by Marcia Napier, Grain Valley Historical Society
The upgrading of cattle was the vision of William Rockhill Nelson. While the idea behind this 10 year “experiment” was in his mind before he purchased the farms, the actual experiment was not begun until just prior to Nelson’s death in 1915.
As I have stated in previous articles, Mr. Nelson purchased the first 200 cows from the Kansas City Stockyard in 1915. He did not live to see the results of the first cross, let alone succeeding crosses. The results from the first cross, breeding grade cows to registered Shorthorn bulls, did not produce calves until 1916. The annual demonstration days began in 1922. It was after the fourth cross.
By viewing the cattle in each of the pens in the foreground, breeders could see the results of the experiment. Each pen held examples of the grade cows, the registered Shorthorn bulls and their offspring from the first cross thru successive crosses.
From the USDA publication, “The Upgrading of Beef Cattle,” and other articles written about the experiment I believe that the greatest improvements were shown by the fourth cross, meaning additional cross did not yield noticeable improvements or a higher rate of gain on meat quality or price.
I chose this photo because I am always amazed to realize that upwards of 10,000 people came to Grain Valley, Missouri, each year in October to study the results of the breeding program at Sni-A-Bar. Although, my grandmother Napier would tell you they came for the free beef and pork dinners provide at no cost by Muehlbach & Sons Grocery in Kansas City.