes referred to as animal husbandry technicians.
In general, animal breeders and technicians are concerned with the propagation, feeding, housing, health, production, and marketing of animals. These technicians work in many different settings and capacities. They may supervise unskilled farm workers; serve as field representatives assisting in the sales of animals to customers; work in kennels, stables, ranches, or zoos reproducing species and breeds for other clients or their own organization; or work on their own on a particular breed of interest. The diversity of employment available for well-trained and well-qualified animal breeders and technicians makes this career extremely flexible. As science progresses, opportunities for these technicians should broaden.
Breeding animals has been part of raising livestock since animals were first domesticated. With the discovery of genetics, the science behind the breeding selection became more exact. Great shifts can be made in a species with genetically selected breeding programs. All domesticated dogs extend from a precursor to the modern wolf. So even though miniature poodles and St. Bernards have extremely different appearances and are seemingly incompatible, they are actually so closely related genetically that they can reproduce with each other.
Farm animals have been bred to increase meat on the animal, increase production of eggs and milk, and increase resistance to disease. Both pets and farm animals have been bred for appearance, with show animals produced in almost every domesticated species.
As regions specialized in certain breeds, organizations developed to recognize and register them, eventually developing standards for accepted breeds. Organizations such as the American Kennel Club establish criteria by which species are judged, and the criteria can be quite specific. For example, dog breeds have specific ranges of height, shoulder width, fur color, arch of leg, and such, and any dog outside the variance cannot be shown in competition. This is partly to ensure that the species is bred by trained and informed individuals, and to keep the breed from inadvertently shifting over time. Breeds, however, can be intentionally shifted, and this is how new breeds begin.
Horse breeds may each have their own organization, such as the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), established to maintain the breed. Some of these organizations, such as the Cria Caballar, which judges Andalusian horses, are not based in the United States; however, they may still certify American horses. Some breeds may also have multiple organizations, such as the rival Dutch and German registries for Friesian horses. Horse registries may also have wildly differing standards for what constitutes an acceptable example of the breed.
Until the end of the 20th century, breeding was controlled by reproduction through mating pairs, whether through natural or artificial insemination. Recently, however, there has been a radical breakthrough in cloning, where the gene pool of the offspring remains identical to the parent cloned. Although this work is extremely costly and experimental, it is expected to change the range of work that breeders can do in reproduction.
Most animal breeders and technicians work as livestock production technicians with cattle, sheep, swine, or horses; or as poultry production technicians, with chickens, turkeys, geese, or ducks. Other animal breeders work with domesticated animals kept as pets, such as song birds, parrots, and all dog and cat breeds. Even wildlife populations that are kept in reserves, ranches, zoos, or aquariums are bred with the guidance of a breeder or technician. Each category of animal (such as birds), family (parrot), species (African gray parrot), and even some individual breeds within a category have technicians working on their reproduction if they are bred for livestock or domestic use. Within each of these categories the jobs may be specialized for one aspect of the animal’s reproductive cycle.
For example, technicians and breeders who work in food-source bird production can be divided into specific areas of concentration. In breeding-flock production, technicians may work as farm managers, directing the operation of one or more farms. They may be flock supervisors with five or six assistants working directly with farmers under contract to produce hatching eggs. On pedigree breeding farms, technicians may oversee all the people who transport, feed, and care for the poultry. Technicians in breeding-flock production seek ways to improve efficiency in the use of time, materials, and labor; they also strive to make maximum effective use of data-processing equipment.
Technicians in hatchery management operate and maintain the incubators and hatchers, where eggs develop as embryos. These technicians must be trained in incubation, sexing, grading, scheduling, and effectively using available technology. The egg processing phase begins when the eggs leave the farm. Egg processing technicians handle egg pickup, trucking, delivery, and quality control. With experience, technicians in this area can work as supervisors and plant managers. These technicians need training in egg processing machinery and refrigeration equipment.
Technicians in poultry meat production oversee the production, management, and inspection of birds bred specifically for consumption as meat. Technicians may work directly with flocks or in supervisory positions.
Poultry husbandry technicians conduct research in breeding, feeding, and management of poultry. They examine selection and breeding practices in order to increase efficiency of production and to improve the quality of poultry products.
Egg candlers inspect eggs to determine quality and fitness for incubation according to prescribed standards. They check to see if eggs have been fertilized and if they are developing correctly.
