Progeny testing of pigs: rationalisation of early 20th

Steven van der Laan
Progeny testing stations
7 August 2014
Progeny testing of pigs: rationalisation of early 20th century
breeding practices
Steven van der Laan1
Progeny testing stations were a major innovation in twentieth
century Dutch pig breeding. These testing station enabled for the
controlled testing of progeny to judge the quality of pigs for
breeding. Although at first sight they appear to be an application
of scientific knowledge, this paper aims to reveal that they were
in fact the result of a rationalisation of the breeding practices, led
by a diffuse process of knowledge exchange between a large
number of people from a variety of different groups.
Keywords: Pig breeding, progeny testing stations, knowledge networks, agricultural history,
relation between theory and practice.
Utrecht University, Institute for the History and Foundations of Science, Descartes Centre, [email protected],
[email protected].
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Yet the geneticists is therefore not supposed to remove all the
breeders’ foundations, on which he until now moved with
confidence and not without success, from under his feet and,
when he helplessly floats in the air, grab him by his hair and
say: ‘there, from now on, I will teach you how to work.’
- Aryen van Leeuwen, 1930
In 1926, England prohibited the import of all fresh meat as a measure to prevent the spread of
contagious diseases from continental Europe. This was a serious blow to Dutch pig farmers, who
had sold over 36 tonnes of fresh pork to the English in 1925.2 Processed meat such as bacon was
left out of the import restrictions. Therefore, Dutch pig farmers were more or less forced to breed
pigs that yielded good quality bacon, instead of the fresh meat pigs that had been bred up to then.
Yet by switching to the export of bacon, the Dutch had to compete with Danish pig farmers, who
controlled the London bacon market. To meet this competition, Dutch pig farmers built progeny
testing stations in which the offspring of breeding sows were fattened in a controlled environment.
The results of these testing stations were used to determine the breeding value of the individual
The developments that eventually led to progeny testing stations present an interesting case
study in the context of knowledge networks since many, very different groups of people were
involved in the process, including: pig breeders, scientists, livestock consultants, journalists and
veterinarians. This paper will consider the exchange of information between these groups and will
show how innovations in pig breeding, such as progeny testing stations, were the result of a broad
change in breeding practices rather than the outcome of a top-down implementation of (scientific)
In recent years, there has been a growing number of publications dealing with similar issues
in the history of twentieth century breeding. In this trend in literature, the influence of Mendelian
genetics on breeding practices is often the subject of investigation. Yet it has become clear by now
that the influence of Mendelian theory on early twentieth century developments within breeding
was small. It turned out that the laws of inheritance were not easily translated to milk yield, egg
production and meat growth.3 However, in the Netherlands, Mendel’s theory was well understood
Verslagen en medeedelingen van de Directie van den landbouw, Verslag over den Landbouw in Nederland over 1925,
no.2, (’s-Gravenhage 1926), p.91.
Examples which also stand in close relation to the topic of this paper include: C. Bonneuil, ‘Mendelism, Plant
Breeding and Experimental Cultures: Agriculture and the Development of Genetics in France’, Journal of the History of
Biology, no.39, 2006. T. Wieland, ‘Scientific Theory and Agricultural Practice: Plant Breeding in Germany from the
Late 19th to the Early 20th Century’, Journal of the History of Biology, no.39, 2006. B. Theunissen, ‘Breeding Without
Mendelism: Theory and Practice of Dairy Cattle Breeding in the Netherlands 1900-1950’, Journal of the History of
Biology, Vol. 41, 2008. B. Theunissen, ‘Breeding for Nobility or for Production? Cultures of Dairy Cattle Breeding in
the Netherlands. 1945-1995’, Isis, vol 103, no.2, 2012. K. Cooke, ‘From Science to Practice or, Practice to Science?
Chickens and Eggs in Raymond Pearl's Agricultural Breeding Research, 1907-1916’, Isis, Vol.88, no.1, 1997.
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at the time by every one of the mentioned groups and, as shall be shown, pig breeders did not
hesitate to apply this knowledge to their daily practice. Not to ‘rationalise’ pig breeding, as
geneticists and some livestock consultants typified their vision on breeding, but rather to understand
and gain control over very specific issues such as skin colour. Contrariwise, everyone understood
that although progeny testing was rational from a Mendelian perspective, the theory itself had
nothing to add in the discussions leading up to the implementation of progeny testing stations.
Instead, these stations were the outcome of a rationalisation of pig breeding in which existing
selection criteria such as ancestry and exterior appraisal were supplemented or superseded by
interior appraisal (butchery reports) and production numbers such as daily growth and food
The goal of this paper is to show how this rationalisation of pig farming in general, and the
implementation of progeny testing stations in particular, was the result of combined action by all
involved groups of people. The innovation of progeny testing stations was the result of a changing
culture within and around pig breeding, which was influenced by all sorts of different people who
themselves were influenced in turn by this process.
To accomplish this, first a general history leading up to the instigation of progeny testing
stations will be given, followed by three sections, each dedicated to one of the three most
interesting and prominent groups of people within the discussions: livestock consultants, geneticists
and pig breeders.
The road to progeny testing stations
‘London piglets’ were a major source of income for Dutch pig farmers until 1926. These piglets of
about 50 kilograms were butchered mainly by the large commercial butcheries in the east of the
Netherlands after which they were shipped to the famous Smithfield meat market in London. With
the English import restrictions on fresh meat, which were perceived in the Netherlands as one of the
many protectionist measures, Dutch pig farmers had to shift their breeding goal towards a type of
pig that produced good quality bacon.4 The same shift had happened in Denmark decades earlier,
when Germany prohibited the import of pork in 1864.5 This forced Danish pig farmers to look for
other countries to export to and they settled on England, which at the time was characterised in the
Netherlands as “a bottomless pit that can never be filled”.6 While the Dutch had specialised their
breeds to deliver high quality fresh meat, around the time England closed its borders to this
particular product, the Danish had more than fifty years of experience in breeding the best baconpigs.
‘Onze vleeshandel op Engeland’, De Veldbode no.1226 (3 July 1926), 80ste Nederlandsche landhuishoudkundig
congres’, De Veldbode no.1337 (8 September 1928).
H. Leignes Bakhoven en W. de Jong, De varkensfokkerij en -mesterij in Denemarken, Departement van
binnenlandsche zaken en landbouw (’s-Gravenhage 1929) p. 3, Nationaal Archief: 2.11.05 134.
G. Hengelveld, Het rundvee, zijne verschillende soorten, rassen en veredeling (Haarlem 1865), as quoted by J.
Bieleman in Boerenlandschap in beweging (Groningen 1994) p. 20. Dutch: “een bodemloze put die nooit gevuld kan
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In the first few years after 1926, Dutch pig farmers tried to face the Danish competition
using conventional methods to improve their pigs. This included above all the performance of
feeding tests in which farmers looked for a combination of fodder that would enhance the quality of
the bacon. Also selection on exterior characteristics that were conceived to be linked to the ‘bacontype’ pig was tried in order to breed a bacon-pig.7 A couple of years after 1926, however, it became
clear that the Dutch could not cope with the Danish competition via feeding tests and selection on
bacon-type. The English categorically deemed Danish bacon to be of superior quality and paid
considerably less for the Dutch product. 8 Because apparently the conventional methods were
ineffective, the Dutch began to consider the difference in the selection process of breeding pigs
between the Netherlands and Denmark.
