G. Eric Bradford
Professor of Animal Science, Emeritus
1929 – 2007
Eric Bradford was born in the township of Kingsey, Quebec on November 2, 1929. Eric was raised on a small mixed animal and crop farm in rural Drummond County, and thus learned of agriculture and the values of the farm at an early age. In addition to his work on the family farm, Eric was an excellent student and graduated from the local high school at the age of 16, the only boy in a graduating class of eight.
After working in a dairy for a year—until he was old enough to enroll—Eric attended MacDonald College of McGill University and earned his BSc degree (with distinction) in agriculture in 1951. He was the first in his family to complete a four-year college degree. Although fascinated by animal breeding since age 10, it was during his undergraduate training that Eric first recognized the potential importance of genetics and inheritance to livestock production systems. To continue his training in these disciplines Eric entered the graduate program in Genetics and Animal Husbandry at the University of Wisconsin, earning MS and PhD degrees in 1952 and 1956, respectively. The title of his doctoral dissertation (Effects of inbreeding and selection and of line-crossing and top-crossing in swine) reflects Eric’s life long interest in the application of the principles of genetics toward the enhancement of animal well-being and productivity.
After completing his doctoral studies, Eric accepted a professorial position in the Department of Animal Husbandry and Genetics at his alma mater, MacDonald College, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec. Two years later Eric was recruited to California by Harold Cole, then chairman of the Department of Animal Husbandry at UC Davis. Eric joined the faculty at UC Davis in 1957 and thus began his distinguished career of dedicated service to the students, faculty, and livestock producers of California.
Eric’s tenure at the University of Wisconsin was to have a profound influence on his later life, not only because of the quality of the scholarly training he received, but also because it was during that period that Eric met Elizabeth Engelke. Eric and Elizabeth were married in 1954. Their arrival in Davis in 1957 was the beginning of a half-century commitment to the community that inspired and enriched us all. Their enthusiasm for music, literature, and the visual arts helped to establish the sense of cultural awareness that is now woven into the fabric of the Davis community. In addition, Eric and Elizabeth shared an appreciation for the mountains, seacoasts, grasslands, and redwood forests, nature’s gifts to California. Eric and Elizabeth particularly enjoyed their cabin in the high sierra and found peace and refuge in their idyllic retreat on the Pacific coast. Eric and Elizabeth also shared their love of poetry, music, and nature with their four children, six grandchildren, and many colleagues and friends from around the world.
Eric’s research was focused on animal breeding and genetics, with emphasis on the genetics of reproduction and growth rate and relationships between these traits, and also on genotype-environment interaction. Although his formal training used swine as a model, Eric’s appointment to the Davis faculty was a sheep specialist. Eric embraced this new challenge, and through a process of self-training and interaction with knowledgeable sheepmen, quickly established himself as a valued resource for California’s sheep producers. Eric’s research using the sheep examined long-term selection for growth rate and multiple births, genetic traits of prolific ovine breeds, and assessment of factors affecting out-of-season breeding. Eric also used embryo transfer to study the effects of maternal and fetal contributions to prenatal viability, birth weight, and prenatal survival in sheep. This research provided the first evidence that prenatal mortality, a major source of loss in livestock species, could be reduced to a very low level by genetic selection.
In a seminal series of studies that examined the genetics of animal growth, Eric discovered and characterized a major gene affecting growth rate in mice. Importantly, this high growth (hg) gene increased post-weaning growth and feed efficiency, with little effect on body composition. Eric postulated that selecting livestock for a comparable phenotype would result in more efficient production of food and fiber for the world’s expanding population. He published more than 140-refereed papers on animal genetics and international agriculture. Much of the ongoing research conducted by the Department of Animal Science is dedicated to the realization of Eric’s vision.
In the classroom and laboratory, Eric was a gifted instructor. Eric challenged students to see learning as a life-long quest. As a result, Eric emphasized the process of learning, as well as, the facts themselves. He taught courses in animal breeding and genetics, beef cattle and sheep production, animal growth, international agriculture, and introductory animal science. He enjoyed advising both undergraduates and graduate students. Eric also recognized that the responsibility of the University extends beyond the borders of California, and indeed, beyond the shores of America. Therefore, he was very active in the education of international students and visiting scientists. Eric helped establish and served as a principal investigator in the International Small Ruminant Collaborative Research Program from 1978 through 1996. Through this program, a generation of scholars from Indonesia, Morocco, and Kenya received basic and applied training in food animal production and improvement. Of his many visits to foreign shores perhaps the one he most enjoyed was the year he spent as an Underwood Fellow of the Agricultural Research Council of Britain (1969-70) at the University of Edinburgh. Of course, he relished the challenge presented by this prestigious academic environment, where he carried out experiments using embryo transfer in sheep, but he also enjoyed the chance to become more familiar with his Scottish heritage. A sabbatical year at Winrock International (1978-1979) resulted in a book “Hair Sheep of Western Africa and the Americas” co-edited with H.A. Fitzhugh.
Eric was active in national and international scholarly organizations both before and after his retirement in 1993. He was a member of the American Society of Animal Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Council on Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST). Eric provided distinguished service to the American Society of Animal Science as editor of the Breeding and Genetics Section of the Journal of Animal Science. Eric chaired the International Task Force on Animal Agriculture and the Global Food Supply for CAST, which published its widely read report in 1999. Eric emphasized the role of ranchers and farmers as stewards of the land, and had an abiding interest in ensuring that agricultural practices be environmentally friendly and sustainable. Toward that end, Eric served as Director of the Animal Agriculture Research Center. In addition, he led the initiative that culminated in the recent establishment (2006) of the UC Davis Agriculture Sustainability Institute.
Eric embraced and embodied the principles of shared governance and collegiality that are at the philosophic core of the University of California. Although fully engaged in the teaching, research, and out-reach responsibilities of all faculty, Eric also dedicated considerable time and unflagging effort to administrative tasks and service to the University community. Eric twice served as chair of the Department of Animal Science, taking particular satisfaction in the recruitment of outstanding new faculty. He served a term as Associate Dean for the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Eric was also very active in graduate education and was chair of the Genetics Graduate Group from 1986 to 1989. He served as major professor for more than 25 masters and doctoral students.
Eric’s remarkable achievements in research, teaching, and public service did not go unnoticed. Indeed, he was the recipient of numerous local, national, and international awards. An abbreviated listing includes recognition as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1984), American Society of Animal Science (2000), Rockefeller Prentice Memorial Award for Research in Animal Breeding and Genetics (1985), International Agriculture Award (2000), Distinguished Service Award (2000) from the American Society of Animal Science, and the Order of the Golden Fleece Award (1990) from the California Wool Growers Association. Eric received the Award of Distinction from the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in 2000. In addition, Eric’s lifetime of accomplishment and distinguished service was recently given permanent recognition with the naming of a conference room in his honor. The Bradford Room in Meyer Hall will serve as a lasting testament to the principles of integrity, responsibility and compassion that Eric brought to the Department and University.
Eric Bradford died of heart failure on July 29, 2007. With his passing the Department, the University, and the international scholarly community lost a stalwart of dedication and integrity. Yet Eric’s standard of distinguished and unselfish service and uncompromising achievement in the classroom and research laboratory will continue to stand as the benchmark toward which the next generation of faculty should strive.
Thomas R. Famula
Juan F. Medrano
Thomas E. Adams, Chair