The concept of natural selection is well known. Animals mate, animals are born, and those best suited to their environment survive to pass their genes on to the next generation. Populations, over time, improve their ability to cope with their environment.
A good breeding programme also improves an animal population over time. But this improvement is artificial, in that it is driven by people. And not with nature in mind, but with an end use for that animal in mind. Yes, nature still gets involved (eg deaths during birth, congenital problems, diseases, accidents), and breeders who go against the environment their animals live in do so at their peril. But ultimately with artificial selection it is the breeder, not nature, who selects which animals get to mate, and to whom. The breeder, not nature, decides who is and isn’t suitable for breeding.
How a breeder does this is two-fold. The first is the selection process, deciding which animals get to pass their genes on to the next generation. The second is the actual mating process of matching selected males with selected females. We’ll cover these in the next two posts.