The Dutch selection of breeding pigs was based on exterior examination and data provided
by the herdbooks. Although herdbooks for pigs had only existed since the early twentieth century,
the general idea behind them is much older. A pig’s ancestry was deemed very important: if a pig
was a descendant of a price winning boar, it was expected to have inherited at least some of the
characteristics of its father. The idea behind exterior examination is that exterior characteristics are
indicative for the qualities of a pig.9 Such qualities include high quality meat, resistance to diseases,
fast growth with little food and fertile sows. Making the connection between the exterior of a pig
and these qualities was the product of years of experience in pig breeding. With this experience, the
breeder acquired the so-called breeders’ eye which allowed him to see instantly if a certain pig
should be used for breeding.
Although the instigation of herdbooks for pigs was part of a wider development around the
turn of the century (the first cattle herd book was established in 1874 and sheep followed in 1907),
it appears that pig breeders had specific reasons to establish herdbooks. These herdbooks were an
attempt to gain control over the many mixed breeds in the Netherlands, which were the result of the
so-called wild-crossing (wilde kruising) that had been practiced on a large scale by Dutch breeders
in the nineteenth century.10 A number of sources from the end of the nineteenth and beginning of
the twentieth century reiterated the fact that Dutch pigs were a mishmash of all kinds of different
breeds which made a successful breeding program virtually impossible.11 Herdbooks were thus set
up to create some order in the chaos.
The relation between the diet of a pig and the breeding of bacon-pigs is discussed in: E. Dommerhold, ‘Zouters’, De
Veldbode no.1224 (19 June 1926). A. van Leeuwen, ‘Het Engelsche bacon-varken’, De Veldbode no.1250 (24
December 1926). ‘Deensche bacon op de Engelsche markt’, De Veldbode no.1314 (24 March 1928). Verslagen en
mededeelingen van den Directie van den landbouw, no.2, ‘Verslag over den landbouw in Nederland over 1926’,
p.XXX. A bacon-type pig was mainly characterised by a longer back when compared to fresh meat pigs.
T. Mansholt, ‘Onze bacon-export’, De Veldbode no.1334 (reprint from the Overijsselsch Landbouwblad) (18 August
C. Grasseni, ‘Designer cows: the practice of cattle breeding between skill and standardisation’, Society and Animals,
no.13, 2005, p.37.
H. Kroon, Maatregelen ter bevordering der varkensfokkerij in Denemarken, 1902, Nationaal Archief: 2.11.05-22.
A. ter Haar, De Veldbode no.225 (27 April 1907). A. Morzer Bruijns, ‘Op reis voor de varkensfokkerij’, De Veldbode
no.246 (21 September 1907). H. Kroon, De Tegenwoordige Richtingen in de Fokkerij der Landbouw-Huisdieren in
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Since the herdbooks operated on a provincial level, they made it necessary to quantify the
breeders’ eye because the entry requirements for pigs had to be the same for the whole province.
The first attempt at quantification of exterior appraisal consisted of short descriptions of the
characteristics of certain breeds: the ears of the Yorkshire breed for instance had to be “erect”,
while the Ennobled German Landrace had to have “floppy ears”.12 The herdbook of the provinces
Gelderland and Overijssel developed a next step in this quantification of breeds by means of an
elaborate grading system. In this system, herdbook officials awarded points for a number of exterior
characteristics and in the end, if the total number of points was above a certain pre-determined
level, the pig was allowed to be entered into the herdbook. The grading system was greeted with
much enthusiasm from various sides, mostly because it was thought to enable a more objective way
of grading pigs. For one, the system allowed for comparing the grading of a single pig by different
officials which made it less dependent on “personal preferences”.13 In 1923, the Centraal Bureau
Varkensfokkerij (the CBV was a national cooperative of all provincial herdbooks) standardised the
grading system and imposed it on all Dutch herdbooks so that every pig in the Netherlands was
graded by the same criteria.
The selection of breeding pigs in Denmark was not only based on exterior and ancestry, but
also on production and progeny. Pig breeders who wanted to have a sow graded on its progeny had
to sell four of the sow’s piglets, preferably two boars and two sows, to a progeny testing station.
These four piglets were fattened during a number of weeks in a highly controlled environment and
weighed on a regular basis. At the end, the four now full grown pigs were slaughtered by butchers
who made a report about the quality of the pork. This report, together with the results of the
fattening period, were made public and gave an indication for the breeding quality of the sow.
Selection based on progeny meant that pigs were tested on their ability to pass on desired
characteristics such as exterior, fast growth and meat quality. In principle, this was not a novel thing
to do. It was, for example, one of the most important tools of famous eighteenth century breeder
Robert Bakewell. 14 However, progeny testing is a tedious way of selecting when compared to
ancestry evaluation. In ancestry evaluation, one can immediately judge the parents of a certain
animal, whereas in progeny testing the animal to be judged first has to be mated and deliver
offspring, which then have to raised before one can say anything about the quality of their
appearance and decide upon the value of the parent for breeding. Progeny testing was a tool used
only by the top breeders such as Bakewell and during the nineteenth century selection based on
Nederland (Maastricht 1913) p.172. ‘De varkenshouderij in Nederland’, Nederlandsch Landbouw Weekblad no.13 (31
March 1906).
J. Timmermans, 1913, as quoted by A. Paridaans, 75 jaar varkensfokkerij in stamboekverband. Invloed van de
stamboekorganisatie op de kwaliteitsverbetering van het varken in (zuid) Nederland, 1987, pp. 21-22.
E. Dommerhold, Het uitwendige voorkomen van het varken, Goedkoope geïllustreerde Land- en
Tuinbouwbibliotheek van ‘De Veldbode’, no.110, 1921, p. 10.
R. Wood & V. Orel, Genetic Prehistory in Selective Breeding: a prelude to Mendel (Oxford 2001) p. 82.
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genealogy and exterior became the general used methods in livestock breeding.15 In the early years
of the twentieth century it was discussed whether progeny evaluation could be used for selection
and Dutch breeders occasionally kept referring to the “breeding value” of pigs, which implied that a
pig was able to transfer its characteristics to its offspring.16 Although breeding value was part of the
craftsmanship of breeding and without a doubt used by many breeders for selecting the best
breeding material, it was not formalised by the herdbooks or breeding societies. Agricultural
journalist E. van Muylwijk thus typified the determination of breeding value as “unofficially
looking around […] at the neighbours, in the country, at the market, etc.”17
One of first things the CBV tried to do after its instalment in 1923 was to give progeny
testing an official basis. This was largely motivated by the need to grant extraordinarily good pigs a
predicate with which they could be distinguished from the average breeding pigs in the herdbooks.