Some poultry technicians also work as field-contact technicians, inspecting poultry farms for food-processing companies. They ensure that growers maintain contract standards for feeding and housing birds and controlling disease. They tour barns, incubation units, and related facilities to observe sanitation and weather protection provisions. Field-contact technicians ensure that specific grains are administered according to schedules, inspect birds for evidence of disease, and weigh them to determine growth rates.
For other livestock, the categories are similar, as are the range of jobs. For nonfarm animals, the average breeder works with several animals within a breed or species to produce offspring for sale. Although there are ranches that produce a large number of exotic animals and some stables and kennels that run full-staff breeding operations, most breeders for pets work out of their homes. There are also production shops, usually referred to as puppy mills, that produce pets for sale but do so without much regard to the quality or well-being of the animals they are producing. Dismissed as unprofessional by established breeders and usually challenged by local authorities for quality of care provided to the animals, these are commonly not reputable enterprises, although they may be profitable in the short term.
One area of animal production technology that merits special mention because of the increasing focus on its use in animal husbandry is that of artificial breeding. Three kinds of technicians working in this specialized area of animal production are artificial-breeding technicians, artificial-breeding laboratory technicians, and artificial insemination technicians.
Artificial breeding can be differentiated by the goal of the breeder: food (poultry and cattle), sport (horses and dogs), conservation (endangered species kept in captivity), and science (mice, rabbits, monkeys, and any other animals used for research). Breeders work to create better, stronger breeds of animals or to maintain good existing breeds.
Because of the increasing cost of shipping adult animals from location to location to keep the gene pool diverse in a species or breed, animal breeders have developed successful methods of shipping frozen semen to allow breeding across distances. For zoo animals such as the elephant, rhinoceros, and hippopotamus, this has allowed zoos to build their populations with good genetic diversity without the overwhelming difficulty of transporting a several-thousand-pound male over expressways to attempt breeding with a new female to which he may or may not be attracted. Because semen can be examined microscopically, the technician is able to eliminate problem samples before insemination occurs.
Artificial-breeding technicians collect and package semen for use in insemination. They examine the semen under a microscope to determine density and motility of sperm cells, and they dilute the semen according to standard formulas. They transfer the semen to shipping and storage containers with identifying data such as the source, date taken, and quality. They also keep records related to all of their activities. In some cases they may also be responsible for inseminating the females.
Artificial-breeding laboratory technicians handle the artificial insemination of all kinds of animals, but most often these technicians specialize in the laboratory aspects of the activity. They measure purity, potency, and density of animal semen and add extenders and antibiotics to it. They keep records, clean and sterilize laboratory equipment, and perform experimental tests to develop improved methods of processing and preserving semen.
Artificial insemination technicians do exactly what their name implies: They collect semen from the male species of an animal and artificially inseminate the female. Poultry inseminators collect semen from roosters and fertilize hens’ eggs. They examine the roosters’ semen for quality and density, measure specified amounts of semen for loading into inseminating guns, inject semen into hens, and keep accurate records of all aspects of the operation. This area of animal production is expected to grow as poultry production expands.
Whether the breeding is done artificially or naturally, the goals are the same. Cattle breeders mate males and females to produce animals with preferred traits such as leaner meat and less fat. It is desirable to produce cows who give birth easily and are less susceptible to illness than the average cow. In artificial insemination, cows are inseminated with a gun, much like hens, which allows for many animals to be bred from the sperm of one male. By repeating the process of artificial breeding for many generations, a more perfect animal can be produced.
Horse and dog breeders strive to create more physically and physiologically desirable animals. They want horses and dogs who perform well, move fast, and look beautiful. Longer legs and high jumping are examples of desirable show traits for these animals. Temperament is another quality considered in reproduction and is one of the traits that a good breeder can work for, although it is not directly linked to a specific gene.
Some breeders produce many small animals such as mice, rabbits, dogs, and cats. These animals can be used in scientific research. For example, some laboratories raise thousands of mice to be used in experiments. These mice are shipped all over the world so that scientists can study them.
Animals raised for fur or skin also require extensive technological assistance. Mink farms, ostrich farms, and alligator farms are animal production industries that need husbandry, feeding, and health technicians. As the popularity of one species rises or falls, others replace it, and new animal specialists are needed.
