How One Bull with a Deadly Mutation Sired 16,000 Daughters

In the 1960s, a bull named Pawnee Farm Arlinda Chief sired a mind-blowing 16,000 daughters. Three generations later, Chief now has around two million descendants. In fact, according to reports, about 14 percent of all Holstein Friesians—the most common breed of cows used for dairy—are descended from Chief. 

Yet while Chief is hailed for producing daughters with increased milk supply, he was also unknowingly passing on a deadly genetic mutation. Although the mutation caused no harm to Chief himself, when a cow’s fetus inherits a copy of this mutation from both parents—something disturbingly common considering the number of Chief’s descendants—it can trigger a spontaneous abortion. This deadly mutation has resulted in an estimated 500,000 miscarriages and cost the dairy industry about $420 million. 

So how did this happen?

Around the world, nearly all cattle used for offspring are artificially manipulated to procreate. In the U.S. dairy industry, collecting sperm from bulls involves an invasive and often extremely painful practice called electroejaculation.

Electroejaculation of bulls is commonplace across the U.S. dairy industry, yet it is so distressing and painful that the Netherlands and Denmark have banned it. Bulls call out in pain during the process, kicking, falling, and struggling desperately to escape. Currently farmers do not administer pain relief.

Collected semen is processed and frozen until farmers are ready to impregnate cows. To artificially inseminate, handlers shove their hands into a cow’s uterus and manually deposit the sperm. Throughout their pregnancies, cows suffer intrusive examinations that involve rectal exams.

The dairy industry identifies the “best bulls” by observing their offspring. If a bull’s female offspring are efficient milk producers, the industry will use that bull to impregnate as many cows as possible. This is what happened with Chief, who has so many descendants that they make up a sizable chunk of today’s dairy industry.

Despite the deadly genetic mutation he passed along and the abysmal lack of genetic diversity, a recent article states that, overall, Chief is celebrated for siring offspring with above-average milk production. Unsurprisingly, the dairy industry’s interest in its cows is about profits—not the animals themselves.

While many people’s eyes are opening to the cruelty of dairy production, the exploitation of bulls’ and cows’ reproductive systems seems lesser known. Learn more about how the dairy industry sexually abuses cows.

Looking to make a difference? We can all help cows and bulls by choosing from all the wonderful plant-based milk, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream varieties on the market today.