Initially, there was much resistance from various sides within breeding against setting up such an
‘elite herdbook’ or handing out predicates. It was feared that it would only benefit the elite pig
breeders, and at the same time marginalise the position of average breeders.18 However, everybody
agreed that an experiment with progeny testing could yield interesting results. An experiment was
thus set up in which the progeny of three boars, who were thought to be excellent breeding material
based on their exterior, was examined. Yet the results of this experiment were somewhat
disappointing since the offspring of one of the tested boars did not turn out to be as good as
expected. 19 Because of this, and also because of the national agricultural exhibition of 1928 in
which the CBV invested much time and effort, progeny testing and the awarding of predicates were
only implemented in 1930. From the herdbooks, a couple of excellent boars (i.e. boars with high
grades for their exterior) were chosen, after which a representative of the CBV and the herdbook
inspected a minimal of twelve of their offspring. If the offspring was deemed to be good enough,
the boar was declared to be “preferential” (preferent).
Awarding predicates to exceptional breeding animals was not a novelty, nor limited to pig
breeding. Especially the designation preferential was much used and appears to have an interesting
history itself. Already in 1894, the Provincial Society for the improvement of Horse-breeding in
Groningen performed exterior inspections in which the best horses could earn the title
preferential.20 Cattle-breeders followed shortly after, with the difference that their predicates were
M. Derry, Masterminding Nature: Approaches to Artificial Selection in Livestock Breeding, 1750-2010, publication
expected 2014, p. 21.
A. van Leeuwen, ‘Fokmethoden’, De Veldbode no.486 (27 April 1912). State agricultural teacher
(Rijkslandbouwleraar) of Noord-Holland to Inspector of Agriculture, 19 March 1915, Nationaal Archief: 2.11.05-134.
E. van Muylwijk, ‘De moderne erfelijkheidsleer en de practische fokkerij’, De Veldbode no.1346 (10 November
1928). Dutch: “onofficieel, rondkijken […] bij de buren in 't land, op de markten, enz.”
Minutes meeting CBV 8 June 1923, Archive Veeteeltmuseum Beers: k13, 20A box 342.
Minutes meeting CBV 18 April 1929, Archive Veeteeltmuseum Beers: k13, 20A box 342.
‘Binnenlandsch Nieuws’, Nieuws van den dag: kleine Courant (8 June 1984).
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on the basis of production, such as the fat-percentage and yield of milk.21 It is difficult to track
down the first time predicates were based on progeny testing. In cattle, it appears to be around 1916
when the board of the Dutch Cattle herdbook decided that the preferential title for bulls was to be
awarded “on the basis of results of their progeny” and in which special attention was again to be
given to the production numbers of the progeny.22 However, the details of these developments are at
this point not that relevant. Important is to recognise that the concept of predicates and the testing
on either production or progeny were a widespread development within breeding and not unique to
the domain of pig breeding.
The preferential system of the CBV had a variety of aspects that could and were criticised.
As a first, it was up to the herdbooks to choose the pigs that were to be tested for a predicate. This
led, as had been feared, to the situation that mostly pigs were chosen from breeders that were
supposed to be top breeders. Secondly, a point that was most notably made by geneticist Arend
Hagedoorn, progeny testing was only performed on the offspring that had already been entered into
the herdbooks. This was especially a problem in pig breeding, as was explained by Hagedoorn,
since a prolific breeding boar could have a thousand or more offspring. If only one hundred of these
thousand piglets were good enough to be entered into the herdbook, the boar had a high chance to
be selected for progeny testing although he only bred well for ten percent.23 The major problem of
the CBV-system of testing was that it was completely based on exterior appraisal. In every step of
the process it was assumed that it could be determined from the outside whether a pig yielded good
meat and that its offspring would do the same. It was at this point that the progeny testing stations
introduced a novelty into Dutch pig breeding.
Around the same time when the CBV awarded its first predicates, it became clear that much
more was needed to improve the name and the quality of the Dutch bacon on the English market.
As said, the Dutch mainly had to compete with Danish bacon and the Danish exporters of meat
shrewdly managed the conceived superiority of their bacon by, for example, stamping all of their
first-class bacon as “Danish”, while disregarding this stamp on second- and third class Danish
bacon.24 To breed bacon-pigs of the same quality as Danish pigs, two options were proposed: either
Danish pigs were to be imported and used for breeding in the Netherlands, or the Danish system of
breeding was to be implemented to change the Dutch pig breed to a more bacon-type pig. Both
options were chosen by different people and institutions, this paper however is limited to the
implementation of progeny testing stations.
Prior to the implementation of the progeny testing stations, Henri Leignes Bakhoven,
livestock consultant of Friesland, and Wieger de Jong, livestock consultant of Gelderland and
‘Plaatselijk Nieuws’, Schager Courant (24 January 1901).
‘Binnenlandsch Nieuws’, Schager Courant (12 December 1916). Dutch: “op grond van de resultaten met hun
A. Hagedoorn, ‘Over tentoonstellingen en onze fokkerij!’, De Veldbode no.1240 (9 Oktober 1926).
‘Deensche bacon’, De Veldbode no.1429 (21 June 1930).
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director of the CBV, conducted a study trip to Denmark in which they inspected the workings of a
testing station. Before the report with the result of this trip was published, Leignes Bakhoven had
already convinced the Friesian Society of Agriculture to build a progeny testing station and most of
the other Dutch provinces followed shortly after. 25 The procedure of fattening, slaughter and
appraisal in the Dutch testing stations was identical to the way it was done in Denmark. Yet there
was a difference in the way the results of the stations were used. In Denmark, the results were
published all together four times a year in a report, which pig breeders could use as a reference
book while looking for new breeding material. In the Netherlands, pigs from testing stations could
earn a predicate, like in the CBV system. If the four piglets of a sow performed above a certain
standard, it was declared a ‘star-sow’ (sterzeug). Somewhat later, in 1931, boars could also earn
predicates from the testing station for their offspring.
The implementation of progeny testing stations sparked a discussion within the CBV about
how their preferential predicates should relate to the results of the testing stations. De Jong did not
think it would be necessary to include the results of the stations. According to him, the exterior
appraisal of a number of progeny was sufficient for the preferential predicate. The head of the CBV,
livestock consultant Dirk Bakker, did not agree. He supported the opinion of the agricultural
consultant of Overijssel, Reinder Anema, who argued that pig breeding had “reached a watershed,
now that animals are also inspected on production numbers.” 26 With this argument, Anema
convinced a majority within the CBV, after which it was decided that as of 1932, the preferential
predicate was to be replaced by ‘Elite’, which was awarded on the basis of results from progeny
testing stations and an exterior appraisal.
The authoritative livestock consultants
The implementation of progeny testing stations in the Netherlands appears to have happened quite
smoothly. This innovation, like most other developments within pig breeding, was mainly led by
the livestock consultants. These consultants had been appointed for the first time in 1909 by the
government to “provide council, hold lectures, arrange courses, to visit livestock inspections and
breeding exhibitions and to promote the founding and organisation of societies,” all in order to
improve the breeding of livestock in the Netherlands.27 The consultants were a practical result of a
change in direction that the Dutch government had made after the international agricultural
exhibition of 1884. This exhibition revealed that governments of neighbouring countries were much
more involved in the development of their agriculture when compared to the Netherlands.
Friesche Maatschappij van Landbouw to Minister of the Interior, 1929. Tresoar:
Minutes meeting CBV 18 dec 1931, Archive Veeteeltmuseum Beers: k13, 20A box 342. Dutch: “aan een keerpunt in
de fokkerij zijn gekomen, nu ook de dieren naar productiegegevens worden onderzocht.”
