The cattleman

Roy Berg revolutionized Canada’s beef cattle industry.

Roy Berg (’50 BSc Ag). Illustration by Jordan Carson.

Roy Berg (’50 BSc Ag) was a world-renowned animal geneticist and a giant in Alberta agriculture. His revolutionary hybrid breeding programs led to seismic shifts in the cattle industry that helped make Canada a world leader in beef production.

Berg grew up on a farm in Millicent, Alta. One of five brothers who studied agriculture at the University of Alberta, Berg went on to earn a master’s degree and a doctorate from the University of Minnesota, and returned to the U of A as a professor in 1955. He served a term as chair of the Department of Animal Science (1977–82) before serving as dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry (1983–1988), today known as the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences.

In the 1960s, together with L.W. McElroy, then head of the department of animal science, Berg sought and received funding from the provincial government — through the Horned Cattle Trust Account — to build a beef cattle breeding facility. They found the ideal ranch in Kinsella, two hours east of Edmonton. The ranch was renamed in Berg’s honour in 2014.

Berg sought to improve fertility in females and growth in males. Specifically, he wanted to show that selective crossbreeding of beef cattle — passing on desirable traits from a variety of breeds — could improve production.

His research proved very controversial, as the prevailing wisdom in the beef cattle industry at the time was to use purebred cattle. It was believed that if you crossbred, the first generation of cattle would be a little more productive and stronger, but subsequent generations would essentially deteriorate.

Despite the ferocious opposition, Berg persisted and managed to breed two hybrid lines — the first was 30 per cent more productive than purebred cattle while the second was 40 per cent more productive.

Berg’s crossbreeding techniques have since become the norm in the beef cattle industry. Driving along Canada’s prairie highways, a traveler would be hard pressed today to find a purebred herd grazing in a pasture or on a farm.

Berg was inducted into the Alberta Agricultural Hall of Fame and the International Stockman’s Hall of Fame in 1989. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Guelph in 1991, the U of A’s Alumni Honour Award in 2002 and the Alberta Centennial Medal in 2005.

Roy Berg passed away in 2012. He was 85 years old.


For almost as long as there’s been a Canada, there’s been a University of Alberta. Over the next year, in honour of Canada’s 150th anniversary, we’re proudly celebrating the people, achievements and ideas that contributed to the making of a confederation.

Originally posted at ualberta.ca on May 9, 2012.