For all breeders, it is essential that they keep track of the lineage of the animals they breed. The genetic history for at least three previous generations is usually considered the minimum background required to ensure no inbreeding. For animals sold as pedigreed, these records are certified by some overseeing organizations. For animals being bred from wildlife stock, purity of the genetic line within a breed or species is required before an animal is allowed to reproduce. Stud books list the lineage of all animals bred within a facility. Pedigree papers travel with an individual animal as a record of that animal’s lineage. Both tools are essential to breeders to keep track of the breeding programs in operation.
There are several ways to decide which animals should be bred, and some or all of them weigh into the decisions that the animal breeders make. The physical appearance and the health of the animal usually come first; this is called mass selection - where the animal is selected of its own merits. If the animal has successfully reproduced before, this is called progeny selection. The animal can be bred again, knowing that the animal has produced desirable offspring previously. However, if that particular animal becomes genetically overrepresented in a generation, then the breeder runs the risk of inbreeding with the generations to follow. So the value of that animal’s offspring has to be weighed against the need for diversity in parents. Family selection also determines the value of reproducing an animal. Some genetic diversity can come from breeding siblings of a good breeder, but it may not be enough diversity if the breeder is working with a limited stock of animals. Pedigree is the final determiner in evaluating a breeding animal.
High school students seeking to enter this field will find that the more agriculture and science courses they select in high school, the better prepared they will be. In addition, courses in mathematics, business, communications, chemistry, and mechanics are valuable.
Breeds of Horses
Some breeds of horses are uniquely American, while others are European imports esteemed for their beautiful looks and movement.
Thoroughbred: Best-known for their speed, Thoroughbreds were first developed as racehorses by English aristocrats in the 18th century. Because of the racing industry, breeding thoroughbreds is a large and a lucrative business in the United States. However, it is also brutal: In a few years, the horses’ racing careers are over. Because Thoroughbreds can be “hot” and difficult to handle; only a lucky few are adopted into loving homes or kept for breeding, most are slaughtered.
Quarter Horse: The quintessential American workhorse, the Quarter Horse is a familiar sight at rodeos. Eventempered and willing, a Quarter Horse can also be anything from an extremely athletic jumper to an ambling Western pleasure horse. The breed was named for their excellent performances in quarter-mile races; however, they also excel in barrel racing, roping, and most any equestrian sport.
Andalusian: The pura raza Española, Andalusians have been the favored mounts of kings and warriors since ancient times. Today, they excel at the beautiful movements of dressage, the “equestrian ballet” that developed from the military riding arts in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The famous Lipizzaners of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna are closely related to the Andalusian.
Friesian: Large, jet-black horses with long manes feathered feet, Friesians are known both for their strength and their gentleness. Originating in Friesland in the northern Netherlands, Frisians are well suited to all sorts of disciplines, from dressage to jumping. They are also carriage horses, and a team of Frisians pulling an elegant coach is a striking sight.
Nine months to two years at a technical school or a college diploma are the usual minimum credentials for animal breeders and technicians. Many colleges now offer two- and four-year programs in animal science or animal husbandry where additional knowledge, skills, and specialized training may be acquired. Besides learning the scientific side of animal breeding, including instruction in genetics, animal physiology, and some veterinary science, students also take business classes that help them see the field from an economic point of view. With the increasing use of technology for breeding livestock and domesticated nonfarm animals, a bachelor’s degree becomes more important for succeeding in the field. Master’s and doctoral degrees are useful for the most specialized fields and the careers that require the most sophisticated genetic planning. Higher degrees are required for potential teachers in the field, and the current work being done in cloning is done exclusively by people with doctorates.
Whether trained by experience, at an academic institution, or both, all new hires at major breeding companies are usually put through some type of training program.
Certification or Licensing
Certification is not required, but nearly all major companies have certification programs that can enhance earnings and opportunities.
Animal breeders and technicians should have great love, empathy, and respect for animals. You must be patient and compassionate in addition to being very knowledgeable about the needs and habits of all the animals in your care. You must also have interest in reproductive science, genetics and animal physiology. It is important to be able to communicate easily with agricultural scientists, farmers, and other animal owners and caretakers.