R. Strikwerda, ‘Veeteeltconsulenten: tachtig jaar in touw’, Veeteelt: magazine van het Koninklijk Nederlands
Rundvee Syndicaat NRS, deel 25, 2008, p. 32. Dutch: “door het geven van raad, het houden van voordrachten, het
geven van cursussen, het bezoeken van keuringen en fokveetentoonstellingen en het bevorderen van het
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Therefore, the Dutch government decided to take part in the education of farmers and agricultural
research.28 Men eligible for the post of livestock consultant were mostly agricultural teachers and
with few exceptions graduates from the Wageningen agricultural college. This college had been
reformed multiple times since the beginning of the twentieth century, every time to give students a
more scientific education in agricultural science. As of 1904, for example, students had to attend
elementary courses on physics, chemistry and mathematics in the first part of their education.29
Also later on in their study they could regularly be found in the laboratory while experimenting on
plant crossings, and were in general part of a “scientific institution”.30 Livestock consultants thus
were familiar with developments in science and with a scientific way of thinking and working.
It seems difficult to overestimate the importance of the livestock consultants for
developments in Dutch livestock breeding. This image emerges primarily from both the current and
contemporary literature. It is reinforced when looking at the variety of positions that were occupied
by these consultants. Nearly all consultants were on the board of the herdbook of their province and
as representative of their record they also formed the board of the CBV. Yet pig breeding was only
one part of their job. They were equally present and important in the breeding of cattle, sheep, goats
and horses. Wieger de Jong was not only the director of the CBV, but also chairman of the Dutch
Cattle Herdbook. Dirk Bakker, chairman of the CBV, furthermore played an important role in cattle
breeding and was closely involved with the sheep breeding society in Noord-Holland. The central
position of the consultants in the world of breeding also explains the rapid spread of developments
in breeding, like the preferential predicates and progeny testing.
How did these consultants come to believe that progeny testing stations would improve the
position of Dutch bacon on the London market to such an extent that it legitimatised the large
investments involved? An obvious argument is that it was the way pigs were selected in Denmark
which unarguably had been a success. This certainly was a strong argument, also because Denmark
had always figured as a sort of role model for Dutch pig breeders.31 Yet in the report of their studytrip, Leignes Bakhoven and De Jong also listed several reasons that explained the success behind
the progeny testing stations. At the end of their report, they listed ten conclusions/recommendations
of their research in Denmark. One of these is indeed that the selection of Dutch breeding pigs
should “occur in similar manner as is the case in Denmark by means of testing stations”. The third
conclusion, amongst other ones, explains the benefits of the Danish selection procedure: “The […]
selection [of pigs in the Netherlands] should not only be based on exterior, but also on weight gain,
amount of fodder needed and quality as a bacon-pig.”32 Moreover, Leignes Bakhoven and De Jong
J. Bieleman, Boeren in Nederland. Geschiedenis van de landbouw 1500-2000 (Amsterdam 2008) p.310.
J. van der Haar, De geschiedenis van de Landbouwuniversiteit Wageningen, deel 1 (Wageningen 1993) p. 121.
ibidem, p. 124.
See for instance: Rapport omtrent de vraag: is het mogelijk en gewenscht om met de varkensfokkerij den weg op te
gaan dien men in Denemarken gevolgt heeft?, 1904, Nationaal Archief: 2.11.05-22.
H. Leignes Bakhoven en W. de Jong, De varkensfokkerij en -mesterij in Denemarken, Departement van
binnenlandsche zaken en landbouw (’s-Gravenhage 1929) p.23, Nationaal Archief: 2.11.05 134. Dutch: “geschieden
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put much emphasis in their report on the selection on the quality of the pork. This ‘interior
appraisal’ could only be done after slaughtering, but then it was too late to use the pig in question
for breeding.
It was “breeding based on production”, that was a “rational” addition to the herdbooks, as
Leignes Bakhoven and De Jong typified the method of selection, that explained the success of the
Danish progeny testing stations. 33 Determining the breeding value of a pig on the basis of its
production, defined above as weight gain, amount of fodder needed and quality of pork and interior
appraisal, instead of on its exterior, was conceived as the major innovation in pig breeding.34
Geneticists and their attempts at useful knowledge
Although the initiative to build the progeny testing stations was largely taken by the
livestock consultants, they were certainly not the only ones discussing new breeding methods. The
rediscovery of Mendel’s law around the turn of the century initially led early geneticists to promise
a cloud-cuckoo land to breeders of livestock. 35 Dutch geneticists were relatively down to earth
about the possibilities of Mendel’s laws for the practice of breeding, but in the first twenty years
after 1900 they were certainly of the opinion that their knowledge could contribute significantly to
the work of breeders. They most notably propagated progeny testing, which they thought to be a
more rational way of selecting than on the basis of ancestry.36 Until about 1920, these scientists
quintessentially approached practical breeders: what breeders had achieved so far was admirable,
but their practice, or ‘the art of breeding’, was ridden with prejudices and misunderstandings.37 It
was up to the geneticist to raise breeding to a higher level by removing these prejudices and
explaining the misunderstandings with his theoretical knowledge. This is how the previously
mentioned geneticist Hagedoorn in 1912 addressed breeders in the introduction to his book
Judicious Cultivation and Breeding: “I (science) will tell you how you should acquire these
[desired] qualities and how you should maintain them in your animals.”38
op overeenkomstige wijze als dit in Denemarken geschiedt met behulp van proefmesterijen”, “De […] selectie [van
varkens in Nederland] moet niet alleen plaats hebben naar exterieur, maar ook naar gewichtsvermeerdering,
voederverbruik en kwaliteit als baconvarken”.
ibidem, p.13. Dutch: “teelt naar prestatie […] rationele”.
Other sources draw the same conclusion, see: R. Anema, ‘Selectiemesterijen en hun beteekenis voor de
varkensfokkerij’, De Veldbode no.1427 (21 June 1930), C. Van Vloten, ‘Welk varkensras is het beste?’, De Veldbode
no.1435 (2 August 1930), A. van Leeuwen, ‘Van ‘de Woestenij’ tot ‘de Kamp’ te Heelsum’, De Veldbode no.1415 (15
March 1930).
Cooke, ‘From Science to Practice or, Practice to Science? Chickens and Eggs in Raymond Pearl's Agricultural
Breeding Research’, p.81.
Theunissen, ‘Breeding Without Mendelism: Theory and Practice of Dairy Cattle Breeding in the Netherlands 19001950’, p.663.
Bert Theunissen, De Koe. Het verhaal van het Nederlandse melkvee 1900-2000 (Amsterdam 2010) p.17.
A. Hagedoorn, Oordeelkundige zaadteelt en fokkerij (Middelharnis 1912) preface. Dutch: “ik (wetenschap) zal U
vertellen hoe ge aan die [gewenste] eigenschappen moet komen en hoe ge die in Uw dieren moet vast houden.”
