A lot of gods were worshipped by cattle producers in the 20th Century-fatness, leanness, long legs, short legs, thick muscles, flat muscles, small car-casses, large carcasses. You name a god, someone probably worshipped it.

As big as any 20th Century god was the god heterosis. Heterosis was the century's golden calf. Heterosis was worshipped at one time or another at every meeting of cattlemen in every state, throughout the country, throughout the world. Disciples of heterosis promised amazing benefits for those who believed. And, so, pastures were reorganized, breeds were mixed and records were kept. There were many converts, and eventually a judgment day arrived for each.

Not all of the converts worshipped heterosis in the same way. The fundamentalists followed the rules religiously. Some converts did two-breed rotations, some did three-breed rotations and some added a terminal sire dimension to each. The wheat and the chaff were separated by these converts, and the common reward was pure wheat-more pounds of progeny per cow exposed.

But the converts also included revisionists, most of whom only paid lip service to the new gospel. There was much genetic reveling, genetic drunkenness and genetic lasciviousness. As cattle breeds were crossed, genetic laws were broken and wheat and chaff wafted through the pastures together. Many mongrels were produced. In the final judgment, the revisionists could claim only an irregular, unpredictable pattern of increased progeny weight.

A companion of the god heterosis was the god marbling. The disciples of marbling also proclaimed important benefits to those who would believe-meat with a better taste and meat that seemed more tender. But convert numbers were slow to develop. Too many of the people were too faithful to heterosis to realize they could serve both gods.

A second companion of the god heterosis was the god yield. The disciples of yield found many willing converts, including many worshipers of heterosis who believed that the lean breeds they used in their rotational breeding programs were also high-yielding breeds. Many yield converts were rewarded with increased progeny weight.

Three gods-heterosis, marbling and yield-each with its own followers. Is this what is needed in the world of cattle breeding in these early years of the 21st century?

When preparing to write this column I found an article on AgCenter.com that expressed something relevant to this question. The article chronicled the history of marketing terminal cattle from the days when they were priced by the head to pricing by the live weight pounds, then to pricing by carcass pounds to finally, the growing practice of pricing according to carcass merit.

It will be astounding to many of you that fewer terminal cattle are priced according to their live weight at this time than are priced by the carcass pound. Even more astounding is the likelihood that more cattle will soon be priced according to carcass merit than by any other method.

If you are a disciple of my recent writings and those of recent years, you are prepared to breed cattle for the new era of carcass-merit pricing-grid pricing, as this is also called. I have preached and preached that your program cannot be saved by weight alone or yield grade alone or marbling alone. Your program will be justly rewarded only if you produce moderately-sized cattle that excel in both yield (yield grade) and marbling (quality grade).

Worship the god heterosis but don't do so blindly. Pounds of progeny weight will be most rewarding if they are the right kind of pounds-pounds that fit the requirements of marbling and yield.

The time has come to stop choosing between gods in cattle breeding; it is time to accept a trinity-heterosis, yield and marbling.

To contact Fred Knop, write Drovers or send e-mail to: fredlyn@aol.com