Few things have surprised me less than the wonderful spell of winter weather we are having.

A human span isn’t long in the grand scheme, however in my own lifetime, I can never remember a hard winter after a good summer. If trends exist, good fortune doesn’t last forever and the old saying 'March in January, January in March', may yet come true.

Equally unsurprising was the dearth of farmers in The New Year’s Honours List. The only one I noticed was Meurig Raymond, who got a CBE. Two decades ago, he would have got a knighthood.

Our own SNFU presidents usually got an OBE, as did farmers who made some breakthrough, or even did a good job. Nowadays, farmers are below jazz musicians, long serving posties and the woman who cuts David Cameron’s wife’s hair.

Maybe the Honours List exemplifies our standing in public estimation. I can never remember such an anti-farming barrage from the media.

We ill-treat our animals, are a major contributor to greenhouse gases and cause the disappearance of the nation’s birds. Meat is relentlessly portrayed as akin to toxic waste. Guessing that our response to this ‘fake news’ will be, as usual, supine, our critics ramp up their stories with impunity.

The time we fought back is long overdue. I recall the tactic of George Karman QC, the most famous divorce lawyer of his time 'to devise a simple and memorable phrase that stays in the mind'. 'Badger Saviour' becomes 'Hedgehog Killer' ... We just need a little imagination.

A friend, knowing my interest in these things, dropped in a suitcase full of papers, leaflets and booklets, which he had collected over a lifetime. Two booklets were of particular interest.

The first was ‘The Jubilee Brochure for The Hunday Herd of British Friesians’, published in 1959. The owner, John Moffitt, was a well deserved CBE. He had been a good rugby player in his youth, had built a huge collection of vintage tractors and was an exceptional dairy farmer.

The booklet tells the story of the herd and its management and shows the pedigrees of some of his most famous cattle. It is extensively illustrated with photos of these bulls and cows.

My beef breeder’s eye found them much more attractive than today’s gaunt successors, although they would have given less milk. Cows with 11 lactations are mentioned and were an important factor in the bulls he used.

The pedigrees of the Hunday superstars particularly interested me, although I am not a dairy breeder and the names of individuals meant nothing to me. Considerable close breeding was practised and out-crosses were procured when necessary.

Most of us, even the Moffitts, sometimes introduce genetics which have little impact or worse, so these aren’t mentioned, however some of his bulls were outstandingly successful, particularly the bull Mayford Marius.

Some 13 bulls descended from him were used in the herd. In our own Aberdeen-Angus herd, the bull Scotch Cap appears time after time in pedigrees. We never tried to in-breed or line breed to him. It was just that the best available had him in there somewhere.

Whether Moffitt deliberately line bred to Marius, or whether the bulls he liked best just happened to carry his blood, the booklet fails to relate. In-breeding, or line-breeding was a favoured method of that time.

It could, though, be a double-edged sword as it was impossible to know beforehand which genes would be concentrated in the offspring. The percentage of those desired could be low and the wastage high. Continued in-breeding could, if practised too long, result in loss of vigour and required an out-cross – better still if the out-cross was itself in-bred.

An outstanding example of the effects of continuous in-breeding in the human context was the Spanish Habsburg monarchy, which were the most powerful rulers in Europe and the New World.

During the 184 years that they ruled Spain, nine of the 11 family marriages were between close relatives. The last king, Charles II, had such a malformed jaw that he struggled to eat or speak. He was, in addition, feeble, mentally handicapped and infertile, which resulted in the line becoming extinct.

In the 60 years since the jubilee of the Hunday herd, our increasing knowledge of the cattle genome has rendered cutting edge techniques of that time obsolete. For two years, we have DNA profiled all our Angus calves and while genomics is in its infancy, it's evolving fast.

At present, we have only a limited idea of which genes influence specific traits in the live animal and how dominant these genes are in their effect. Some we know now can be switched on or off by the animal having a traumatic experience.

Even if political pressure continues to prevent genetic manipulation or editing, what a weapon we now possess. Genes which influence characteristics invisible to the breeders’ eye, such as disease resistance, tolerance to climatic extremes and feed conversion, will increasingly be revealed.

At home, we should be able to look at the genome of cattle which may no longer be with us to identify lines that carry specific genes and then to concentrate them or eliminate them as the market dictates.

The second booklet in my friend’s suitcase, which interested me, was 'The Friesian, feeding the breed'. It was published by Spillers Feeds in 1964, it was attractively produced, contained much good sense (which remains relevant today) and, as expected, extolled the virtues of Spillers Feeds.

What really took my eye was a reminder, as with the New Year’s Honours List that not all letters after one’s name have the same degree of prestige. The photographs were taken by Joan Pitt ARPS and the text was written by William Reid VC, BSc.