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The application of genetics in practice was organised during the First World War in the
Society for the Improvement of Scientific Cultivation.39 Virtually everyone of importance in the
world of breeding became a member during the inauguration of the society, amongst others:
Johannes Lotsy, Marius Sirks (geneticists), Hendrik Kroon, Aryen van Leeuwen (veterinarians) en
most of the livestock consultants. Hagedoorn would become secretary in 1926 and later on the
embodiment of the society, but he was abroad during its formation. From the inaugural lecture held
by Marius Sirks, however, it became clear that geneticists within the society had largely the same
view as Hagedoorn on the applicability of genetics in breeding. Sirks acknowledged that breeders
had come a long way with their practical experience, but at a certain point they would get stuck. It
was at this point that the society had come to the rescue “by making information obtained from pure
science suitable for use in practice.”40
This goal, the application of genetics in breeding, however, turned out to be difficult to
realise. The realisation that Mendelian laws were difficult, if not impossible, to translate to desired
characteristics of breeding animals arose shortly after the formation of the society. Prior to this
realisation it was already clear that many practical obstacles had to be faced if livestock was to be
bred on a Mendelian basis. Especially in the case of cattle, horses and sheep the small number of
offspring was a problem, since this made it difficult to draw significant conclusions about the
breeding value of these animals. With about ten piglets per litter, this was not so much a problem
for pigs, yet they were large animals that were costly to keep, which hindered an easy experimental
setup. Most experiments concerning Mendelian inheritance were performed on plants, mice, rabbits
and chickens, but the results from these experiments could not be translated to larger animals.41 To
set up experiments that would allow geneticists to draw solid conclusions about the inheritance of
characteristics of larger livestock would require a “very extensive institute”, according to
veterinarian Hendrik Kroon, “that would cost millions and millions”.42 Setting up an institute of
such proportions was not possible at the time, which also prevented the initiation of a breeding
program by scientists.
From the early twenties onwards, a change in attitude of scientists can be discerned in the
literature. Whereas people like Hagedoorn first tried to meddle with the practice of breeders on the
basis of their theoretical knowledge of inheritance, later on these men started to think more like the
breeders themselves, while fully acknowledging that their theories of inheritance did not have the
power to transform the practice of livestock breeding. Hagedoon is again the most apt example. Yet
in addition to his work, many other sources from around 1920 also concluded that Mendelian theory
Dutch: Vereeniging tot Bevordering van Wetenschappelijke Teelt.
M. Sirks, Vereeniging tot Bevordering van Wetenschappelijke Teelt - Voordrachten, gehouden in de
oprichtingsmeeting te Utrecht, op 7 Mei 1915, p.3. Dutch: “door de zuivere wetenschap verkregen gegevens voor de
praktijk geschikt te maken.”
H. Kroon, De Beteekenis der Genetische Eigenschapsanalyse voor de Teelt der Huisdieren, 1922, p.13.
ibidem. Dutch: “[…] een zeer omvangrijk instituut […] dat miljoenen en miljoenen zou kosten.”
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had contributed little to the breeding of animals.43 The main achievement of geneticists, as was
furthermore noticed in sources like these, was to analyse the existing breeding methods. 44
Therefore, geneticists at the time could hardly do more than play an advisory role, and hope their
voices were heard when breeders made their decisions: “A rather large amount of understanding of
the methods used in practice is needed”, as Hagedoorn stipulated in agricultural magazine De
Veldbode, “in order to provide practitioners with advice on their work, without proposing
impossibilities.” 45 From a piece Hagedoorn wrote a year after on pig breeding in Denmark, it
becomes clear that this was an enduring changeover, also because his remarks on progeny testing
stations were virtually aligned with those of Leignes Bakhoven and De Jong. Around the time that
the latter two were traveling around in Denmark, Hagedoorn formulated in this article an answer to
the question “How is breeding done in Denmark?” Judging from the text, Hagedoorn is clearly a
proponent of the Danish model and the arguments he provides are very similar to the ten
conclusions of the report by the above-mentioned livestock consultants. “In the first place”,
Hagedoorn wrote, “there is good cooperation between export butcheries and breeding societies.” As
a result of this cooperation, farmers were paid more for better quality bacon which provided a
strong impetus to breed the best pigs. Another impetus that Hagedoorn mentioned favourably were
pig-fattening matches, in which farmers were challenged to get a pig to a certain weight as quickly
as possible: “Furthermore, pig-growing matches have an excellent influence, just like the selection
of boars and sows on basis of the quality of their progeny.” This was not the only reference to
progeny testing Hagedoorn made. Later on it was mentioned again, but defined in breeders’ jargon
as “breeding value” to give an example of how some Dutch breeders were already breeding
Hagedoorn’s role as an ‘advisor’ was officially made a part of his work for the previously
mentioned society for scientific breeding. The society had changed its name in 1924 to Dutch
Genetical Society because it was felt necessary to also include the subject of eugenics. In the year
after the name change, Hagedoorn joined the society as a secretary. Until then he had profiled
himself as a sort of consultant to which breeders could come for advice but as secretary of the
society this was formalised to “consultancy office of the Genetical Society”.47
E. Dommerhold, ‘Practische toepassingen der erfelijkheidsleer in de veeteelt’, De Veldbode no.1432 (12 July 1930).
A. van Leeuwen, ‘Practische toepassingen der erfelijkheidsleer in de veeteelt [respons to the article of Dommerhold]’,
De Veldbode no.1434 (26 July 1930). J. Reimers, Die Bedeutung des Mendelismus fur die landwirtschaftliche Tierzucht
(’s-Gravenhage 1916) p.3. E. Muilwijk ‘De moderne erfelijkheidsleer en de practische fokkerij, De Veldbode no.1346
(10 November 1928).
Theunissen, ‘Breeding Without Mendelism: Theory and Practice of Dairy Cattle Breeding in the Netherlands 19001950’, p.660.
A. Hagedoorn, ‘De toepassing van wetenschap, in het bijzonder van erfelijkheidwetenschap’, De Veldbode no.1301
(24 December 1927).
A. Hagedoorn, ‘Deensche varkens voor ons land’, De Veldbode no.1371 (4 May 1929). Dutch: “In de eerste plaats
wordt daar goed samengewerkt tusschen de exportslachterijen en de fokkersorganisaties”, “verder werken de
varkensgroeiwedstrijden uitstekend, evenals de selectie van beeren en zeugen naar kwaliteit van hun nakomelingen”.
C. Broekema, ‘De Genetische Vereeniging en haar taak’, Erfelijkheid en Praktijk no.2, 1936.
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Besides giving advice, holding lectures and publishing books and periodicals, experiments
were also performed in name of the society. For pigs, a relatively large experiment was set up in
1917, concerning the inheritance of skin colour. It was investigated whether the striped colour of
wild boar could be inherited by tame pigs, and if the alleged immunity of wild boar to the much
feared spot disease could then also be transferred to tame pigs. 48 If the latter had been
accomplished, it would without a doubt have been a major development in breeding. Yet in the
report on the experiment that was send to the Minister of Agriculture in 1921, this particular goal
was no longer mentioned. The report emphasised that the research on inheritance of colour could
“lead to the development of important combinations”, because concomitant with the report, the
society made a request for a further subsidy of their experiment. However, an investigation after the
inheritance of characteristics that were thought to be useful for breeders, such as “physique, -wide
and small animals, animals with floppy ears, with hanging tails en curly tails […] are not to be
considered by the society but rather by professional breeding”, as the report concludes.49
It thus appears that the ambitions of the society to further the practice of pig breeding with
this experiment were rather small. The goals of the experiment as formulated in the 1921 report,
though, did have an accidental connection to an issue that played amongst pig breeders. The issue in
question is the so-called ‘spot question’ (vlekjeskwestie). It pertained to the pig breeds in the
Netherlands that were supposed to be of white colour but sometimes produced offspring that had
black spots of hair on their skin. Breeders interpreted these spots as an indication of impurity within
the breed. Pigs with spots were thus scrupulously avoided by most of the breeders and a number of
herdbooks had as an entree requirement that a pig was to be spotless.50 It appears, however, that
there never was a connection between the experiment of the society and the spot question,
especially because geneticists were of the opinion that breeders should not base their breeding on
exterior characteristics such as skin colour.51 Wether the experiment was set up to make theories of
inheritance applicable for practical breeding is thus to be doubted. It rather appears that the society
considered it an experiment of which the outcomes mostly benefitted science itself.