Organizations such as 4-H Clubs and the National FFA Organization (formerly known as Future Farmers of America, http://www.ffa.org) offer good opportunities for hearing about, visiting, and participating in farm activities. Programs sponsored by 4-H allow students to learn firsthand about breeding small animals for show. Other organizations, such as the American Kennel Club, sponsor clubs dedicated to particular breeds, and these clubs usually provide educational programs on raising and breeding these animals.
Other opportunities might include volunteering at a breeding farm or ranch, kennel, or stable where animals are bred and sold. This will give you a chance to see the work required and begin to get experience in practical skills for the job.
For at-home experience, raising pets is a good introduction to the skills needed in basic animal maintenance. Learning how to care for, feed, and house a pet provides some basic knowledge of working with animals. In addition, you can learn more about this field by reading books on animals and their care. But unless you have background and experience in breeding, and a good mentor to work with, it is not recommended that you start breeding your pet. There are literally millions of unwanted dogs and cats that come from mixed breeds or unpedigreed purebreds, and many of these animals are destroyed because there are no homes for them.
Other opportunities that provide animal maintenance experience include volunteering to work at animal shelters, veterinary offices, and pet breeders’ businesses.
Animal breeders and technicians used to work for themselves, but today most are employed by corporate breeders. A few may still own their own livestock ranches, and some do it only as a sideline or hobby.
Many junior colleges participate in “learn-and-earn” programs, in which the college and prospective employer jointly provide the student’s training, both in the classroom and through on-the-job work with livestock and other animals. Most technical programs offer placement services for graduates, and the demand for qualified people often exceeds the supply.
Even when a good training or technical program is completed, the graduate often must begin work at a low level before advancing to positions with more responsibility. But the technical program graduate will advance much more rapidly to positions of major responsibility and greater financial reward than the untrained worker.
Those graduates willing to work hard and keep abreast of changes in their field may advance to livestock breeder, feedlot manager, supervisor, or artificial breeding distributor. If they have the necessary capital, they can own their own livestock ranches.
Salaries vary widely depending on employer, the technicians’ educational and agricultural background, the kind of animal the technicians work with, and the geographical areas in which they work. In general, the salaries of breeders tend to be higher in areas with a heavy concentration and in the breeding of certain specialty animals. Kentucky, for instance, leads the nation in the breeding of horses, and, unsurprisingly, that is where salaries are highest. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that animal breeders had mean annual wages of $28,180 in 2004. The top 10 percent made $55,250 or more, while the bottom 10 percent made only $16,580 or less. Fringe benefits vary according to employer but can include paid vacation time, health insurance, and pension benefits.
Working conditions vary from operation to operation, but certain factors always exist. Much of the work is done inside in all types of facilities. Barns, pens, and stables are the most common facilities for farm animals; nonfarm animals may be bred in private homes or housing facilities. Both types of work often require long, irregular hours and work on Sundays and holidays. The work is also sometimes dangerous, especially when large animals such as stallions and bulls are involved. Salaries are usually commensurate with the hours worked, and there are usually slack seasons when time off is given to compensate any extra hours worked. But for people with a strong desire to work with animals, long working hours or other less desirable conditions are offset by the benefits of this career.
Animal breeders and technicians are often their own bosses and make their own decisions. While this can be an asset to those who value independence, prospective animal breeders and technicians must realize that self-discipline is the most valuable trait for success.
Continuing changes are expected in the next few years, in both the production and the marketing phases of the animal production industry. Because of the costs involved, it is almost impossible for a one-person operation to stay in business for farm animals. As a result, cooperatives of consultants and corporations will become more prevalent with greater emphasis placed on specialization. This, in turn, will increase the demand for technical program graduates. Other factors, such as small profit margins, the demand for more uniform products, and an increasing foreign market, will result in a need for more specially trained personnel. This is a new era of specialization in the animal production industry; graduates of animal production technology programs have an interesting and rewarding future ahead of them.
For domesticated nonfarm animals, breeders usually work with individual species and do so because they love the animals, not for a profit-bearing business. According to the American Kennel Club, the average dog breeder loses money on each successful litter.
For More Information
For more information on becoming an animal breeder, contact
American Kennel Club
260 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016
For information on careers and graduate programs, contact
American Society of Animal Science
1111 North Dunlap Avenue
Savoy, IL 61874
For industry information, contact
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
9110 East Nichols Avenue, #300
Centennial, CO 80112