Pig breeders: more than the executors of an idea
The two professions discussed in the above sections are reasonably well documented. Scientists
published books, wrote papers and articles, also in magazines such as De Veldbode. The same goes
for livestock consultants, who were the author of many textbooks on breeding. Additionally, these
A report on this experiment can be found in a brochure of the Dutch Genetical Society: R. Houwink, Proeftuin te
Meppel (Assen 1920).
Rapport Vereeniging tot bevordering van wetenschappelijke teelt, send to the Minister of Agriculture, Industry and
Trade, 15 April 1921. Nationaal archief: 2.11.05-134. Dutch: “[…] het ontstaan van nieuwe belangrijke combinaties
[kon] leiden. […] lichaamsbouw, -breede en smalle dieren, dieren met hangooren en staande oren, met hangende
staarten en krulstaarten […] ligt niet op den weg onzer vereniging, doch op dien der praktische fokkerij.”
Verslag over Het Boekjaar 1931 van “Het Limburgsch Varkensstamboek”, p.7, Archive Veeteeltmuseum Beers: k13,
29g, box 385.
Reimers, Die Bedeutung des Mendelismus fur die landwirtschaftliche Tierzucht, p.35.
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consultants were active in many different societies, like the CBV, of which the minutes are
available. There is significantly less material available on breeders which makes it hard to get a grip
on their working methods and opinions on progeny testing stations. Breeders usually did not write
books or papers in which they revealed their theories on breeding. The instruments they applied,
such has the breeders’ eye, were difficult to define on paper. To breeders, such instruments were
what can be called tacit knowledge, a skill that was acquired after decades of practical experience.
So why would a breeder explain in an article what he meant when he said that a pig was “too dry”
or “too cow hocked” for breeding? For him, those were self-evident concepts. Moreover, breeding
was a commercial business in which breeders who bred the best pigs could earn the most money.
Sharing their breeding techniques was thus not in their interest, after all, they wanted to stay ahead
of the competition.
Luckily there were a handful of breeders who from time to time did speak out in various
magazines in which they explained their view on pig breeding. Also, as of 1918, veterinarian and
editor of De Veldbode Aryen van Leeuwen regularly visited pig breeders to report on their way of
working. It has to be mentioned that the breeders that were visited by Van Leeuwen were in many
cases the same breeders who also took the initiative to voice their opinions in above mentioned
magazines. It were these breeders, however, for which the progeny testing stations were built. The
breeders who might be called progressive, meaning they made serious efforts to rationalise and
improve their breeding methods and led the way in many innovative breeding techniques,
determined in many aspects the Dutch pig breeds: less progressive breeders and pig multipliers
preferred to have their sows covered by the best breeding boars available so their herds were to a
large extend influenced by what were conceived as the top pig-breeders.52
Although the breeders in question were all well-informed about their business and not afraid
of novelties in their field of work, they could definitely differ in opinion about a variety of aspects
in pig farming. As a first, different breeders could breed for different purposes. Whereas some
breeders already bred for bacon-pigs in 1920, others focussed their business on the production of
fresh meat. Also the application of technical innovation could be a basis for vehement discussions
between breeders. There were for example breeders who opposed the mechanisation of the feeding
of pigs; they felt this would brake down the necessary contact breeders had with their pigs.53 On the
other hand, some breeders were leading the way in these developments and sent in self-designed
These progressive breeders might be seen as “initial innovators” or a version of “niche actors”, as defined by AnneCharlotte Hoes and Frank Geels & Johan Schot. It must be remarked though that Hoes mainly uses this definition in her
research on the phase of agricultural innovations after implementation, whereas this paper focuses on the phase prior to
implementation. It thus remains an open question whether these breeders act “as frontrunners, whose routines and
practices gradually trickled down and changed regime rules” in the case of progeny testing stations, as Hoes cites
Geels’ and Schot’s definition of the influence of the niche actors. (F. Geels & J. Schot, Typology of sociotechnical
transition pathways, Research Policy, Vol. 36, No.3, p.406, as quoted by A.C. Hoes, Inside the Black Box of
Agricultural Innovation Projects. Exploring the interactions between farmers, greenhouses, scientists, pigs &
neighbours, dissertation, Vrije Universiteit, 2011, p.18) As mentioned in the text, besides the trickling down of their
breeding methods, a more direct influence these breeders had was via their pigs. Viewing pig breeds as a
biotechnological tool thus reveals a short-cut for breeding innovations to travel through the world of pig farming.
A. van Leeuwen, Automatische voederbakken voor varkens, De Veldbode no. 1097 (12 January 1924).
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feeding system for evaluation to De Veldbode. 54 Beside the many aspects these breeders could
differ about, there was one thing they all had in common. All the progressive pig breeders can be
typified by their organised way of working. With no counterexample to be found, they were all
member of a herdbook which they used as a reference work to keep track of the many different
‘blood-lines’ in their area. For some, the information stored in the records was not sufficient so they
kept a record of their own in which they entered every pig that went in or out their herd, completed
with precise information about important production-numbers .55 The organised way of working
surfaces most noticeable from the available sources in the development of pig fodder. Especially in
the first twenty years after 1900, pig farmers extensively experimented with determining the ideal
diet for pigs. There were large discussions about feeding pigs with concentrate, the difference
between dry-feed and “slurp-feed” (slobbervoer) and to what extend different types of fodder could
be combined into a diet in which the pig would grow fast without getting overly fat or where the
pork would get a fishy smell.56
Also selection on the production numbers of progeny, which happened in progeny testing
stations, was already applied on small scale by several pig breeders. Illustrative for this is pig
breeder C.R. van Vloten of Heelsum (Gelderland). He is one of the examples to the progressive
breeders mentioned above as he regularly wrote letters to De Veldbode in which he voiced his
experiences and opinions in a very outspoken manner. One example to this is the mechanical
feeding system that he had designed. He also did not hesitate to contact scientists. As he wrote an
article in a 1926 edition of De Veldbode, in which he gave his opinion on breeding exhibitions. He
wondered whether it was “practically and scientifically impossible” to “focus more on progeny”
instead of the selection on exterior as was done in these exhibitions.57 In his article he asked the
Dutch Genetical Society to respond and his call was answered by Hagedoorn himself. Hagedoorn
wrote four weeks later that he agreed that exhibitions of livestock breeding in general were too
much focussed on exterior appraisal, for instance because he had witnessed that first-prize winning
pigs were in some cases too fat to be used for breeding. However, these were issues, as Hagedoorn
remarked, that anyone with experience in breeding could notice and to which a geneticist could not
significantly contribute. He thus concluded his piece that breeding exhibitions failed short in
improving the breeding of livestock, but he did not dare to propose an alternative.58
C. van Vloten, ‘Automatische varkensvoederbakken’, De Veldbode no.1108 (29 March 1924).
A. van Leeuwen, ‘De beste varkensfokstallen van Nederland. Het fokstation voor het VDL op de boerderij Twickel te
Delden’, De Veldbode no.1184 (5 September 1925).
Many examples to the development of feeding experiments can be found in De Veldbode: No.664, ‘Automatische
voederbakken voor varkens’ (25 September 1915). No.1124, ‘Mestproef met varkens in Zuid-Holland’ (12 July 1924).
No.1216, ‘Kleinveeteelt: varkensmestproef’ (24 April 1926). No.1255, ‘Vischmeel voor varkens en pluimvee’ (29
Januari 1927).
C. van Vloten, ‘Large Black en V.D.L.’, De Veldbode no.1236 (11 September 1926). Dutch: “[…] praktisch en
wetenschappelijk onmogelijk […] meer op afstammelingen te letten.”
A. Hagendoorn, ‘Over tentoonstellingen en onze fokkerij!’, De Veldbode no.1240 (9 Oktober 1926).
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With their feeding-experiments, mechanisation and progeny testing, breeders like Van
Vloten thus appeared to have been on the forefront of the modernisation of pig farming.
Additionally, from various discussions in magazines it becomes clear that a thorough knowledge of
Mendelian theories was amongst the skill set of these breeders. A prominent example of such a
discussion was held in 1926 in De Veldbode on the heritability of black hair on white pigs. As
mentioned, breeders conceived skin spots to be an indication of impurity. The discussion in
question was instigated by the boar keeping association Vooruitgang who had bought a breeding
boar from another association which turned out to give spotted offspring. This was quite a setback
for association Vooruitgang since the boar had covered all fifty sows of its members, which would
leave them with about 500 piglets that no one would want to use for breeding.59 The discussion was
about whether the association from which the boar had been bought could be held accountable for
selling an impure boar, which led to the question if the impurity of the boar could indisputably be
determined from the piglets, or that perhaps the Vooruitgang sows were impure. The first series of
letters from the different associations was accompanied by comments of Van Leeuwen who tried to
clarify matters with pre-Mendelian notions of breeding such as “blood” and “ancestry”. Association
Vooruitgang responded to this with an evaluation of the case from a Mendelian perspective in a
way that made it clear that they knew what they were talking about. Van Leeuwen objected to this
evaluation that “the Mendelian rules are not hard and fast rules, from which one never ever would
be allowed to diverge.”60 This led Engelbert Dommerhold, livestock consultant of Overijssel, to
join in the discussion since he was of the opinion that it had been “blurred” by “layman and semiexperts”. Dommerhold’s piece, however, will not have helped to clarify the discussion. To illustrate
that a spotted skin was not linked to an animal’s performance, he mentioned three famous piebald
breeding bulls who had produced red-and-white pied offspring several times. From this statement it
appears as if Dommerhold teamed up with the geneticists’ point of view: exterior characteristics
such as skin spots were not useful for selection; instead, breeders had to select their stock on the
production of its offspring. Yet in the conclusion of his piece, Dommerhold propagated the
breeding of “pure herdbook piglets”, especially because they cost only little more than the
“(spotted) ordinary pigs.” 61 Pig breeder H.W. Schilt of Groenekan (Utrecht) did not agree and
heated the discussion by stating that all herdbooks were full of pigs that could deliver spotted
offspring. It had already come up in the discussion that spots were a recessive trait to the dominant
white colour or pigs. From the exterior of a white pig it could therefore not be determined whether
it was a homozygote or heterozygote white pig. Only extensive progeny testing would allow
breeders to say something about the probability of a pig to be a pure, homozygote white pig, but
A. van Leeuwen, ‘Een interessante erfelijkheids- en rechtskwestie’, De Veldbode no.1230 (31 July 1926).
A. van Leeuwen, ‘Een interessante erfelijkheids- en rechtskwestie’, De Veldbode no.1236 (11 September 1926).
Dutch: “[…]de Mendelsche regels nog geen weten van Meden en Perzen zijn, waarvan nooit en te nimmer zou mogen
worden afgeweken.”
E. Dommerhold, ‘Veel geschreeuw, weinig wol’, De Veldbode no.1237 (18 September 1926). Dutch: “vertroebeld
[…] leeken en halve kenners”, “zuivere stamboekbiggen […] (bonte) gebruiksvarkens”.
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even then there was always a chance the pig carried the gene for black hair. Breeder Schilt therefore
did not care if his pigs gave spotted offspring. In fact, he even proclaimed that one of his herdbook
sows was spotted.62
Yet Schilt’s attitude to spots appears to have been the exception, also amongst the
progressive breeders. The Zuid-Hollands herdbook, in which Schilt had entered his alleged spotted
sow, distressfully responded to his words in which they wanted to make it absolutely clear that the
spots on Schilt’s pigs were due to pigmentation and that pigs with actual dark hairs were excluded
in any case for breeding in Zuid-Holland.63 It is thus certainly not the case that pig breeders only
focussed on production-numbers of pigs. A pig of the Great-Yorkshire breed, which figured in the
discussion, was supposed to be white according to the breed description, without spots. In the
history of cattle breeding, in which the spots question also features, this has been linked to the
branding of a breed.64 Also in the culture of pig breeders there was a notion of, in this case, the
Great-Yorkshire brand, and the spots question was a practical result of this branding.
The discussion summarised above makes it clear that breeders understood well that skin
colour could be captured in Mendelian terms. Only a limited number of genes determined the
colour of the pigs and therefore it could be turned into a few rules of thumb: the white colour of the
Yorkshire was dominant over the black of the Berkshire breed, while the black of Sussex pigs was
dominant over the white of the Landrace.65 On the other hand, it appears that these breeders also
clearly understood that they had nothing to gain from Mendel’s theory when it came to improving
the production qualities of their pigs. Production characteristics such as meat growth, resistance to
illness and fertility are not only dependent on a much larger number of genes, these are also
crucially influenced by the food pigs get and the environment they live in. Therefore, geneticists
were not able to formulate rules of thumb for these qualities that breeders could follow as a
guideline. The heritability of production characteristics could only be empirically determined by
means of controlled progeny investigations as were done at the progeny testing stations. Around the
time the first testing stations were built, virtually everyone in the world of pig breeding made this
distinction: in the articles, books and minutes discussing progeny testing stations, Mendelian theory
was never used as an argument. In contrast, for which the discussion above serves as an example,
there was a widespread understanding of the use of Mendelian theories in relation to the colour of
The foundation of progeny testing stations and the inner workings of these stations
corresponded to the organised way of breeding as it had developed in the first thirty years after
1900 in pig breeding. Like many breeders, these testing stations operated with a carefully compiled
H. Schilt, ‘Een interessante erfelijkheids- en rechtskwestie’, De Veldbode no.1240 (9 October 1926).
H. Roest, secretary of the Zuid-Hollands herdbook, ‘Een interessante erfelijkheidskwestie’, De Veldbode no.1234 (30
October 1926).
Theunissen, ‘Theory and practice of dairy cattle breeding’, p. 656.
E. Dommerhold, ‘Veel geschreeuw, weinig wol’, De Veldbode no.1237 (18 September 1926).
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pig diet and elaborate schemes on which the day-to-day growth of piglets was precisely monitored.
Through this organised way of working, both breeders and the testing stations attempted to gain
control over the genetically elusive production numbers of pigs. The development of a ‘rational’
way of breeding was the innovation in pig breeding and progeny testing stations were a tangible
result of this development
Again, this is not to say that pig breeding was completely ‘rational’ as of 1930, in which
breeders only selected on basis of production numbers. The idea that a pig could be crowned
preferential or elite solely on the basis of its offspring was a bridge too far for most livestock
consultants and pig breeders. If this would have been the case, pigs that in no way confirmed to the
breeders’ ideas of what a good pig should look like could get a predicate if they had good enough
offspring. This bottleneck between progeny testing and the breeders’ eye, was topic of discussion in
1932 during a meeting of the CBV. Livestock consultant Anema proposed to also test parents for
exterior, in addition to the results of the progeny testing stations. This proposal was rejected. Not
because the other consultants thought that exterior wasn’t important, but rather because they figured
it was an unnecessary complication of the procedure since only herdbook pigs were considered for
progeny testing, so these had already been tested on their exterior when they were entered into the
herd book.66
Conclusion and discussion
In its broadest sense, progeny testing stations could fit into the culture and context of Dutch pig
breeding around 1929. A shaping development to the culture of pig breeding was the growing need
for control: good breeding of pigs was based upon a rational, controlled way of working. This can
perhaps be placed into a larger campaign, instigated by the government after the agricultural
exhibition of 1884, in which Dutch agrarians in general began to approach their occupation in a
more rational, organised way.67 Specific for pig breeding, however, it seems that it was partially a
reaction to the uncontrolled crossing of pigs in the nineteenth century. The introduction of
herdbooks was meant to gain control over the breeds of pigs and to create a uniform basis upon
which the enhancement of breeds could be realised. As pig farms grew larger, farmers began to
look for all kinds of improvements of their business. Improving the diet of pigs through
experiments with pig fodder was a first and relatively easy step towards control and improvement
over the genetically elusive characteristics of single pigs such as growth, fertility and resistance to
illness. A next step was to extend this control over multiple generations and to select pigs on their
interior, which was realised through progeny testing stations.
By showing how the implementation of progeny testing stations was the result of a changed
culture within breeding, it followed that these were not the outcome of a top-down application of
Minutes meeting CBV 16 december 1932, Archive Veeteeltmuseum Beers: k13, 20A box 342.
J. van der Zanden, De economische ontwikkeling van de Nederlandse landbouw in de negentiende eeuw, 1800-1914
(Wageningen 1985). Bieleman, Boeren in Nederland, p.310.
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(scientific) knowledge. That is not to say that there was no exchange of knowledge between
scientists, livestock consultants, pig breeders and all other occupations involved in the culture.
Livestock consultants were after all scientifically trained and without a doubt some of them had
heard the early calls of Hagedoorn and his colleagues for the implementation of progeny testing. In
their turn, livestock consultants informed pig breeders: about Mendelism, about how important a
good diet and a controlled way of working were and eventually how progeny testing stations
functioned and that breeders should cooperate with this new innovation to turn it into a success.68
Yet these knowledge exchanges are only a small part of the developments and focussing on them
would ignore a large number of crucial elements that explain why progeny testing station were
built. Although progeny testing was a rational way of selecting and although geneticists propagated
the application of progeny testing decades before 1929, the actual set up of the testing stations was
never proposed by these scientists and was eventually copied from Danish examples and modified
to fit the Dutch culture of breeding.
Innovations in livestock agriculture like the progeny testing stations are in most cases not
the result of a top-down application of scientific knowledge. Recently a considerable number of
works have appeared that investigated innovations in livestock and virtually all came to the same
conclusions. “Multi-dimensional process” 69 , “cultures of breeding” 70 , “perspective of social
groups”71, or simply “different levels”72 are indications of different authors with which they all try
to convey a similar idea: the implementation of innovations is not a linear top-down process, but
rather the result of a discussion held between all parties involved.
Through this investigation, it has become clear that an approach of knowledge networks as
an exchange between groups quickly implies a too strict categorisation of people: Hagedoorn as a
scientist who calls for rational breeding through progeny testing with Mendel in mind and livestock
consultant Anema who figured as a service hatch to convince “little dumb hog farmers”73 to give up
their out of date breeding traditions for a rational way of breeding. First, there were very different
people within these groups. This has already been made explicit for the case of pig breeders.
Different breeders bred different pigs, had different ideas about what constituted good breeding and
feeding, and also the difference between more progressive and conservative breeders has been
noted. Also every scientist and livestock consultant had his own ideas about possible improvements
in pig breeding. A good example of this are the sometimes heated discussions at the CBV.
R. Anema ‘Selectiemesterijen en hun beteekenis voor de varkensfokkerij', De Veldbode no.1427 (17 June 1930).
P. Brassley, ‘Cutting across nature? The history of artificial insemination in pigs in the United Kingdom’, Studies in
History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, no.38, 2007, p.457.
Theunissen, ‘Breeding for nobility or for production?’, p.309.
Bonneuil, ‘Mendelism, Plant Breeding and Experimental Cultures: Agriculture and the Development of Genetics in
France’, p.284
Wieland, ‘Scientific Theory and Agricultural Practice: Plant Breeding in Germany from the Late 19th to the Early
20th Century’, p.337.
E. van Muylwijk, ‘Over onze te moderniseren varkensfokkerij’, De Veldbode no.1447, (25 Oktober 1930). Dutch:
“kleine domme beerenboertjes”.
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Steven van der Laan
Progeny testing stations
7 August 2014
Moreover, most people involved changed their ideas or adopted new insights during the process
with which they also changed the culture of breeding: pig breeders began to look for a more
quantitative way of selecting their pigs, Hagedoorn and his colleagues who realised Mendelian
theory could not be turned into a breeding program and that they had to submerge themselves into
the world of breeders if they wished to be of any help and livestock consultants who struggled with
the relation between exterior appraisal and selection on production characteristics.
That is not to say that people cannot be lumped into different categories. It is without a
doubt possible and most often very useful to make a distinction between breeders, scientists,
livestock consultants, or whatever else category is possible and investigate the exchange of
information between these groups. However, it has to be remembered that when drawing these
knowledge networks, on the basic level it is people who communicate and whose opinions are
influenced, within and between any designated group. In effect, the standpoints of these groups and
culture of breeding at large are determined by the combined convictions of every individual
participating in the progress. It is thus argued that an individual approach can reveal how the
changes within groups and peoples drive the change of a culture and thus explain why innovations
such as progeny testing stations happen.
This paper benefited greatly from discussions with and remarks and corrections from Jesper
Oldenburger, Floor Haalboom, Bert Theunissen, Nathalie Kuijpers and the staff of the
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